An Oral History of the Crime Victim Assistance Field
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Janice Rench
Interview Transcript

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Interview Transcript

timecode Seymour: I'm Anne Seymour, Justice Solutions, Washington, DC.

timecode Rench: Janice Rench, R-E-N-C-H.

timecode Seymour: Then you spell Janice.

timecode Rench: J-A-N-I-C-E.

timecode Seymour: Janice, thank you so much for being here for this project.

timecode Rench: Oh, thank you for having me. It's a real pleasure.

timecode Seymour: Um... good. Well, give us just a sense of how and when and why you first got involved in the crime victims' movement.

timecode Rench: It was not by accident. I think I was ... that was my passion having been a victim of a sexual assault crime. I wanted to right a wrong, and when I moved to Cleveland, Ohio, I found a wonderful organization, the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center which at that time was being run as a volunteer organization, and a whole new world opened up for me, and for many others like me, and I volunteered first and I did hospital advocacy, I did legal advocacy, I did, you know, the peer counseling. And we have to step back and rewind and think about what the climate was in the '70s, and that's when... when I started, and it was time of excitement, it was a time of passion, it was a time of women standing up and talking openly about their victimization and really getting empowered, and we had a sense of um... we knew what we had gone through wasn't right. We didn't have any plans, any books, any patent, any... anybody telling us what we needed to do, but as we listened to the victims, we certainly got a sense of what was going to work and what wasn't. And so it was the victims themselves, I believe, that really started, this field and certainly it was the sexual assault field in the 70s that did. So I worked myself through all the areas of the Rape Crisis Center and I'm not gonna name names because I just... I need to say that I'm afraid that I'd leave somebody out and there were so many just wonderful women and men who ran this organization on a volunteer basis and touched so many lives.

timecode Um... (clears throat)... when I applied for the Director's position my salary was $9,500 and it is and it certainly wasn't the money. I don't think any of us went into it for the money, but when you look back... when I look back on my records and see that uh... and I was so excited to even get that but again, it was a time... there was no computers. Uh, we didn't have call waiting. We didn't have voice mail. We didn't have palm pilots or you know cell phones. I mean, when you look at... if you went... for those centers that have held the history what we used... what we call "herstory" when you look at those files, I mean what you're gonna see is handwritten grants, you know, everything was handwritten, long-hand, legal pads galore, and for new people coming in it may seem that we were stupid, didn't know what we were doing wasn't businesslike, whatever, those terms that we have now. But back then we were really learning as we went along, and it was the most exciting time, and it was full of people with a tremendous amount of passion, and and a time of learning, a time of camaraderie that I have never seen since. After we saw a victim, we would sit around the hotline room. We had hotline rooms then and talk about how we handled it and, you know, did we do the right thing and how could we improve it. So it was a constant learning, and it was... it was informal learning. So it... we need to remember that time. We need to remember that it was a time when we had very few domestic violence shelters. Um, our office was in a YWCA and we did get domestic violence victims that came in and if there was no place to put them --they slept on the couch. We put them up in the Y, and they slept on the couch in our office. And on occasion, we would even bring them home to our own homes.

timecode So this is a time when you look at the history, we must remember that it was a much different time than it is now, of course, in all different levels.

timecode Seymour: You're one of the people in this project that because you started 30 years ago that could give the context of the era 30 years ago, but I'm gonna ask you also Janice, can you sort of walk us through the '70s, the '80s, the '90s, and the OO's? I don't... I don't know what we call them.

timecode Rench: The OO's.

timecode Seymour: The OO's. Walk us through from your perspective and we'll get into more detail about your involvement. What were some of the overall changes in the context of the era and in our field?

timecode Rench: Well, interesting because in the '70s, what we were just as I said, we were just learning and the whole... we were putting terms, on you know, on... on different things. There was a much more openness for domestic violence, for sexual assault to come together, and then we would have people who had lost their children, homicide survivors of... and there would be... we would start to see that there was more to this than just sexual assault and domestic violence, but that came later. I think the biggest... what changed the biggest piece of the victims' rights movement was in the '80s and, of course, 1984, domestic violence and sexual assault our funding came from VOCA and HHS under the Prevention Health and Human Services block grant and Families of Violence Prevention and Services Act and then they were the principle funding sources for us. Before then we got donations, literally got donations. I wrote a grant to a couple of corporations to get funding in, but this was the biggest change. VOCA was the biggest change in 1984 when we were able to get funding for actual staff, but even then we had to, it was very specific and you know, we had to write the grant so that we were able... we left a window open there so that we did what the grant specified but also there was some opportunity to do some outreach and other things.

timecode So in 1988... in the '80s when we started to look at funding, although it opened a lot of doors for us as a field, but it... I believe that it was at that point too that we started to become kind of fragmented at the end of the... at the end of the '80s we saw many more people coming in onto the field as long... as soon as there was um... .as soon as there was advertisement about money, it was like everybody wanted a piece of it, and that's really when we started to break away in a sense with each other, and you know it happened slowly. But I have to say and it still continues... it still continues to happen. The fight for money is what keeps us, I believe, from being able to really do the work that still needs to be done. So we received more funding. We were able to get equipment. The LEAA Grant and SEDA Grants were actually before VOCA, but that allowed us to get equipment, of course, copying machines. I mean it was hysterical the way we pulled together an office back then and when I walk into offices now, it... it's just amazing to me. You know, we didn't have nice furniture. We... you know, it was all catch, catch, can, whatever anybody would give us, but it also started another kind of avenue for the victims' rights movement where unfortunately, you know, national organizations, instead of working cooperatively, found it difficult to work together, and so it pulled, I believe, it also pulled the field apart.

timecode It certainly pulled the field apart between domestic violence and sexual assault. It pulled the field apart with our national organizations that we look to for guidance and leadership.

timecode Seymour: Do you think that affected like the policy agenda that... I know the finding was sort of the reason you're describing. How did that affect policy and provision of services, this fragmentation that you're describing?

timecode Rench: Well, I think we weren't... I think what the funding sources were saying, whether it was United Way, many of us received the United Way funding also not just Federal funding, but I think the funding sources were saying, look, you need to... they were saying it back then, you need to work together, you need to collaborate, you need to really get... you need to get along. You know, we can't fund everybody. We can fund... we can't keep pouring money into this field when, you know, when people are over here, you know, complaining and trying to get all the funds. So I think that it did, it stalled policy in that area of growth, I think it stalled it. I think it held us back. I think it still holds us back. I think it still holds us back, so...

timecode Seymour: That's great. In your pioneering area of victim assistance which I think grassroots and providing a focus on violence against women but also you're a noted author, so we can talk about that if you want. What was the greatest challenge that you and your colleagues faced in affecting change early on?

timecode Rench: Oh, I think that we... our goal was to institutionalize the right way to treat, victims, all victims. I think that --and opening the window of opportunity for males and for children to come forward and to talk about their victimization, which for males did not happen until the late '80s, and in fact, in some areas I am saddened to say they still have tremendous... there's a tremendous resistance, and we didn't know... the challenge also was the things that we did not know. We did not know that, you know, thirty years later we would see the most outrageous abuse of children that we see now in the Catholic Church coming out. We had calls from people who said, you know, "I think my child is being molested by the priest" as an example, and I have to shamefully say that many of us did not totally believe that this ever could happen. And I'm talking back then, I'm not talking now. And so I think the challenge was what we didn't know what was ahead of us. I mean, we thought that we would be able to solve this problem in a very short period of time if we had some money, if we went into the hospitals and said, "Look, you need to let the victim have advocates with them." You know, if we institutionalized in the schools, in the churches, in the hospitals, in the legal system the right way to handle victims, then it... wouldn't the problem be over. I mean, doesn't it make sense that you would think, well, the problems are gonna be over. There was way... no way that we could project what came out in the Eight... '90s and the 2000s. I mean, it... all of the abuse that is going on, and I'm not so sure that we don't have another wave of surprises ahead of us, because there is many areas of victimization we have not touched on. We have not really dug deeply and um, with, so I think those were the challenges, the things that we did not know what... that was ahead of us. Remember that was a time when police did not want to talk to advocates. They did not. In fact, they called us ugly. They talked... called us fat. and... they had... they would... they had derogatory names for us that were working in the field, and we worked hard to get a working relationship with law enforcement. I mean, it was a hard road, and I think for people coming in the field, you know, everything... a lot of things, not everything, but a lot of things are in place, and I think it's hard for them, you know, you don't know what you don't know. You don't know what you don't know.

timecode And so where they're at now, they must remember that that came with a lot of, you know, blood, sweat, and tears, that it didn't just happen, and we worked for a decade getting the legal field, getting the law enforcement, getting hospital personnel to even just let us stand at the foot... the head of the bed and hold a victim's hand through a rape exam. So those are the things we can never ever forget as part of "herstory."

timecode Seymour: Do you think young advocates today know this, know the... what you're describing?

timecode Rench: No, I don't, and I don't expect them to have the same emotional feeling about the past, but I do hope that along the way in our training that we always kind of remind them. It's like hearing the story, you know, our parents would say, you know, "What are you complaining about?" "I used to have to walk to school a hundred miles with snow up to my neck" and, you know, who wants to hear that. You know, we pooh-pooh it. We argh, you know. That's not my experience. So you really don't the emotional connection unless you've experienced it, so I don't expect them to have that, but I expect us as a movement to, in our training and in our conversations to remind people that it wasn't always the way it is today and that's what this wonderful video, I hope will do. I hope it's part of training.

timecode Seymour: I hope so, too. What are some of the secrets and tactics and strategies you all employ that were successful?

timecode Rench: Back then?

timecode Seymour: Back then.

timecode Rench: Um...

timecode Seymour: Or even now. What... you know, think linear.

timecode Rench: Gee, that... that's a very good question. I think that the strategy was just to plow ahead. We were one focused. We just knew what we knew, and it was like we had blinders on and we knew what victims of crime, we knew what they needed. One of the strategies also that we used was we listened. We listened to victims. We did not have a a list of things that was... we check them off. Do they fit this criteria? There was no criteria, and we learned very early that victims knew what they needed on an individual basis. There is not... there is not one rulebook that says all victims should go through A-B-C & D. And that's, when I think of the future and when I think of what's happening with academia, with social work, with all... with some of the training that we have, what I'm so concerned about is that we're gonna pigeonhole victims and we never want to do that, because what works for me will not work for you, and what works for you may or may not work for me, and I don't know that we're taking the time, and I don't know that we're validating to... you know, to the workers that it's okay to take the time to do this. But Anne, I can't tell you what we've learned. I mean, it... it... the victims know what's best for them. We do not know what's best of them.

timecode Seymour: And that was 30 years ago. Has that changed today because there's been a lot of research and protocols developed? Is it still important to really focus on the single victim and not all the...

timecode Rench: Well, I think that it... you know, I think we do need to focus on the single victim. I think it's very important to, and I'm not sure that we're doing that. You know, I think in some areas, in some centers, in some prosecutor's office, perhaps we are, but I think overall it's just... I only speak from my experience. I think we are trying to get our, you know, kind of a checklist of, well, they're here now and this is where they're gonna be in a month and this is what we've got to do and then we've got to close the case. There's more of a push to, you know, to make this very neat and clean, because we... because we do have some tools that are very helpful for, you know, for victims. But it's... when I walk into the office, I, you know, it's much different. I don't walk into the climate of a hotline room where everybody is sitting around talking about, you know, did we do everything we possibly could for this person.

timecode Seymour: That was a great overview of the successes. What were some of the failures then and now as you see them?

timecode Rench: I don't like to use the word "failure" because there was no... nothing to, we didn't have a checklist, so it... you know, we did some things that were right and we did some things that we found out later, perhaps, were not good, and I think some of those, again, were, we didn't realize the extent of the victimization of the population. Back then we didn't realize that, perhaps like we know now that males maybe heal quite a bit differently than females do. So I think that, perhaps, was a challenge for us back then. I think another challenge was, and we have not done this well, and that's the diversity issue. We have not diversified this field, and it really saddens me to continue to go to meetings, conferences, and see just a body of white people. It really... it saddens me, because we know that victimization touches everybody, and it's, you know, every... from every class to every color to every nationality, and we have not... if there was one thing that we have not done well I would say we have not touched the, you know, the inner city well, I don't believe. And even for those programs that... the few programs that are in the inner city, I don't believe that we have been collaborative in our work with them. For those of us who live out in the suburbs, you know, reaching out our... our... if we lived in the city, reaching outward, and a piece of that is our challenge is as... as white people, we don't understand the diversity issue anyway, and so that should be part of every training, I believe, that we don't have enough diversity training for us white folks to understand, you know again, the way we... the way we counsel is different, in the minority population because... and we have to understand the culture before we can offer to help. And so that... I would say that's the number one thing.

timecode Seymour: What do you think, Janice, has been the greatest accomplishment that has promoted victims' rights and needs, and I know it's really hard to name one, so you know, you can maybe go for two?

timecode Rench: Thanks. Well, certainly having I think the Federal government in back of us with the funding. I mean, we would... I don't know where we would be without that, so I would say probably I would have to say the um... and then... and secondly, I think that we have, through no planning there... there are so many of us that are so passionate about the victims' rights movement that it has rubbed off on... on many new... newer people, and so I think that... that probably... (interruption by crew)

timecode Seymour: When you said, Janice, that... that our passion is rubbing off on the younger generation of victim advocates, what do we need to do, the old buffalos, to cultivate, to mentor not only passion but experience and commitment?

timecode Rench: I think we need to have a uh... I think all of us need to make a commitment that we will... that we will mentor and that we will take on that leadership role and be there for the new um... the new people that are coming in. It's one thing to say, you know, well, we'll establish a mentoring program, and it's another thing to actively proceed with that and look for agencies where we can go in and do it, and I think that, you know, I see that we need to do that very quickly before we lose, you know, before we lose so much of what we've gained.

timecode Seymour: What do we need, Janice, today to continue the growth and professionalism of our field or another of way of asking that is, what's missing?

timecode Rench: I think I think what always...what professionalizes any field is some kind of paper that says you have accomplished A-B-C & D and and now here's a certificate that says you have met standards that the field themselves have chosen. Um, it's not gonna work, and I'm afraid if we don't do it ourselves, that somebody else is gonna do it for us and we may not like the standards that they choose. Now given... saying that, I want to... from my perspective it's not so much what your degree is. In fact, most... I can honestly say that most of the advocates that are on target with victims don't necessarily have any degree whatsoever, and so in no way should any certification or any professional label exclude those people without a degree if they have... if they've had the training and they've had the experience, if they've had the mentoring, I think they should stay in. So it's not about... and I think when we talk about certification, I think it's very important that we add that we are not talking about having a Masters in Social Work and having Masters and MBA. If you have that, that's fine, but those people also should go through the same kind of training or the same kind of educational process that any... that a person without a degree. I mean, we're equal in this field and because we have not been trained, formally trained, there's no degree that anybody can go to and get a degree in victims' rights, so our training is much different and we want to be very clear that when we're talking about certification that we make that statement that this is not about a degree per se, but it's about building a knowledge base, and I think that that would... that will put us in a more professional arena, because our reputation still is that we're just, you know, do-gooders, that we... that we, you know, that "women" do this as, you know, "part-time work" or "volunteer" work. It's a "feel good" kind of thing, and I think having some kind of a paper that is recognized on a national basis would absolutely add a tremendous amount of professionalism to the field.

timecode Seymour: Well, let me ask this, you've... you've talked about the past and somewhat current fragmentation of the field, how is that gonna affect any national efforts related to certification or are you talking national, would it be some other...

timecode Rench: Well, I think that states, individual states, of course, could do, you know, they have the ability to do what they want to do, you know, maybe states would want to start having something that applied just to them, but the problem with... with not having a national certification program is the fact that if you go from um... if I go from Boston, back to Ohio, then you know, my Boston papers may not fit into the Ohio papers, or qualifications. So I think... but if we had a national base, I think that it would cover all of us no matter what states, you know, you went in. And keep in mind that once you have a paper... a tag line that comes along with that is money and money is powerful, and how can we get the national organizations to work together? There is one group of people that can do that and that's the funding sources regardless of who they are. I'm not gonna name them, but you know, they can force... they did it back in the '80s when they told us to get together and we did, because we didn't want to lose the funding. They can do it now, and they can say... and they can offer us the help whether it's mediation, whether it's whatever. But, you know, it's ridiculous for a group of people on the national level to hold up something that's as critical as this for the rest of us because there is personal differences. There is no reason why we can't start getting around the table again like we did in the '80s and work some of these things out, and if funding sources need to help us do that, then so be it, because we're not gonna be able to do it ourselves. We've tried before. But I think that what will add to the professionalism is some kind of a certification that says I know what I'm doing, because Anne, I need to say there are many victims that are not being serviced properly and we know that, and they're... they're being harmed. And I would like to be able to say that everything's rosy out there, but it's... it's not.

timecode Seymour: The fun question. What advice can you give to professionals and volunteers who have recently joined our field, based on your 30 years in the field?

timecode Rench: Hang in there! Hang in there! Don't get discouraged! Don't let the size of your paycheck, you know, dictate what whether you're gonna stay in the field or not. If you feel the passion in your heart then you know that you're in the right field, and we are moving now so quickly. The field is changing so quickly that there are such good things ahead, and there is no job... it... with such personal satisfaction as there is in the victims' rights field. I mean, because you have the opportunity in this very cold mechanical world to touch the lives of many, many people, and in... with my own victimization, I will to this day, I will die remembering the face of a young advocate in Boston, Massachusetts, who after I told my story to said, "Janice, I'm so glad you told me. You didn't deserve it." And that broke open... that changed my life, and that happens on a daily, daily basis within our field.

timecode Seymour: What's your vision for the future of our field?

timecode Rench: Oh, I have have a large vision. I just... I see the day coming when when we will be inclusive. I see the day coming for both victims and for for people working in the field. I do see a day when when we can look at our past, admit that there were many challenges for all of us, admit that we were afraid, admit that we did things that has held us back and then move on from there. And I also see a day when we will be smart enough to put as much money into the juvenile justice system into individual programs and try to save the juveniles that have already committed their first crime at the age of seven either by battering, murder, or sexual abuse. We know what the cycle is, and I think that we're ignoring. The cycle is that if you're abused, that the chances are, and particularly with males, the chances are you're gonna be an abuser. Then why in hell do we wait until we get them into the criminal justice system and then talk about rehabilitation. Why aren't we putting more money into the juvenile system, so that we can take these kids and we can start making some changes, you know, when they're eight and nine.

timecode Seymour: You... you... this is a good segue, Janice. Do you have made a mark in the field working with adolescents and younger victims, both in dating violence but particularly in the area of domestic violence among young folks. What are some of the lessons you've learned or I think you've address... addressed a little bit where we need to go with that. Why is that such a priority for you, if not the field?

timecode Rench: It's a priority for me because I want to see... one of my visions is to see the numbers decrease, and they're not, they're increasing. So if we're doing such a good job, why are the numbers increasing? If we're doing such great, you know, training, then why... why don't more people understand that there... we need to address these issues. It's a priority because I do not want to see the wasted lives of very, very young children, and you know, I think that we can make a difference, again, with an eight or nine year old. Our... we don't label them rapists at that age, but certainly many of them in our juvenile system have sexually assaulted a sister, a neighbor's child, and we hope it will go away. Well, it's not gonna go away. We know that males act out with violence if they have been victimized. We know that females internalize that kind of pain and they do damage to themselves, and so it's... prevention is a big piece of my work as you know, and I think that unfortunately, by the time we have an adult offender it is my belief and it... it... that there's really very little we can do. Dr. Able did a wonderful study back in the '80s, where you know he was the one that said by the time you get an offender, a sexual abuser in the legal system, that they have already committed two hundred to four hundred crimes. Why don't we look at that... those statistics? Um, you're not going to be able to rehabilitate 'em, at the... that point, but there's a lot of hope for a little seven year old or nine year old. There's a lot of hope. There is.

timecode Seymour: Well, almost the last question, so I'm gonna ask you a bonus question. What's your greatest fear for the future of our field?

timecode Rench: The greatest field... fear that I have is that we're going to... we're just gonna get seized up by you know, by academia or social workers or that we're just... we're gonna become vanilla.

timecode Seymour: And if you had a youngen' come into your office tomorrow and ask you, Janice, what's the biggest difference between when you started in '73 than in 2003, what... what would you tell them?

timecode Rench: I would tell them the biggest difference is that people at least now will listen. That people now at least are starting to really believe that it happens to children, and it happens to women, and it happens to males, the whole realm. Not just sexual assault but the whole realm of victimization. That we're all in this together and I think that we're starting to see that, that none of us are immune from it. It's not just the woman walking down the street that gets pulled into the bushes. You know, we're all vulnerable.

timecode Seymour: Do you... think the um, the... I think you get on an area of some of the shame and the blame and the stigma of thirty years ago. Has that changed completely?

timecode Rench: Not completely, no. No. Women are still judged on... it... it depends who you are. If you're a professional woman coming home from a meeting, you know, at eleven o'clock at night and you're assaulted then... or if you're a professional man coming home and you're assaulted, particularly white, then people understand, isn't that too bad. If you're a minority woman who's coming from the neighborhood hangout, you know, at ten o'clock, then there is a stigma attached to her still even today. Um, people don't understand. Again, it goes back to culture. It goes back neighborhoods. I mean, there are some neighborhood... what we would call it just a down and out dirty bar, that where the community actually congregates and talks and talks about family, and so it's the lack of understanding on our part of why a woman would be there. Or if a man is robbed and stabbed and shot, people immediately think it's, you know, due to drugs or whatever. So you know, it depends on who you are. It depends on where you are. It depends on where you live. It depends on your support system, and that's unfortunate.

timecode Seymour: Any other words of wisdom you want to end with?

timecode Rench: Oh, I would just... I would like to just thank all my colleagues over the years that have just given so much of their heart and soul and you know, the work has not gone unrewarded, and like I said earlier that it's... I would encourage anybody to get into this field and to be able to touch the lives of human beings.