An Oral History of the Crime Victim Assistance Field
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Hook: Good morning and welcome to the OVC Oral History Project. Anne, could you please say your name and spell it?
Seymour: I'm Anne Seymour. A-N-N-E, S-E-Y-M-O-U-R .
Hook: Anne, how or why did you first get involved in the crime victims movement?
Seymour: I first got involved in the crime victims movement by applying to a blind ad in the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper. I was working in the California legislature at the time and could not bear the thought of hurling myself on the road to do another six-month campaign in some place I didn't want to be. And, I applied to a blind ad that brought me to the national office of Mothers Against Drunk Driving which had ironically just moved from Sacramento to the Dallas, Forth Worth area. And, I was like 26 years old. I was in 1984 and, I remember going to Texas on May 21, flying to Washington, DC. I think it was on May 27, 1984. And long story short, the first week of July, the 21 Drinking Age Bill had passed the Congress and was being signed by President Reagan, which still makes it I think the fastest moving major piece of legislation ever to wind its way through Congress.
And, as an introduction to the victims movement -- I know everyone else was working on VOCA -- you know, we were just so committed to 21, and I think I saw the power of victims voices at the very early stage in my victim assistance career, and I also saw the--just the vital importance of partnerships working with Congress, working with grassroots organizations, and MADD of course had a great national non-profit presence. And I think one of the things we were most successful at was working with the media or using the media to talk about the plight of of drunk driving victims. So that's how I jumped in, initially in 1984. And a year later, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and NOVA, the National Organization for Victim Assistance, had a conference called SHARE, Self-Help Associations Relating Experiences. We were always like really big on acronyms for everything. And we had a conference here in Washington, DC.
And I remember I was doing two workshops. One was on the news media and how they cover crime and victimization. And the second was on... on changing laws, on public policy development. And I remember, at both of my sessions there was a really good looking guy, you know, and I was young and single and it was like, who is this hottie? And it turns out he was the son of Sunny von Bulow who was lying in a coma because Claus von Bulow, her husband, had allegedly attempted to kill her. And Alex and a gentleman named Morris Gurley sat through both st--both of my workshops and asked a lot of questions. And I remember rushing up to some meeting so I didn't really talk to them and on the last day I went into the luncheon and just, I don't know for some reason, I just didn't want to go to a luncheon and so I started to leave to go to the airport and they grabbed me and said would you have lunch with us. We sat in your workshops. And two hours later it was kind of interesting. They said, we want to do something to help victims of crime but we need help. They were in between the two trials.
And so I remember Janice Harris Lord helped me work with them to develop a media strategy. This is at a time when they couldn't be in the courtroom so they were watching the proceedings of their mother's trial from the CNN van. And we sort of came up with a strategy in terms of-- was a case where the victim was totally attempt--they attempted to tarnish the reputation of Sunny von Bulow. So tried to work on a response for them and it was very, very exciting because I still to this day, as do many people, felt that they were terribly wronged and that I really saw the devastating impact of, not only attempted murder but how they were treated by the defense and how they were treated by the news media. And I found it shocking. And that is what led to the development of what was initially the Sunny von Bulow National Victim Advocacy Center which was Alex used to call it SVBMVAC, which became the National Victim Center.
Hook: Anne, tell me a little bit about the beginning of the National Victim Center.
Seymour: The National Victim Center, the day that we opened our doors I'll never forget was the day of the Challenger Shuttle crash which to this day, I can't think about NASA without thinking about the opening of the center. We started in Fort Worth, Texas, which was a great community. People were saying why are you in Forth Worth? It was a community that really embraced us. Uh, not just the people who had the means to support us financially but the media embraced us. And a lot of victims organizations, community-based programs, system based programs... it was a great place to be for a young organization. We were very fortunate because we had money to start our organization, which I think was, caused a lot of resentment to others in the field of victim assistance.
I remember the first week, opened the doors of the victims center and my first call that I got from the field was from a small case involving the McMartin Pre-school in Manhattan Beach, California. And I remember talking to a woman named Marymae Cioffi whose children had been victimized in this case and whose daughter is today one of my god children. And I remember Marymae saying, "Nobody believes the children." Nobody believes the children. And I remember her and the other mothers telling me about the news media going with their telephoto lens to capture photos of these child sexual abuse victims to print in newspapers. And the broadcast media, some of them, some of them were great but some of them not behaving real well. And so I flew out to meet with the mothers and I'll never forget being in a... in a big circle with them, hearing about their experiences and the trauma they were going through because of what had happened to their children.
But also the secondary trauma that was being caused by both the criminal justice system, treatment of them and, one of the key... key witnesses Kee McFarlane and, of course, how the media were treating them. And I remember a woman named, Linda Barker at the time, now Linda Barker Lawrence ended up joining me over the next year to work with these families. Linda at the time was in Seattle. She had founded Families and Friends of Homicide Victims and Missing Persons in response to the Green River killings of young women in Seattle. And she came down and this was something that was I think real important in the early days of the field. We got pissed about the medium so we sat out on the beach and I had a portable typewriter -- we didn't have computers, of course. And we started hashing out what became the Victims Rights in the Media brochure and then the book we wrote in 1987 that talked about how the news media treat... treat crime victims. So in the early days it was like you sort of got th--you know thrown... thrown out there. I had been more of a PR and a policy person for MADD so to have that early exposure to the, you know, the pain and trauma of a large group of victims and to work a case for two years, it became a very significant part of my life.
I think was really, really helpful to me. I entered the field, I followed many pioneers who had laid some incredible groundwork that people I know have addressed throughout the Oral History Project. But it was a very nascent field. You could have 30 people in a room and have pretty good representation of the entire field of victim assistance. And this was, you know right at the time when... when VOCA had passed. So for the first time there was money. And I think money in this field has been the blessing and the bane. I think at that time there was... there started to be more competition for the VOCA funds which was a very significant thing. And I think there was also a lot of fragmentation in the field. And some of it was really good. We were becoming specialized in terms of responding to the needs of domestic violence victims, child abuse victims. Some of it was fragmented because people were competing for the money.
I personally found that some of the people in the field were very not friendly to National Victim Center and to me I think we were maybe seen as a threat to people which is kind of interesting 'cause alls we wanted to do was help. Alls we wanted to do was good. I think we were ex--extremely well intended as we all--the cofounders remain, to this day. But there were some people who were just outright mean to us. And I remember being at a national meeting and a man named Jay Howell who helped start the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and you know, it was like a cold, you know, icy feeling in the room when Gene Patterson and I walked in. We sat through a two-hour meeting. We tried to contribute in a small way. And Jay Howell came up afterwards and he said, "You know, I don't know who you people are, but you bring value to what we're doing and welcome to the field." And Jay Howell, twenty years later remains one of my best friends I think because of that, because of that day. And I think the field, for me 20 years ago -- we talk about grassroots today as being part of the victim assistance field, it was the foundation of the field when I joined. We didn't have a whole lot of system-based programs, it was people whose kids were murdered or... or, women who were raped. And everyone started these organizations that I think became the life of the victim assistance field.
And the other thing I recall is that a huge difference, we had no technology. If you had a speakerphone, you were a hot cha-cha. We had no faxes. I remember the 21 Drinking Age Bill, I think Janice Lord drove 25 miles from the MADD national office to pick up a fax from us in Washington at the National Safety Council. I mean we had no computers. We today we are so blessed with technology that has made it easier to do our jobs 'cause back then we were doing I think a lot with, with very little.
Hook: So you're describing the field of victims' rights and services thirty years ago. Would you say a little bit more about the situation with the media and your efforts to address that?
Seymour: Yeah I think it was a... I think it was a very important and it was also a very scary thing to do. I think we started out by really media bashing and saying that, you know, the media were being insensitive to victims and in reality as I really chilled and started to become, I think, better at doing what I was trying to do, very few media who were irresponsible but they did--they tended to taint the whole crop. And I remember when they used to show a bloody body or a body bag on CNN, we would all call each other and call CNN to complain about it. And I want you to think about that in 2003 showing a body or a body bag on CNN. You know it would be a full-time job for about a hundred people. And I'm not trashing CNN specifically but there were so many insens--insensitivities. And I remember, I remember a lot of cases like a young man who was described as a Republican party volunteer who was also a volunteer at a rape crisis center, a law school student, he was tall, he was handsome, he was Ted Bundy.
And his victim was described as such. "Her nude, frozen body was discovered in the snow bank." Verbatim, comes back to me like it was yesterday. And I remember having a... an editor argue with me in a very public forum. I was talking about how important it was for someone to notify victims about the death of a loved one prior to the media doing so. And she said that has never happened. It will never happen. And it was a--that was about the time of the horrible murders down at the University of Gainesville where Manny Taboada's brother was driving in his Volkswagon, I mean like it was yesterday in South Florida, I believe it was in Miami and heard on the radio that his brother had been murdered in a very particularly horrible way. So there was a lot of work to be done. And I started off by being angry. As I said Linda Lawrence and I got really upset and then we started writing and then we started talking to victims. And then victims started telling us about some really positive things that the media were doing. So we ended up writing The Crime Victims in the Media and then I wrote a little book called The News Media, uh, media relations realizing that the media brought so much to victims in terms of helping us publicize what we did.
I still credit the media with the 21 Drinking Age Bill, with MADD, because we could not have done it without them. So it was really focusing on them and I remember, I mean, in one year I spoke to the International Ombudsman Association and the News Editors Association and Associated Press and everywhere and the fact that they gave us a forum was pretty incredible. Didn't always agree with us. I mean back then we were--they were still naming rape victims which, you know, I mean people still do it today, an irony not lost on me. But there started to be a dialog. And when I see what that's grown into today, I really have seen it where Bonnie Buequeroux, eh--up in Michigan has developed, you know, entire college level curriculum on the news media coverage of crime and victimization. Texas Christian University, I mean we've really become, I think, very academic based on that topic. But I also know that there are still so many bad situations. But I think we have gotten better at responding to them. We have learned from mass tragedies. We have learned from victims who put their children on national television talk shows and the bad things that happen as a result of that. We have learned from those experiences and I think turned a lot of positive things out of that.
Hook: Still talking about the field at the beginning when you came into it, what was your, tell me a little bit about some of the old buffalos and then their passion for this, for the victims?
Seymour: Well people always want to know how we got the term old buffalos. And Dr. Dean Kilpatrick always refereed himself as an old buffalo having co-founded People Against Rape in, oh no, Dee, if it was the 1870s or the 1970s. It was a long time ago. And in the early days of the field there were so many people, so many people who inspired me and that's why I love this project so much. There are victims like Betty Jane Spencer who lived through what I still consider probably the worst crime I've heard about and testified before the President's Task Force, founded Protect the Innocent in Indiana and then started her world-wind tour to really talk about the impact of crime on victims. My early mentor is Janice Harris Lord, the goddess of victim trauma at Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and for years really has done the preeminent writing on homicide. You know to work with her initially for two years and to learn from her and to watch her not just train about victims but to deal one on one with victims as MADD's Director of Victim Services was a gift. Uh, you know Dr. Dean Kilpatrick, who is, not only brilliant and I consider him perhaps the top researcher from the victim assistance field but also one of the most compassionate people I've ever met and someone who has really helped a lot of victims. And when I work with victims today one on one as I do often, I, you know, he's my go-to. He's my go-to guy.
I think about Jay Howell starting the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. When it was after Adam Walsh had been killed and it was a pretty new thing. I know it had been going on for a long time but he I guess it was all the people who started up or--national organizations at the time. The angels at Parents of Murdered Children who today I work with them a lot who just remain to me the most, the people who have suffered the most devastating loss who, you know, you never overcome it. You never get closure but you do something that respects and remembers the life of the person who died. And these are the folks to me who I think have helped educate our society a lot about the impact of crime. And there're a lot of public policy people. In the early days, I think of Frank Lautenberg who's back in the Senate now and what a difference he made in terms of some of the early legislation we did with anti-drunk driving and also with child protection issues. And Bill Van Regenmorter from the state of Michigan who we all just copied everything he did legislatively for crime victims as we did with Wisconsin, was another state and Steve Derene and Rich Anderson and those folks, the first Victims' Bill of Rights, the first Child Victims' Bill of Rights; and the public policy people, that that's what has guided our movement a lot. That and the voice of the victim. And those early days just they were tremendous not just passing their own laws but then going out and helping other states do the same. It was pretty cool.
Hook: Anne, in your area of victim assistance which is covering so many different areas, what was the greatest challenge that you and your colleagues have faced in affecting change?
Seymour: I think the greatest challenge that we faced was absolutely societal attitudes about crime and victimization. People didn't understand why battered women didn't leave. People were, you know, this is before rape shield laws. I mean the rape victim would get up and she was trashed and bashed and, you know, basically called everything--I mean the whole reason for the rape was something that she did or wore or said. And even with child abuse victims, I remember a judge saying that a five-year-old child molestation victim he gave her molester probation because he said the five-year-old child was provocative. So when I say societal attitudes, it wasn't just people out in the community. It was people in the justice system. And I found over years of experience it's people and people's families. Where you... you know you... in trying to make sense out of crime, I think so many people do not you don't want to look at someone who did something bad, so you think well what happened. And that's when we started having all kinds of, you know, discussions about (laughs) the privacy of victims and confidentiality issues and rape shield laws and the whole thing with the media.
I think they played a role, too, especially in high profile cases. So societal attitudes were a real problem. And I'd like to say that's all been resolved. You know, not a problem anymore. I think it--we still have a little residue of that. I think there was a tremendous lack of understanding and others have addressed this throughout this project of the impact of crime on victims and victims' needs. And it's kind of interesting when you say what do victims need. You know my answer's always, it's been the same for 20 years. Ask and they will tell you. And victims' needs are very basic. And for some reason, you know, we're all so fricking afraid of you know trampling on the rights of defendants that we--it was a became an us and them thing. And I think in doing so we just didn't recognize and we certainly didn't validate that victims had needs. And it was a huge challenge and to this day, again, kind of ironic, remains a challenge. And I think the third thing that I've talked--uh, I... I touch about that there was no public policy. You know I look today we have 32,000 laws. Back then, we had (laughs) a handful of compensation programs.
You know in 1980 the first Bill of Rights we didn't have a lot of public policy either at the state level, certainly at the Federal level constitutional amendment was not yet on the horizon. And so we lacked a framework. And you know people, if there's not a law that says you have to do it, people ain't gonna do it. And even when there is a law that says you have to do it, people still don't do it in terms of implementation of victims' rights. So I think those were the three things that were the biggest challenges.
Hook: I'd like to ask you about the secrets, tactics, strategies you employed that were successful to affect change? And sort of generally but also specifically, tell me about Rape in America.
Seymour: Which do you want me to do first? Secrets and...
Hook: Yeah. Wh--strategy, surveys, collecting information...
Seymour: Oh, that was, no. That stuff wasn't a strategy for us. That was--I mean that was a big part of what we did. Our strategies were Bob Preston, one of my heroes whose daughter, Wendy was murdered in the '70s and became, I consider, the grandfather of the Constitutional Amendment. He called it smoke and mirrors. And when you ask how you know the first constitutional amendment was passed in Florida and Michigan, same 1988, you know and it seemed like there were thousands of crime victims and thousands of victim advocates and all of these people worked in, um-um, it was smoke and mirrors. I mean it was a small powerful group of people who we could make it seem like there was a lot of people supporting us. And I'm not sure always how we did it. I think we did it by getting some key people involved -- civic leaders, public policy people who made a difference. We were pretty good in the early days about really getting media attention and doing it in I think in some... some pretty cle--some pretty clever ways. But Bob always called it smoke and mirrors, making it appear that we had more than we did. I think the best strategy which remains the strategy today is what my dear friend and colleague Sharon English calls the power of the personal story.
This field is nothing if it is not about people who are hurt and whose lives are devastated. And the strategy has been to let people know how crime affects victims and their families and the ripple effect it has on neighborhoods and schools and and communities and doing it in a way that makes it real. Especially when someone has been murdered or especially someone who's so traumatized that they have difficulty expressing what they're feeling. So to be able to give a face to the pain of victimization and I think also correlating to that is that you know I remember back in the 80s they said five out of six Americans are gonna be a victim or witness of crime in their lifetime. Well think about that. I think now it's all of us. We were all witness to the terrible tragedy of September 11.
But crime touches everybody. And I don't know if that's the--a tactic. It's a bad tactic if it's considered a tactic but recognizing that everyone gets hurt by it. I think another strategy that's the beauty of this movement is that we plagiarized each other so much. You... you would hear about something in Iowa and the next year the bill would be introduced in, you know ten other states. In 1986 at the National Victim Center we started the first National Crime Victims' Rights Resource Guide. You know all of a sudden everyone was literally on the same page, and that wasn't plagiarism as much as just we were so good at sharing information. And not a lot of ownership involved in those early days. It was like get out and do it, yeah we'll help you, we were hurling ourselves all over. We di--you know did car rides and bus rides and plane rides to whoever needed help and we copied each other a lot. And there was no pride in ownership. It was just go out and do it. And I think one of the strategies that today is... is remains, uh, vital is you... you're well aware of, Melissa, is we had a lot of fun.
And in this field, you know, it's so stressful. Oh, my god it's stressful. And you have to be able to do what you do, do it well and then leave it for a while and have fun. And I think about the early days how silly we were and how goofy we were and how much fun we had and continue today, you know, our annual old buffalos retreat with you know not much of an agenda. We get together and laugh. And at conferences, you know, the NOVA talent show. I mean there's a lot of things that we have recognized early on that you got to... you've just got to be able to step away a little bit from the trauma of the work that we do and have a good laugh. And that's I... our best strategy to this day.
Hook: Great. That's so true. (Change tape)
Hook: Anne, Rape in America, that was a brilliant strategy. Tell me how it came about.
Seymour: Rape in America came about because of the work of the folks at the medical university of South Carolina, National Crime Victim Research and Treatment Center. There's a mouthful. Dr. Dean Kilpatrick, Dr. Connie Best, Dr. Ben Saunders, they as part of a national study funded by HHS had surveyed 4,000 women in America about a range of things: uh, health and mental health and this and that. And going through the mounds and mounds of data found that incredibly huge number of women had been sexually assaulted. And this is the time to give you the context of the era -- 1992, the Uniform Crime Report was telling us that 95,000 women were raped every year. Well everyone knew that was not good; I mean that was not accurate. And Rape in America found that 683,000 women had been raped every year. And even more significantly is that the majority of those women were children and adolescents when they were sexually assaulted which led to our, uh, today wor--still world famous moniker that Dr. Dean stole from me is that rape in America is a tragedy of youth.
So Dean, I was at the National Victim Center at the time, Dean brought these data to our attention and we were--the Victim Center was, I think, very well known for having great, we were very good at PR. We were very good at, we were all over national media in terms of promoting victims' rights and needs. And so, yeah, you're right it was a stretch and it happened over a period of maybe three or four weeks. But the things we did, and I'll try to be brief, the first thing we did was we went to the Bureau of Justice Statistics and said, "You say 95, we say 683,000. Here's your methodology; here's ours. We need to be able to explain the difference." And to this day, that was our best move. We didn't come up and say the Justice Department says and here's the reality. We worked with them in advance. We locked into, I had a lot of friends at USA Today. We were guaranteed a front-page cover story and then the full page three of USA Today and then locked in uh, I think it was "Good Morning America." So we had a few locks in advance. The thing that we did that was most significant, and again this was like pre-you know e-mail, we did a survey of the rape crisis centers to talk about what they saw as victims' needs, and every rape crisis center in the country we sent them an embargoed copy of Rape In America, by fax which you know back then that was like nights and nights of faxing and begged them not to release it but to come up with their local angle 'cause it was pretty shocking -- 683,000 women.
So we did a press conference and I'll have to get photos of this for the Oral History archives, where we had I think it was seventy or eighty national news media. Every national magazine, every, every, every, every. Dean and I and Chris Edmunds split up and went and did every national show. And I remember Dr. Dean early in the morning that did the Geraldo show, (laughs) and he did the Geraldo show and they put pancake makeup on and he looked so bad all day but we thought it was funny so we didn't tell him. And he walked around New York streets, in New York street with pancake makeup on for the entire day. And then we did follow on afterwards. We did and I tell you it was right after the Kennedy Smith trial and the Tyson trials and, you know, rape was in the news, we did a lot of media. And we ended up, Dr. Dean brags and rightfully so, we had 1.8 million media hits with Rape In America.
And I think it wasn't just the topic. I think there was a lot of strategy involved. I credit Dean's job and the fabulous people at the National Victims' Center who, you know, worked around the clock. It was a crazy time and the impact of that, I mean I hope someday we can replicate with research that matches the quality of the National Women's Study and Rape in America but also you know kind of developing a strategy or a tactic that, just to this day I think it is the biggest media hit in the history of the victims' movement.
Hook: Woo-who. What were the failures that you see looking at the field?
Seymour: I... our biggest failure is we have 32,000 laws and if you asked me how many of them were implemented on a regular basis, you know, I might say 10, I might say a 1,000, I definitely would not say 32,000. And I've reached a point in my career where I... I'm, you know, shocking people in speeches, I say don't pass any more laws. And they go (deep sigh) and my message is probably not to not pass laws but to start focusing on the implementations of the ones we have. And that to me and I know it just leads--all roads lead to the Federal Constitutional Amendment and state Constitutional Amendments, which is a really a--it's, my eye has been on that ball since al--almost since I entered the field. One of the very early meetings of the National Victim Constitutional Amendment Network was in my parent's home in Anaheim, California. And they housed us all and my mom loves to tell the story about afterwards she had to have the carpets and drapes cleaned because we all smoked back then. You know we all smoked and the whole house stunk and there was famous with Janice Lord and a strawberry pie but I digress. And I remember back then wondering may -- to myself or perhaps I did it out loud -- will a Constitutional Amendment, a Federal amendment pass in my career in my lifetime.
And I don't remember what the answer is but I do remember knowing that it was gonna take a really long time because of the precious Sixth Amendment and the... and I think people's fears that we would trample on defendants' rights, which we wouldn't. There's also you know people in Congress who do not want to tinker with the Constitution in any way shape or form. But until we have an amendment, victims' rights remain very much, I think, rhetoric in a large degree. The other failure that continues in the early days and we're--I, a little bit better today, not much, but the people who work with victims do not come close to matching the diversity of the victims whom we serve in terms of cultural diversity, in terms of being able to really be good at meeting the needs of victims in highly urban areas, victims in rural remote frontier areas -- learned that word in Oregon thank you, Connie Gallagher. We have tended to be White, female and middle class. And as if you look at the population of victims, we need to break out beyond that. And I think there's been a real commitment from the Office for Victims of Crime and others working with the Multicultural Institute and others. But we're horrible, we're horrible at that.
And I think the third thing that it's not a failure but it's something we need to work more on so I don't know what you call that area for improvement is to be able to build capacity among the non-profit organizations, many of whom begin because of a victimization. So they don't know administration, they don't know how to write a grant, program evaluation I've been doing this for twenty years and I barely know that. They lack a lot of the administrative and structural things. They got the heart and we need to be able to help them sustain themselves. Because without them we will become a bureaucratic, not a movement or we'd become just I don't know what. It's something I don't want to become. And that's not a failure but in the area that we need to address in the future.
Hook: So protecting the grassroots and supporting them?
Seymour: I--yeah and helping them you know I'm not saying that we should, you know, do everything for them and go I think it's that each one teach one that we recognize what they have to offer which is compassion and the power of the personal story and the ability to really affect public policy which is huge in our field but that we help them to be able to write a grant and to submit a grant report to VOCA or VAWA or OVC or JAIBG that we teach them how to, to work with the media some real basic things that build their capacity to sustain 'cause they're the heart and soul of who we are and what we do.
Hook: What do you perceive to be the one greatest accomplishment that has promoted victims' rights and needs?
Seymour: You know there are so many and I think... I... I mean I'm not goin--I'm gonna be like everyone else and not just not answer the question and tell you several accomplishments. That's what I love about our field, what's the question so I cannot answer it. I think the, for me it's the probably the biggest thing is just the sheer kind of determination and willpower that this movement has had. And I again take that back to the victims and survivors who have inspired us and who have plowed ahead in everything they've done and taken new roads and, you know, I think of Doris Tate whose daughter was murdered by the Manson clan and you know Doris being one of the first victims to go behind bars and to, you know, to ask offenders, "Do you have any idea ab--about how you ruin people's lives?" And I think about Betty Jane who I mentioned earlier and Susan Russell were a kidnapping and rape survivor who has really had a profound impact in helping people in Vermont and in her community understand that crime's just not personal. It affects us all. And I think of Marsha Kight whose daughter Frankie was killed in the bombing and murders at the Murrah Federal Building who early on really helped me reassess, you know, working with the media and then she taught me so many important lessons and today re--I... I think remains very, very inspiring and a good friend of mine.
So I think the fact that we have these people is our greatest accomplishment. I have to say, obviously, the founding of the Office for Victims of Crime was truly significant. Of course, the passage of VOCA. I think OVC, it's kind of interesting because you know you go from administration to administration. A lot of agencies don't have continuity because you go Republican Democrat, Democrat Republican, da-da-da-da. I think at OVC there's been a lot of consistency and I think all of the directors who have started it and who run it to this day they bring it all back to the victim. And so there's a continuity and there's almost a message that victims' rights is neither Democrat nor Republican, left nor right. It... it's not a political issue. And so I think OVC had a real significant impact.
And I think also just, I think an accomplishment or maybe it's a trait of the field, Melissa, is our tenacity. And I always in my speeches I quote Bruce Springsteen, my hero, another hero in my life, but he has a song and he talks about one step up, two steps back. And in our field it's, you know, one step up, twelve steps back. And I liken to chipping at a glacier with an ice pick and you know you kinda hope the sun's gonna come out and help you a little, maybe do a little meltdown before you do. And that's what our field has done. It's like we've had so many good things happen and then wham. You know a Supreme Court decision pushes you back and you go in another direction and wham, a news media journalist names a sexual assault survivor or ch--you know and a lot of people would have just given up. And this field it's you don--we don't just not give up, we go humpf, you know, a te--we take it on as a challenge, which I think is really cool. Long answer.
Hook: Well maybe another accomplishment that would be good to hear about right now is victim services and corrections.
Seymour: Yeah, victim services and correction, I always like to quote Bob Bayer was a, he was the head of the Department of Corrections in Nevada a few years back and he said you know I just don't get it. You know we--it should be the easiest part of the criminal justice system -- got 'em all in one place, got 'em all under control, how come we're not doing more to be able to help victims of these offenders. And that made an awful lot of sense to me. Uh, Jim Rowland, you know father of the victim impact statement, father of so much in our field convened in 1987 American Correctional Association Task Force on Victims of Crime. And we ended up developing 15 recommendations. Oh I mean I gotta tell stories about that 'cause I walked in and it was like you know Jim had bottles of fine Napa wine laid out and cheese and yummies too, I wasn't used to... I wasn't used to that at all. And I remember the second meeting when we actually sat down to really start writing about it we did it in a suite that had all TVs so we could all watch football games while we were writing. That's the fun part about our field.
We came up with some recommendations that addressed victim services in corrections relating to notification, basic rights, you know restitution -- which back that was radical collecting restitution from incarcerated inmates and now it's actually becoming pretty standard -- we addressed the impact of crime on victims classes that Sharon English started to you know really help offenders understand that they hurt people. And I always quote Carl Wicklund the Executive Director of the American Probation Parole Association, he says our job should not just be to collect offenders, it's to correct offenders, which makes a lot of sense to me. And then I remember when we were in Arizona watching the football games, writing our report and a woman came in and a long story short, her name was Cindy, she was from Michigan, she had had the hell beaten out of her as a correctional officer, and someone had told her the victim people were meeting. And she came in and said, "What are you gonna do about people like me?" We had nothing. It was like well I guess we--you know, correctional officers and people who work in prisons, probation officers who are victimized and it was happening all over. So we did public hearings around the country. And Jane at the time was Jane Burner, Jane Nady Burnley Sigmon, now at State Department, then the Director of OVC, she came and testified in Baltimore.
And she said, you know, I really like this. I like what you're doing. It's kind of brave and we can give you some money to develop protocols -- 1988, 1989. So the National Victim Center and NOVA and it was the first time we had partnered with NOVA which was pretty exciting, American Probation and Parole Association, American Correctional Association and American Jail Association developed, I mean the initial ba--we talk about bullet proof binders. This was double bullet proof binders 'cause... 'cause there was so much stuff that we wanted people to know and we were in Sacramento, California, 40, 45 states then people and, at that time there were I think four corrections based victim services programs. And I guess it is one of my proudest accomplishments that I've been part of this wonderful group. Today there are 49 and I'm not gonna name names but you--that one state knows who they are. And I think the impact has been tremendous because people say well the guy is in prison and it doesn't you know, you know, what are the victims needs. There are many needs they have.
And they're very, very frightened and, you know, offenders have no problem in a lot of states still harassing and intimidating and scaring the hell out of their victims from... from prison. And and I think the other thing that I really like about corrections based victim services is you have people like Sandi Menefee, California DOC, Bill Stutz, Washington DOC. They took Karen Ho, Ohio, under their wing and I think Karen came and did a site visit, you know, six years ago. And now Karen Ho and Lori Varick and, you know, Gene Wall and it--they're all mentoring each other. And I think mentoring's a huge thing and I think this group has done a fine job of sharing information and resources. And we could not have done it without Jane Sigmon starting out with the funding and.. or a goddess and a saint named Susan Laurence who pushed this issue as well as the issue of victims of juvenile offenders and restorative justice but pushed the issue of corrections-based victim services. She took it on as a mission in her life. And she was remembered, she has... she has died, Susan was at the office for victims and crime and that's actually where the term grant goddess came from.
'Cause you know you have grant monitors of OVC, Laura Federline was our second grant goddess. She was the, Sue Laurence was our original one 'cause she wasn't just a monitor, she was a colleague; she helped us think through things; she helped us create a vision for a field. And corrections was tough; you know, they didn't want no mamby-pamby-hand-holding victim advocates and it's very cool. And today we have APPA, ACA and the corrections administrators, they all have victims committees, which is so awesome. The National Institute of Corrections is, you know, I just finished writing for them. Every new Parole Board member's gonna get training on victim issues for the first time so it was pretty cool. Jim Rowland, Sharon English, Susan Laurence, pioneers we thank them all and we owe them much.
Seymour: I know this is not cool but... (takes drink)
Hook: What is needed today to continue the growth and professionalism of our field?
Seymour: Well, I want to talk about what a lot of people think is needed and I address my opinion of that. And everyone's talking about certification and you know professionalization and standardization of the field. Which I think is cool. I do think we don't get looked at as a profession because there are no standards. And I think that's really important but my caveat to that, Melissa, is that I don't want certification to leave anyone behind. There are many people in the field who do not come here with the, you know, all of the alphabet soup behind them, in I think the majority of the field. Many who've never gone to community college much less the four-year university and the Ph.D. And I want to make sure as we look at certification as a field that we find a way to not leave these people behind and to not make it, you know, I don't know too demanding, too rigorous, too something, because I'm afraid we're gonna lose the heart and soul of the field.
I think and, you know, I think I'm... I'm sort of starting to be known as the crazy woman on this but we need to mentor. We need to, you know, I had Jim Rowland, I had Janice Lord, I had Dean Kilpatrick. And we need to ensure that we create the next generation of leadership in this field. Not just good victim advocates, I mean leadership. People who will go forth and just be dynamic and not--and be fearless and be heroic in everything that the early leaders were. And I don't think we do that enough. And one of the--actually the theme, the only theme of this year's old... old buffalo meeting in Hot Springs, all the old buffalos are being challenged to bring a baby buff with them. And we're... we're gonna talk about this. And we have started through the National Victim Assistance Academy which I've been involved with since also since the beginning of that, we have... we've tried at our site at least to, you know once a week we send our students something. And in doing so we remain in contact with them and then they'll call... they'll e-mail me or they'll e-mail Carroll Ellis or Aurelia (Sands Belle) or call someone and they know every Monday they get something from, you know, 10 national victim advocates.
And they know we care about them, and they know that we're there to help them. And so we do this right now. It started out as a hundred--is probably about a 150 people now 'cause the word got out and people asked to be on the list. We need to do that for everybody. We need to make sure that the co--you know the prosecutor-based victim witness people are mentoring the young'ens that come in. We need to make sure the corrections based victim people who have done a great job continue to do that job, so that we don't lose the next, I think just the next round. And I think also, yeah, I think OVC has... has really, I think they've taken this on, because they're now got a fellowship program which is so cool that people can either come to OVC as a fellow or hopefully come to Justice Solutions, our organization, or to somewhere in the field and learn about what it means to be a victim advocate. And I know this doesn't answer your question but of--I have to mention Ca--Carolyn Hightower. What's needed today to continue the growth of our field? Well, let's just say Carolyn Hightower. We almost lost Carolyn to the Ivory Coast, following her husband who works for the State Department. And Carolyn has been the continuity of this this field. And she and I figured out recently, I think it was through the Oral History Project that we started in the same month in the victims field in 1984. So we came up in the field together, and she being, you know, a lot of jobs at OVC including Interim Director and me being a community-based non-profit victim advocate and you need to have someone like Carolyn who's the anchor of an agency that could be could be a bur--bureaucracy but isn't.
And I would also say of people like John Gillis who you know John's now known as the OVC Director. I met John not long after his daughter, Louarna, was murdered. And we joked a couple years ago about he was saying how I was his mentor with Justice for Homicide Victims with Ellen Griffin Dunne in Los Angeles. And I started laughing and said, "Well, I'd been a victim advocate like two minutes. Y'all were my mentors." And I--and people like John and Carolyn I think and I do have a point here is that there was a lot of co-mentoring going on. And when you have that, you're gonna have not just professionalism but you're gonna have growth that has heart and that's all I'm gonna say about that 'cause we can get all weepy.
Hook: What advice would you give to professionals and volunteers who've joined our field more recently in the last decade?
Seymour: I'm gonna give, I'm gonna tell you advice that people gave to me. Is that okay?
Seymour: A few years back I was--it must have been the 25 anniversary of the victims field, I wrote an article for Crime Victims' Re--Report, hal--Ellen Halbert's journal and interviewed Janice Lord. I always go to Janice. And Janice Lord what advice do you have the field? Two words: Don't fight. I'm gonna let those words speak for themselves. And then I'm gonna tell you what a ju--a judge early on in my career, I think I was like 27 years old, and I was out giving a big speech about, you know, how bad the criminal justice system was and this and that and telling 'em, yeah I had stories about judges. I had a lot of stories about judges and this one judge in particular came up to me and he said, you know Miss Seymour you're gonna get a lot farther in your career as a victim advocate if you don't go around traveling the country calling judges a bunch of assholes (laughter).
And I thought about you know I was so stupid I wasn't even embarrassed but I thought about it on the plane ride home and said, geez. And as I said earlier I quit bashing the media. I would tell a story about a prosecutor who didn't do his or her job but I wouldn't bash prosecutors and obviously I quit calling judges ass... assholes. And I think we're very... we can be very fractionated. We... we're always so quick to look at what people are doing wrong. You know I think ninety-five percent of judges try. And I think most prosecutors really do care about victims. And so we need to take... to take that advice to heart. And I think advice from Dr. Dora Schriro who was the first chair of the ASCA Victim's Committee. She said her favorite saying is "make dust or eat dust."
And I think in this field, to the young'ens I would say don't, you know, don't wait for your invitation to the table of justice because very often it's lost and it ain't there. Make dust. Know that it's okay to, I don't want to say be aggressive, but it's okay to be, you know, firm in your convictions; do the right thing; don't give up; be in there for the long haul. You know I've been doing this 20 years and I consider it a gift. And I never thought you know 20 years ago I was like will I be doing this forever? Well, yeah. You will be doing it forever if you love it and good at what you do. And I'm gonna also give the advice that as so many have on this project and that is to take care of yourself. This is really stressful work. And if you don't have fun, if you don't watch yourself, you're gonna get in trouble. And we've seen people burn out. We've seen people end up with very serious addiction problems in this field. We've seen people die, I think, from the stress. And I remember at a NOVA conference in Tucson, Arizona, and the hotel manager said to a group of us he'd never seen people who consumed more coffee, more alcohol and smoked more cigarettes in his life.
We roared. We thought that was so fu--you know we're drinking, smoking, doing all and then sometime during that week we said this isn't funny. And that was 15 years ago. And so my advice is to take really good care of yourself and to, kind of be pulse check for your colleagues. We've gotten pretty good about that. I think all... all of us to keep an eye out for one each other. When someone gets really stressed out, be there to help them -- so important. (Tape change)
Hook: Anne, is there one person that you think about that has really, really impacted the field?
Seymour: I think there are many but if I had to boil it down to one, it would without a doubt be Lois Haight who is the godmother of the victims rights field. Without her early vision, 19 to 1983 when she was first at the Justice Department, without her shepherding through VOCA and creating the Office for Victims of Crime I doubt that we would be where we are here today. And the thing about Lois that's remarkable is that she came from working with victims and being a prosecutor with domestic violence caseload to the Justice Department and then went on to do remarkable in the field of preventing drug use and abuse which we know has correlations to crime and victimization and today is, not only a judge in East Bay, California, but 2003 Judge of the Year. And she just continues to blaze amazing trails. And I think the trail that she blazed for Jane and for Aileen and Kathryn and John to follow, the other directors of OVC, she's jus--she's been, I think a visionary but also very generous with her... her leadership and her support and her compassion for the people who have to lead our field -- a difficult job that not many people are well suited for, and she started that.
Hook: Anne, what vision do you have for the future of this field?
Seymour: I have a couple, guess I have double vision. I have vision, a vision that comes to me from a woman from California, Cheryl Ward Kaiser, who has touched me in immeasurable ways. Cheryl, her husband was murdered in a horrible scene, crime scene, in front of her and her daughter was raped. Her daughter survived in front of her. And Cheryl has gone on to I think be a real leader in terms of victims' rights and needs but she said at a corrections training we were doing here in California, she said victims remember two things: Those who help and those who hurt. And my vision is simply that we never forget that. And my vision is that everyone in this world, but in particular people who dedicate their lives to victims, remember that we want to be on the side of those who help. I think also speaking of people like Cheryl, my vision is that we keep being driven by what again Sharon English calls the power of the personal story. There is nothing greater and nothing more significant to drive who we are and what we do. And, you know my policy vision is that before I die, before I leave this field, that we will have the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution amended to include core victims rights.
Hook: What is your greatest fear?
Seymour: My greatest fear is that I'm gonna reach a point of retiring or dying and that our field will not have done a good enough job of creating the next generation of leaders. And it's not necessarily a fear now because a lot of the old buffalos have co--have lobbed on to this in the last couple of years and we see it as a significant need. We also see how much we benefited from mentoring in our younger days but also sort of co-mentoring. There were, you know, there were so few people who had experience when the field was young that we really took care of ea--of each other. I also have a fear that the needs of crime victims will reach a point where they are greater than our capacity to meet them. And I hope that's not true but after the bombing of the Murrah Building, after the terrorism of the Cole and the terrorists acts of September 11, there are so many needs of crime victims here in this country and also American citizens who are victimized abroad. Terrorism scares the hell out of me. I live across from the Marine Barracks. I don't need to look at the code of the day. I look out and see what weapons they're carrying and I know how scared to be.
And I'm very scared. And while I know that we have done a really good job of, I think thinking about the potential for a future terrorist act, it scares me that the potential is there and that we have to ri--we may have to rise again to meet those needs. And and I think my... my final fear, I'm a really scared person right now, my final fear is that unless we tackle the cycle of violence of children who witness violence in their homes, on their streets, in their neighborhoods, children who are themselves abused, neglected, thrown away, you know to me it's... it's a direct pass to future victimization, a direct path to the juvenile justice system and to the criminal justice system as offenders. And it just seems to me that we need to be focusing a lot more attention on trying to, I don't know if we'll ever break the cycle of violence, but certainly put a dent in it.
Hook: You know we've talked a lot on a lot of different subjects. Is there anything that we haven't touched upon that you really want to contribute to this Oral History?
Seymour: I think my final thought is just simply that, you know keeping our eye on the eight ball. We need to keep our... our eye on what victims need. That's the bottom line of, you know, everything I do I hope, I really do, but I think it's gotta be the bottom line of our entire field. And that, if we lose that mission or lose that principal in our lives, that we will have lost the value of what we do as victim advocates.
Hook: Great. Thank you very much.
Seymour: You're welcome very much.
|This project was supported by Grant Number 2002-VF-GX-0009 awarded by the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. Points of view in this product are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.|