An Oral History of the Crime Victim Assistance Field
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Seymour: I'm Anne Seymour, the Director of the Office for Victim Crime Oral History Project. And I am here today with?
Siegel: Steve Siegel from Denver, Colorado.
Seymour: Thank you, Steve. Thanks for joining the Oral History Project. And I want to start out by asking you when, how and why did you first get involved in the Crime Victims' Movement?
Siegel: For me, it was an offshoot of the earlier years in my life when I was involved in -- at college in the group of folks who were unhappy with the Vietnam War. And what happened for me is that I became very unhappy with them and realized that my passion for social change needed to be more about people.
And so I started to get involved in that when I was still living in Brooklyn, New York, in college. When I moved to Colorado through a series of things, went to work in a District Attorney's Office. And my first position was working with young offenders. And in doing that, I came in contact with their victims.
We were doing a program back in '76 that has all of a sudden become known as "Restorative Justice". But in those days, it was just a diversion program for young adults. And we started to come in very close contact with their victims. And from there, you started to see the plight of victim's back in the early -- in the mid-70s.
And we first started to focus on domestic violence. And from there we began in Jefferson County, Colorado, the first prosecutor and community-based victim services joint effort to deal with victims of domestic violence. I was very fortunate that in 1983 a fellow by the name of Norm Early became the District Attorney in Denver.
And I was his first recruit to come down and, in many ways, take over the job that he had for the prior DA. And that was dealing with the community and dealing with crime victim's issues. So that's where it began.
Seymour: That's where it all began.
Siegel: That's a long time ago.
Seymour: It is. You're an old buffalo. Mr. Siegel, can you describe the field of victims' rights and services when you first got involved? But, also, give us a little bit about the context of the era in the 70s to 1983.
Siegel: In those days it was a few individuals who wanted to make a difference and dove into circumstances on an individual basis and did what they could. There was nothing systemic about it. There was nothing coordinated about it. The idea that we all had responsibilities to a central person, that crime victim, and that our mission should revolve around that was far from being developed at that point.
But there was a great deal of passion, there was a great deal of concern, there was a great deal of outrage at what was happening to crime victims either within the criminal justice system or those who were unwilling to come forward because of what they anticipated.
Seymour: When you first started out, what were the victim service organizations like, or were there any? I mean, how did they get going?
Siegel: Well, in the Stone Age -- in the Stone Age what went on was that we had the offshoots of the Women's Movement. So we had a safe house and we had a rape crisis center, The Rape Assistance Awareness Program. We had a private, for-profit organization called "Ending Violence Effectively," Carolyn Agosta and Mary Loring, who were in the community.
But other than that and the District Attorney's Office's Victim Witness Program, which Norm was the first director of back in the mid-70s, there really was nothing else. Our program in Jefferson County kicked in in 1979. And from there in Colorado everything really took off in the early 80s with Crime Victim Compensation and the first Bill of Rights and the first funding mechanism.
And so the early 80s were really the time that really brought to life both statutory and monetary resources for crime victims.
Seymour: And was it easy getting victim services going in the Stone Age?
Siegel: We always had the feeling when we went to national meetings that we didn't quite get it, that we didn't quite get the struggle the same way that other jurisdictions did. And one of the reasons was-- is that we had such amazing support in Colorado for the development of this.
That doesn't mean we didn't have our own barriers to go over, but they seemed so small and so insignificant to some of the kind of victory a la hatred that went on for the early days of the movement that we were so threatening to the establishment. That really was not a part of our experience in Colorado.
Seymour: But nationally there was maybe...Talk about the cohesion or lack thereof nationally way back in the early days when you got involved.
Siegel: Well, in the very early days when COVA was getting off the ground...I think John mentioned the other day...John Stein mentioned the other day that this is his 27th conference and mine. And so in those early days the voice on the national level was really very small. I mean, we put on a national conference and got a couple of hundred people.
And it was always the same family members. It's not like walking around now where there's a lot of new faces. But in those days it was, as I said, very much like it was in Colorado. It was made up of people who had a lot of passion and not a lot of planning. And so good work got done -- wonderful work got done case by case.
But the effort to really make a difference in a systemic way, the effort to really make a difference in ways that would last beyond the work we're doing today, really had not been well thought out. The foundations were being planted, the concepts were being thought about, but there wasn't a whole lot out there.
And what was different on the national level was that the resistance from the establishment that we heard about in other locations was really sort of shocking to us in Colorado. I mean, it was really a power struggle. It was really about my turf. It was really about my control. It was really about I'm the authority in this jurisdiction and nothing happens if I say it's not to happen.
Those kinds of things were really rarely faced in Colorado. We had work to do and we had attitudes to change and we had systems to change and we had procedures to change and all those kinds of things. But, really, in those days I was coming out of a pretty frantic period of time in social change.
And written protocols and those kinds of things were the antithesis of the way we thought. And so to realize that I would spend a good portion of my career developing things that I thought were the opposite of what my generation thought were important, (structure and accountability and those kinds of things), we were a movement of passion then. And that's what drove us.
And it's interesting to see how it's come around now to institutionalization and that we realize that the commitment to institutionalization of change and bringing those groups that were considered grass roots and out of the mainstream, that there is no stream if we don't bring those grass roots into the mainstream.
It's a very different mindset than the early days where it was about being against what was going on. Now it's about what we're for.
Seymour: You mentioned the word "passion", but is the passion that you felt, that you just articulated back in the early '80s -- '70s/'80s, is it still here in the field?
Siegel: You know, we have a responsibility to make sure that it's here in the field. And we have a responsibility to do things that will insure that the youth -- the young part of our movement is really instilled with our history, but also with our passion. And I think it's just a natural fact of life that as we spend a lot of years doing this business, we're sort of the glowing embers now.
I don't think that we're the same kind of passion that we were back in those days. But we've done things most -- that I'm most proud of is we started a program in Colorado called -- it used to be called "The Minority Internship Program". Now it's just called "The COVA", Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance Internship Program.
And we go into the schools and into the community and take young people of color and some people who are differently-abled who have disabilities and we place them in paid internships in our community-based and government-based programs. And we try during that period of time to help them learn about our field.
But we try mostly to instill them with that passion that you're talking about. And then they become the foundation for the passion in our movement. They drive us to not get complacent, to not think that we've got institutionalization covered. They make us think through and re-think through the way we're doing business. And that's good. That's helping.
Seymour: That's great. I didn't know that. Early days again, in your pioneering era working in the DA's Office, but you can also talk about COVA or whatever. What was the greatest challenge you and your colleagues faced in affecting change?
Siegel: Greatest challenge we faced was bringing it all together. The greatest challenge we faced was trying to find out what challenges we faced. And I think the way that those two pieces come together is we knew that there were existing resources and we knew that there were people who cared about doing things different.
Whether they were the new mayor in Denver or whether they were the new D.A. or whether they were young legislators or whether they were activists in the community, we knew that they were out there. But the basis to bring them together, the ability to find a common ground for the work that they wanted to do or the things they were concerned about, and make that be effective for the crime victim took a lot of thinking and took a lot of negotiating.
And I remember a time that I spent at the Kennedy School going through that school of negotiation and learning about how you -- when you get involved in negotiations, when you get involved in developing relationships in that kind of environment, you have to give up all your beliefs about authority and power and the seeming control that exists in a situation and somehow come to an even keel for everybody.
So that everybody's operating from the same plane and everybody feels the old cliche word "empowered" to make a difference in their area. And so that was a great piece. Unfortunately, the more excited we got about the successes there, the more we started to see the glaring weaknesses: and that was, even with that effort we still were not reaching parts of the community who needed to be reached.
There are parts of all of our communities across the United States who do not feel the trust and comfort with our systems and our institutions that we may feel, that we are used to, that we know the language of. And so what we started to realize that throughout all of our efforts, there was a group of unserved and under-served individuals by both the criminal justice system and the community-based agencies that we desperately needed to find a way to get there.
And so that was the next challenge, and that is our current challenge still.
Seymour: Again, early days, Steve. What were the secrets, tactics and strategies you employed that were most successful?
Siegel: Single word, "honesty". If we could do something and we could bring about change and we could get the commitment to bring about change, then we could talk about it. And if we couldn't, then we could talk about it. And so it was a very different era that I think... We were very, very lucky in those early '80 years in Colorado, in Denver particularly that we had -- we had a lawsuit that we were faced.
The good ole boys of the previous administration had brought about a group called "The Colorado," here's a name that you won't know, "The Colorado Coalition for Justice for Abused Women" (C-JAWS). They were a tough bunch. And they were threatening to file a lawsuit against Denver, like the lawsuit in Connecticut -- Connecticut v. Torrington, to sue us for non-action in domestic violence cases.
And right about the time that they got their momentum going to file the lawsuit, we had a new mayor, a new district attorney, a new city attorney, a new chief of police, a new sheriff, and a new chief judge of our courts. And they all got together under Norm Early's direction. And I got the staff assignment to get together with the head of C-JAWS and to develop a coalition that would change the way that we did business in Denver for victims of domestic violence.
And so there was an environment where everybody wanted to hear about it, as opposed to the old environment where no one wanted to hear about it. And the same thing happened at the legislature. There were not necessarily young, but thoughtful legislators who wanted to hear about something where they could make a difference, where they could really make an impact.
And so we had this opening and all we had to do was walk into it. And when we got into the opportunity setting to walk into it, we realized what we needed to do the most was be honest with everybody, whether they liked to hear what we had to say, whether they didn't like to hear what we had say.
If we weren't sure, all of it was about honesty and all of it was about communications. And, you know, I think you know and I'm not gonna repeat this story here, but our dear friend, Michael Turpen, the former Attorney General from Oklahoma, tells one of his great stories about communications.
And I still steal it, as Michael steals from everybody when he gives speeches. I still steal it to this day in terms of carrying my message. I have the good fortune now of teaching young graduate school students about leadership and victim services and leadership in law enforcement. And my message to them is always that you can get rid of me.
I've got an hour and a half class. I can tell you two words: honesty and communication. That's all you need to know. It really washes down to a very simple, simple, simple approach.
Seymour: Failures. Were there any failures? And if there were failures in our field, in our movement, could you describe what you perceive them to be.
Siegel: You know, it's not "were" there any failures, it's "are" there any failures. We have failures every day. We have women and children that we're not protecting. We have an inability to really gather up the way, the wherewithal to bring the prevention movement and the victim services intervention movement to a nexus.
We have failures at keeping the relationships that we forge together as we bump into difficult cases. We have terrible failures in our business to understand and utilize technology as a way to make our services better. We have failures in understanding how important it is to bring the disenfranchised, the under-served, the -- the -- the folks who don't want to go...
When we did our assessment for Victim Services 2000, and we'll talk about that later, when we did our assessment, what we found out is the folks who are deep into the community have as much distrust for community-based, non-profit organizations as they do for the criminal justice system.
In their view, it's all one large institution. And so access for those folks, particularly new immigrants, is a very, very difficult subject, and it's one that we're struggling to keep up with. I think nationwide we're struggling to keep up with how to do that.
Seymour: What do you perceive to be the one greatest accomplishment that has promoted victims' rights and victims' needs and issues?
Siegel: A long time ago there was a study that came out of Minnesota about the efficacy of arrest and hold in domestic violence cases. And that Sherman study stated that arrest and hold was not effective over the long run. And I always thought it was an absurd study because it took on the idea that any one action could really make a difference.
And so I can't...in the same way that I couldn't buy into the idea that that study really told you anything about the impact on arrest because what you really needed was a community-wide strategy where everybody was working together, that's the same thing that I feel when you ask me that question.
There is no one piece. It's the collective, small pieces. Maybe that's the one piece. It's the collective, small pieces coming together. Whether they're legislative or whether they're volunteerism or whether they're the powers in your community or whether they're just the people in your community, all of those things coming together to make a difference and do it in a way that lasts more than the way you handled this one case.
I used to say I used to be really comfortable saying to our prosecutors when we train them or whether I train around the country, "You really need to treat victims the way you'd want your own family treated." And I thought that was a great sort of strategy. Except it only dealt with that one case.
And it only dealt with the case where maybe you could feel that way about that victim. And there are a lot of people with a lot of different backgrounds and sometimes you're comfortable and sometimes you're not. And what you really need to do, rather than treat that one victim that way, is you need to have a standard by which you operate.
And that standard should be a protocol. All right? I am wed to the concept of protocols. And our first protocol was in '83 in dealing with domestic violence, and that was followed by a protocol of dealing with the elderly and disabled crime victims and child sex abuse cases. And now sex assault cases and non-stranger sex assault cases.
And so our effort is based in that writing that lives beyond the case that we're currently working on. And in order for that to happen, the one most important thing is all the little pieces have to come together.
Seymour: Speaking of little pieces coming together, just tell us about Victim Services 2000, and if you could give us some deep background on how it got started and to where it is today. And even though you're only Colorado, I know you know about the other -- a little bit about the other sites. If you don't mind, just...
Siegel: Talk about that?
Seymour: Yeah. What it is.
Siegel: Victim Services 2000 was an idea that came out of then Director of OVC Aileen Adams. And I'm sure it was strongly supported by Carolyn Hightower, our dear friend. And it was a statement that said we are, as the federal government, putting a lot of money back into communities as we should, and we should look at what are the models for the best services that can be delivered.
And so this application was created. And it was at that time thought to be best served by having an urban setting, a mixed setting -- urban/rural -- and then a rural setting. So we applied. Denver is, much to the surprise of some of the folks on the east coast, is actually an urban setting. And we applied and went up against all the big kids on the block, and were selected.
And I think we were selected because of what we talked about earlier, which was we had a long history by then of...this was '96, so we had a long history of bringing people to the table. So we didn't go out as an entity and write a grant. We brought 35 or 40 people to the table and thought about whether we wanted to apply for a grant.
And those people were community-based and system-based and legislative-based and school-based folks, all of whom had a piece of...they were a part of the little pieces that came together to make Denver Victim Services what they were. And they were also honest, and we also communicated about what we didn't have.
And what we didn't have at that time was a really good, effective outreach program, and we really didn't have much in the way of technology. And so we wrote an application that lauded those things that we did really well: our relationships; our trust in each other; our need to build more trust and rebuild trust that got hurt by difficult cases.
But really, really talked about that which we had built in the way of bridges between all of our organizations and institutions. And we were really honest about what we didn't have and what we wanted to improve. And so Washington looked at that. OVC looked at that and selected us to be the urban site.
And the theory, as you know and as you've quoted, our theory is there is no wrong door for victim services. Any way you want to get in. Any way that anyone in Denver can reach to you and realize that you have been through a trauma due to criminal victimization should be able to give you access to services and rights.
And so we brought together and kept together that group over the last six years now. We're after our five-year grant period and we've sustained the effort. Victim Services 2000 is now called "Victim Services Network," although I still haven't gotten to the new name yet. I'm still calling it "Victim Services 2000."
And we have an ongoing staff. And we've been able to place our director, who was so much at the source of the success, Marti Kovener, is now doing the field work for the new OVC Tech Project. So we've spawned the theory of Victim Service 2000 on the national level. And OVC has been very kind to continue a technical assistance project for Victim Services 2000 so that we can take our message and offer it up to other jurisdictions who might be interested.
At the heart of Victim Services 2000, for us in Denver, was outreach to under-served and unserved folks, the use and the development of technology and training for all service providers and allied professionals. And so we're very committed to both training and cross-training. And, again, at the heart of all that is developing trust and honesty and communications.
And so we have ongoing staff who are taking care of all those things and working in new projects. But the one I'm most proud of in that package is our Community Advocacy Program. And I think we all are familiar with the idea of outreach and I think we all know that outreach has its limits.
I know that the community has told us, particularly when you get below the surface in the community, the community has told us that traditional outreach is seen as part of the institutions, the status quo. And so what we said was that we were going to go into the communities and hire someone indigenous to that community to be our liaison, to learn about crime victim services, to learn about access to crime victim services, to learn about the criminal justice system, but to work from within their own community where they had an established level of trust and to be that link, that bridge to the kinds of services that we wanted to offer.
And so now we have community advocates that work through the faith-based communities working with elderly victims of financial fraud. We have a woman working out of the Muslim mosque who is the link to the Muslim community in Colorado. We have a woman working out of the Curtis Park Community Center who is a link to the Latino and African American population in our community.
And we have a final victim advocate who's working out of an organization called "DOVE," which is an advocacy program for deaf women who are victims of sex assault and domestic violence. And it is our intent to spread that. It is our intent to go deeper into the faith-based community. It's our intent to go deeper into newly immigrant populations and develop the resources and the funding and the support to have community-based advocates wherever there are un-served and under-served populations.
Siegel: We like it.
Seymour: That's so good. God!
Siegel: We like it. So you wanted to know about victim services in the other jurisdictions?
Seymour: Oh, just kind of like you were talking about planting the seed. But in Vermont and just sort of the concept of Victim Services 2000. What do you think the impact's been?
Siegel: Vermont is very different than ours because they're a state-wide program. And so I think they're trying to promote ideals and concepts that can be adopted by communities. And I understand the difficulty of that because we've been lucky enough but challenged enough that we seem to be on the cutting edge a lot, as they say.
So this domestic violence policy that we did, which has all the elements of something that everybody talks about today (arrest and hold overnight and immediate victim advocacy and safety plans and no-drop prosecution policies and all of the package), when we first developed those back in '83 and we took them out on the road to other jurisdictions, particularly non-urban jurisdictions in Colorado, there's a trust building and a difficulty in having those kinds of concepts really be accepted by other jurisdictions.
And so when you have a state-wide strategy like Vermont does, and it has to take it out on the road and you go from Burlington, Vermont to the small, little hamlets up in the mountains of Vermont, you have a very different kind of selling package. And so they've got a tremendous challenge on their hands and I think they're doing a nice job with it.
In the jurisdictions that did not survive the early parts of their grant, I think what was missing was the -- was two things. One was a real commitment from the top to sustain the effort. Not that they didn't believe in it, but that it really wasn't high enough on the priority list to sustain that kind of energy because it takes a lot of work.
I mean, I can blow by and tell you the theories of Victim Services 2000, but I can't tell you how many meetings everybody had to commit to go to, how many hours we had to look at things that were difficult for us to look at, and shortcomings and ways that we didn't do well. It wasn't all a love fest.
It was about taking apart that which many of us had spent years working on and trying to say, "In order to rebuild this, we've got to start at scratch. We've got to talk about things that are difficult."
Seymour: And just for the record, we say Victim Services 2000, Steve, but when did the project actually begin?
Seymour: In that editorial comment bit, that I remember going "2000? That's so far off," and now it's 2002.
Siegel: Before the president started building his bridge to the new millennium.
Seymour: Okay. I'll ask you about substance abuse at the end because I need to get through the official questions. [B ROLL] What is needed, Steve, today to continue the growth and professionalism of our field? What's needed? And if there is something missing, what's missing?
Siegel: I think that the heart of what we have to commit to is... And this is-- this is, I think, a hard, human thing to do. As we have been in the field for a really long time and as we have gotten to the point where we've established our positions and our salaries and all of these kinds of things that come with seniority and lifestyles and all of those kinds of things, somehow finding the way to not do what seemingly every other business does (which is hold on to your turf and hold on to your power base and hold on to your control), but to really start to realize that in order for this movement to sustain itself, we have to move aside and give access to all of that good stuff.
We have to be committed to what it means to be the youngest person in the organization or the newest person in the organization. We have to realize what it means to let go of the -- of the honors and the good feelings of what we've built because we may have to tear that down in order to take care of the world as it is tomorrow.
The strategies that work for the crimes that we faced 10 or 15 years ago may or may not work for the new wave of crimes that we're seeing. Certainly, the impact of non-violent crime today is far greater than when we were comfortable focusing on victims of violence.
The impact of identity theft and fraud against the elderly where you take law-abiding people who have lived productive lives 50 and 60 and 70 years and through a lack of being on guard, their entire life savings is gone with no hope of putting that back together again, if that doesn't fit into the definition of violent act against someone, then I'm missing some point somewhere.
So we have to re-think -- we have to be willing to re-think the new world that we're facing. We have to be willing to re-think how we're going to hold onto our professionalism and our control and all those good things that come from seniority and allow the new ideas to come into be. And so that's a challenge because it's very different than what the humankind develops here in our country.
We like being senior. We like having the ability to control things a little bit. We like having the better paycheck and the ability to put our kids through school and those kinds of things. And yet, the challenge is to be open to realizing how we have to revitalize our movement.
Seymour: What advice can you give to Buffalo Chips and Buffalo Nickels, the newbies to the field?
Siegel: You know, the field is a lot tougher to get into today than it was when we were there. We just had a sort of...You know, Woody Allen says "Ninety percent of life is just showing up." In our day we could just sort of show up and find our way in. And in today's world, it is a highly competitive field.
And it is one where, and rightfully so, being accredited is a good discussion. I've had the good fortune to sit on the -- first, the Supreme Court Commission and now the State-wide Commission in Colorado for Standards for the Treatment of Batterers -- court-ordered batterers and bring victims' issues and victims' safety to that table.
But over the course of time, I've seen that we have said in Colorado statutorily that you cannot treat an offender who's convicted of domestic violence unless you are accredited. And yet, we don't have that for victim services. And it is quite offensive to many victim advocates.
And I understand that strategy. But somehow raising the bar for all of us about our professionalism is a really important piece to this whole puzzle.
Seymour: What vision do you have for the future of our field?
Siegel: I'm not too old to say that I still have a vision of peace. But if we don't get that, then I have a vision that we somehow can bring the world of modern technology to the world of old fashioned caring for people. And that we do that in a way that makes sense not for the service providers but for the victims, and make sense for those folks who still don't trust us enough to come forward.
Seymour: And last official question, Steve, then we'll get into some other stuff. What is your greatest fear for our field or for our field's country?
Siegel: My greatest fear for the field is the same fear that I had in the day I started, and that's that we would allow our individualism and our turfism to get in the way of doing the work that we need to do.
Seymour: Do you still see that happening?
Siegel: Oh, of course. You know, that's a process of being ever-vigilant because I think that it doesn't always come from malevolent behaviors. I don't think it comes from a bad place necessarily. I think it comes from a somewhat maybe blind commitment to that which you do, and no really understanding that which what everybody else does in order to make the whole thing come together.
And so you want to hold on to what it is that you know works and in doing so, you keep out other things that work. Now there's also malevolent turfism and control things and all that kind of stuff, and those of us that have been around politics long enough know that that's-- that may actually be the oldest profession.
Seymour: Take your pick of the order. The last two things I want you to talk about if you're comfortable is Columbine and, if you don't mind, telling the story of...Remember how you told me about getting the call?
Siegel: Uh huh.
Seymour: If you could walk us through that. And then I want to hear a little bit about...Go ahead with Columbine cause I need to ask you really specific questions about the substance use issue cause...
Siegel: Okay. Sure. Actually, let's go back one and let's talk about Oklahoma.
Seymour: Thank you.
Siegel: I was in my car when Cheryl Tyiska called me and said there was a building that blew up in Oklahoma City. And I was in the midst of going to a rather difficult negotiation between two agencies that were really having a rough time with each other.
And my impression was that there was a boiler that blew up or something like that. And I knew people were hurt, but I didn't want to give up this opportunity to get these two agencies working together because they were both critical to our local victims. And so I told Cheryl that I couldn't go, and I went off to this meeting.
And about two hours later someone came in and said there was a bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma. By then, of course, the team was well established and sent off. And so that was my first exposure to Oklahoma. I sort of turned down going which, for a crisis junkie, is quite a piece of legacy.
But strange as the world is, around the corner comes the trial of McVeigh and Nichols, and it's coming to Colorado. And so we had this legacy of saying that we knew how to work together and we needed to step up and show that. And so we put together the Colorado/Oklahoma Resource Center which is -- we refer to as "CORC."
And we hired two wonderful directors, Robin Finegan and Krista Flannigan, the Finegan and Flannigan girls. And, of course, Krista came from a prosecution victim services background and Robin came from a community, non-profit background and from Oklahoma City. And we put together a project that lasted for several years through the trials.
And it did everything from provide safe shelter for folks at the trial, to housing, to services, to mental health counseling, to recreational opportunities for a new batch of victims every single week. And it tested us and it tested our community in ways that are to this day spine-tingling, make the hair on your arms stand up kinds of experiences.
It took everything we had as a community to make that program what it is and I think to this day I can't imagine that we could have done any better or more for that community that came to visit us then we did. Even with that, we thought at the time that we had done as big a project as needed to be done.
And it's quite sobering to have had other experiences after that and you and I worked on the planning in the aftermath of 9/11 which made the Oklahoma bombing piece look like a small little puzzle compared to the huge jigsaw puzzle. And so we've got this thing going on where we seem to be escalating the size of the challenge for us.
And I don't like it one bit but what I also don't like is that, that we can loose the importance of every single individual victim by the magnitude of the next event and I read a headline in the newspaper today about some of the victims in Virginia are feeling in that they had 180 some odd people die and of course they dwarf in numbers to the World Trade Center.
And perhaps there's some dwarfing of how we're servicing and acknowledging their loss and pain compared to what went on at the World Trade Center and I think that's hard for me to fathom that that goes on in sort of this natural piece. And you know when I look back on it, it was the same thing in Oklahoma.
The victims within the Murrah Building had a certain... a certain status if you will that was different then those were hurt and injured outside of the building. And we have this work that we left to do in order to educate everyone, the public on up to ourselves that an individual is what we're dealing with whether it's a mom who lost her son in a drunk driving crash or a kid who was caught in a cross-fire in a drive-by or a terrorist attack on a World Trade Center that kills thousands of people.
And that's a difficult piece because we're not... clearly we're not down the road. If there's a headline today about victims feeling less than equal and less than fairly treated today, then as we sit here and film this, there's so much work that's left to be done. So that was Oklahoma.
I was sitting in a rather, they refer to it as the posh Denver athletic club having lunch with a dear friend of mine who I do a lot of training with these days, Dr. Jerry Williams, who was one of the first chiefs of police in the United States to have a Ph.D. in police science and also one of the first to really embrace crime victim services quietly at the police level, in a small department.
Jerry and I were having lunch and I got a call from Carolyn Hightower, thank God for cell phones. And she said, "Are you at Columbine?" That's our state flower and I said, "Do you think I'm out in the fields looking at flowers in the middle of the week? I know you think that Colorado's sort of a little bit out there darling, but you know we're doing more than looking at flowers."
And she goes, "Columbine, are you at Columbine High School?" I said, "It's lunchtime, why would I be at Columbine High School?" She said, "Look up at a television." In the place where we're eating happened to have a television and there were the helicopters flying over Columbine High School. This was less than 10 minutes into the shootings.
And...Jerry had to pay for lunch, I ran out and got in my car, picked up Marti Kovener and 15 minutes later thank gosh for unmarked police cars that we drive, little perks of the office. And we got through the crowd that was there and pulled up in front of Leewood Elementary School which is just around the street from Columbine High School.
And victim advocates sort of flooded to that school which was the staging, one of the two staging places for families. And we just started working.
Seymour: As the tragedy was unfolding you were there?
Siegel: Yeah, as the tragedy was unfolding, as the shooting was occurring, we had kids running in, some of whom were covered in other people's blood and some of whom were just petrified and some of whom didn't know why they were petrified, they hadn't even heard, they just were sent running out of the schools.
And by the time they got to Leewood Elementary, they didn't even know why they were there. We had parents flocking in by the hundreds if not thousands, grandparents and friends and we had to come up with a way to sort that out. And so we had to sort out the immediate of what was there and then we had to start thinking about this is not a sprint, we were in sprint mode and this was a marathon about to be.
And so we had to start that thinking and we got Carolyn back on the phone and had some discussions with Kathryn Turman, but Carolyn became our link to the Office of Victims of Crime. To make a long story short, a really long story short, by Friday of that week there was already an award to Colorado, to Jefferson County, to deal with crime victim compensation and to deal with program funding from the Office of Victims of Crime.
And so on the federal level they came to in the fastest fashion possible and on the local level they had already sent out 2000 victim comp claims by Friday. In the meantime that was essentially round the clock victim services going on from a myriad of folks around our metropolitan area and we had some NOVA consulting come in to help us, Dr. Bob Denton, and that was a great help. And we were able to do everything from the death notifications to the hospital support work to the debriefings that needed to happen for faculty, for the staff of the school, for the school board and of course for the students. And so that went on and became a project that we were involved in for over two years.
And there are still remnants and services being delivered and you know it was strange, that the breadth of services went all the way from the classic victim services to...
... a company like AT&T Wireless saying, you know what, you're going to have a graduating class soon and that graduating class is going to go off to college and they're going to be in corners of the United States and beyond where no one knows that they were Columbine students. And they're going to need in the middle of the night to call someone.
And so AT&T Wireless came out with hundreds of free long distance phone cards which we then gave to the kids who were going off to college. So it went from some little things like that to allow for communication to continue to being there and trying to do the life plan for someone who was catastrophically injured and was going to need accommodations for as long as they lived.
And trying to figure out the monetary value of having to rebuild a house for access, having to have voc rehab and all of the kinds of things that go on in trying to build back a life of someone who was going to school and ended up being catastrophically injured. So that was the Columbine story in a nutshell.
I will tell you that there was no, unfortunately in my business being in the prosecutor's office, I've been to more crime scenes that I really like to talk about. But I will tell you being in the library of Columbine High School was far beyond anything that I could ever imagine in terms of just how personal it was.
Clearly it was a crime scene from absolute hell, but I remember several weeks later going back into the library, escorting the school administrators and the architects in for the first time anyone had been into the school that was not part of law enforcement. And we were standing and the assistant superintendent said, "My God, I can feel the spirits in this room."
And you could, you could feel all of those spirits still lost somewhere in that room. And it was an experience that just says with you.
Seymour: I remember when that happened, I remember saying when that happened in Denver.
Siegel: Well you know we were glad when the trial came from Oklahoma to Denver and we were glad to serve in Columbine. I think we're glad to hopefully we'll be done for a while in Colorado although it's just as bad sending the teams off to New York or Virginia or any place else. But yeah, it's come home to Colorado for a small state.
Seymour: I am going to give a little bit of introduction to frame the issue but a couple of years ago a group of people in our field started talking about the issues of substance use and abuse among victims and dug a little deeper and started talking about use and abuse as a pre-victimization factor and of course as we know a post victimization factor.
And nationally we tried to identify people who had a clue about this issue and I think there were five people, maybe four. And you were one of them. And I just want you to just talk for a couple of minutes about why did it take our field so long to identify this as an issue and what you've done historically...on the issue and how it kind of relates to where we're kind of going in this direction asked specifically to victims.
Siegel: Yeah, I'm a kind of the 60s and without going into much detail about that, we were exposed to substance use and abuse. And as a matter of fact I got out of the anti-war movement because there was so much substance abuse going on it that I couldn't figure out how anyone was getting any work done.
And one of the things that we did, a group of us, did was in fact was to start a drop-in center for people who were out of control with their drug use. And that was one of our first volunteer efforts was to start that on campus at City University of New York. And so when I came out to Colorado and as I told you I started working with young offenders, it was pretty obvious that they were involved in, almost all of them were loaded in some fashion when they committed their crime.
And as we started to look at the victims of those crimes where there...particularly where there were family issues going on, we found a lot of substance abuse. When I came down and started working for Norm, I had already had that as sort of a philosophy. And Norm was really about a district attorney who wanted social change and social improvement, the human condition mattered, not just the criminal justice system.
And so we took a philosophy that said anything that we can do to better our community was better for the criminal justice system. And Norm, when I was in the Jefferson County DA's office and Norm was in the Denver DA's office, we both ended up as the only two men on the Board of Directors of the first residential drug treatment program for women in Colorado.
And so there was this boy bonding thing, the two boys and a whole group of very strong feminist women who were on this Board. And so we became friends and we became colleagues but we also realized that this commitment particularly because this was a residential drug treatment program for women, that this particular issue struck home at the heart of those us who cared about crime victims.
Because every single woman, every single woman who was in that facility had been the victim of some type of violence or neglect, sexual abuse, child abuse...and that was at the heart of what was keeping their lives off-balance. And we also started to realize as we started to look at this that many women who were abusing drugs were put into situations of vulnerability that were far greater and far more precarious then those who were not abusing substance.
Homeless women who were abusing substance were even at a higher level of risk and so it became a natural outcropping of caring about crime victims to care about substance abuse. So it then grew into as I became the Chair of that Board of Directors, I ended up on the Foundation Board of the University of Colorado Medical Center Drug Treatment Programs, which is the largest facility in Colorado that treats both inpatient and outpatient folks.
And as we started to look at the outpatient population and as we started to look at the youth population, we started to find the same, now I can't quote you statistics, but I will tell you well above 90 percent of those folks who were seriously abusing substances had had victimizations go on in their lives either early in their lives or somewhere that it was the trigger for their substance abuse.
And so it wasn't really hard to get to that topic and I was actually shocked that when you came to film in Colorado that there were so few people who had come up with that link, I didn't think it was anything particularly bright, I thought it was sort of a "duh" kind of thing.
Seymour: Well even today you know we've got the Academy Chapter, I guess I'm going to be a little editorial here and you can respond, but it's still an issue that's a little bit of the elephant in the middle of the room that people are somewhat hesitant to bring up and to talk about if at all. That's my opinion.
Siegel: Let's go back to your earlier question about difficult things and one of them is I talked about prevention coming into the ballpark where the other one is where the line is crossed from victim to perpetrator. And I don't think we have the commitment to the gray areas that are necessary to look at who's a victim and who's a perpetrator.
And whether that's substance abuse or whether that's shaking this thing on my right, whether that's substance abuse or whether that's post-victimization, acting out. We had a case come up last week, an adult male who is the adopted son of a unfortunately a spiritual person in our community who, this gentlemen, I use the term loosely, was found to be...have almost a 50 year history of abusing young boys.
And when this came to light, this adopted son, originally foster son, now adopted son of his, came forward and revealed that he too had been abused by his step dad and currently was on a probation for having sexually abused a 14 year old girl. And so do we have a perpetrator or do we have a victim or do we have both?
And where is it that we as a system can come together and deal with the fact that he was drunk as a skunk and high as a kite when he abused this girl. And so you've got the whole package coming together, victimization, perpetration, substance abuse and we really don't have the same commitments and protocols and understandings that are necessary in order to address him as a human being.
And frankly to address his victims who by the way were 14 year old homeless girls who were also put in a position of being victimized because they were looking to score dope. So it's... we've got work.
Seymour: I lied, we've got three minutes, I just want to end by just name some people who have made a difference in this field.
Siegel: Bob Preston and Bob Preston and Bob Preston. I can name those to start with. You know Bobby was the Co-chair of the Colorado Constitutional Amendment Network with myself. It was one of the truly great honors to serve as his little boy in the movement. I was the kid and he was the grandfather in every way possible and it was a great, it was a great knee to sit on and learn.
I'll just forever be just touched by Bob and who he is. I know you've heard about Betty Jane, Betty Jane's having a rough time these days, but Betty Jane made me laugh and cry more times in the early years of the business. And we've got a bunch of old buffalos out there, Janice Harris Lord who I don't think is at the conference.
God bless her books and her commitment and her understanding of topics that we haven't wanted to hear about. Every July 31st, I call June Gordon. June Gordon was one of the first voices, remember the President Task Force Report back in '82 talks about how victims may make us feel uncomfortable?
Well June Gordon was the queen of making us feel uncomfortable in Colorado. She said more mean things to us that kept us going and kept us lit up and I call June every July 31st now for dozens of years because it's the anniversary of her daughter's murder and that's our bond.
We don't get to see each other very much but every July 31st we talk, usually about golf now instead of her daughter's murder, but we both know what the call is about. There are so many people, you know I was a young pup trying to learn and Marlene Young was teaching. And John was there cajoling.
But I can't go through old names and not get very far down the road without talking about Norm. Norm really was the spirit and heart of so much of my work and gave me the opportunity to do a lot of really off the wall crazy things and both succeed and fail and be supportive.
And then there were the colleagues that came along and sat together with us and supported ideas that we were doing, David, yourself, so many of us have been doing similar work across the country and being willing to share and give and take and do that in an open way where no one felt any of that turfism stuff that takes away so much of our energy.
So there are so many great folks out there.
Seymour: Thank you.
Siegel: Thanks for the opportunity. [End of Tape]
|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.|