An Oral History of the Crime Victim Assistance Field
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Jane Nady Sigmon: First
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Seymour: Good morning, I am Anne Seymour. I'm the Director of the OVC Oral History Project. And this morning we have with us...
Sigmon: I'm Jane Nady Sigmon.
Seymour: Jane, tell us what you do now for a living.
Sigmon: I'm the victim assistance specialist at the US State Department. I work within the Bureau of Consular Affairs, Office of Overseas Citizen Services. It is the office that focuses on assisting Americans overseas.
Seymour: Thank you. We're just going to jump right into the interview this morning. Why and how did get involved in the crime victims' movement?
Sigmon: How did I get involved in the crime victims' movement? In the mid-1980s, I was an appointee in the Federal government at the Department of Health and Human Services. My background prior to that was in child development and psychology and education. I specialized in learning and developmental disorders in children.
I had spent a good part of my professional career working in an interdisciplinary diagnostic center with children with complex learning and emotional and developmental problems. And I had this -- I had a wonderful formative experience professionally, working on an interdisciplinary team with children with serious developmental problems. I came to appreciate the contributions of several different disciplines. And the fact that no single discipline could solve any particular problem -- it was my opportunity on an interdisciplinary team.
When I went to Washington, DC, I worked in the Administration on developmental disabilities for a couple of years as a Special Assistant. Then I was asked to administer the Children's Bureau. It -- the Children's Bureau is a fairly large -- it's actually one of the oldest Federal agencies. It's responsible for administering all Federal foster care and child abuse programs. When I went there in 1985, it was a -- it was a really difficult time in terms of child abuse and neglect. The national -- I oversaw the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect.
And there was a tremendous amount of attention being focused on the response to child abuse in this country and the need to improve the cooperation between child protective services and the criminal justice system. This was the time when the McMartin case was in the headlines. It was an illustration of how difficult it is to meet the needs of children and effectively prosecute criminals who sexually abuse children.
These were caretakers, people -- I don't want to go into that case, but everybody recognizes the McMartin case as a turning point. We began to discuss issues like the difference between clinical interviewing and forensic interview of children who had been abused. And there was a tremendous amount of attention being focused on the conflicts between child protective services and law enforcement and the criminal justice system.
And I had the opportunity to fund some discretionary grant projects, including one where we convened a symposium of law enforcement and child protective services experts to discuss and hammer out what the role of CPS was and what the role of law enforcement was in responding to child abuse and neglect. And there was a publication we -- we asked a man named Doug Beshrof as the facilitator of that, that symposium.
So, that was -- that was an issue was very much in the forefront and it was a tremendous focus of my attention. During that time I also got to meet Bud Cramer who was the prosecutor in Huntsville, Alabama, who had established a children's advocacy center.
And this was a center for one stop shopping. It was a place that was established with the leader -- under the leadership of a local prosecutor in which children who reported abuse could come and be seen by a number of disciplines. They could be interviewed cooperatively between child -- involving law enforcement, child protection and the prosecutor's office. Have their medical needs met. It was -- it was really revolutionary to think that -- that a place that was really focused expressly on minimizing the additional trauma that an abuse -- abused child suffered after the abuse. It was just a wonderful model and we got to fund some of those -- those pro -- I think we provided some support for his project when I was at the Children's Bureau.
In -- somewhere in late 1986, I was making a speech somewhere on child abuse and neglect and I was specifically focusing on the criminal justice system response to child sexual abuse and the -- a man named Rickey Bell, who was the -- then the Assistant Attorney General for criminal justice programs was at this very same meeting. And I think he also spoke. And he called me up afterward and said that they had an office at the Justice Department that was in need of a Director. And I -- he said, you know, "I was interested in your presentation and I think that you should come over here and we, we would like to talk with you."
So, I went over and interviewed with him and one thing led to another and in a few month's time I was at the Office for Victims of Crime, first as Deputy Director until all the paperwork was done and then I became the Director of the Office for Victims of Crime, which was truly an awesome moment.
Seymour: What year was that?
Sigmon: I went to OVC in the spring of 1987. And my first day on the job was Crime Victims' Rights Week that year. It was in April. And to say that it was a nearly overwhelming experience -- walking into an office that was in the middle of Crime Victims' Rights Week celebration -- was the -- was really something.
Seymour: And at that point at OVC, it was a relatively new office. Could you just talk a little bit about what it was like, uh, at the very beginning of OVC?
Sigmon: Well, as I came in -- I came to learn from meeting with Mr. Abell that he had served as the Deputy Director to Lois Herrington, who was the Assistant Attorney General for Justice Programs. And Lois Haight Herrington -- was an amazing dynamo of a person. She had served as the Chairman of the President's Task Force on Victims of Crime and was a crusader for improving the criminal justice system's response to crime victims and had shaped the recommendations of that Final Report which included enactment of the Victims of Crime Act and the establishment of a -- an Office for Victims of Crime.
So, by the time I got there in 1987, Lois had established the Office and had seen to it that that legislation was passed. And had a set up -- I believe she had drafted the first guidelines for the grant programs. VOCA, when it was first funded was established to create funding for local victims assistance programs, to match the -- encourage the expansion of compensation by providing matching grants to the state victim compensation programs.
And there was a very small amount, I think it was 1 percent originally, that could be used -- a half of one percent could be used for discretionary grants and one half of one percent could be used for Federal crime victims services and training and technical assistance.
So there...it was really interesting, because when I first got there and I was just -- just -- poured over all the historical documents and looked at this -- you remember the Brown book, which was the legislative history of VOCA that Greg Brady and some of the other folks who were involved in the creation of VOCA -- and looking at it.
And I remember asking a question, "Well, how -- how much money were -- did people anticipate would be coming into the Fund when they were working on this?" And the people said no one had any idea, because the Justice Department had never -- had never really tracked the funds that came in through Federal criminal fines, penalties, bonds and forfeitures. No one really had any idea.
So, here it was $65 million. I mean, it was -- it was a fabulous concept to take money from criminals to fund services and programs for victims. But people really didn't have any sense of what that was going to be. So when I got there, they -- they were -- had made I believe the first grants to the states. Because VOCA's -- the funds were collected in 1985 for the first time after passage of the Act in 1984.
Then the -- you know, the way the Fund works is you have to accumulate the money for a year. Then you get a certified amount and then you can make those grants. So, the first grants were made in fiscal year 1986. And I joined the office in 1987.
So, the guidelines had been drafted to set up the grants to the states and there was some discretionary grant money that had been awarded to a couple of national organizations to begin to provide technical assistance and services to the field as a whole. But it's like the foundation was there and then it was time to give it shape and to really develop its mission and implement it. So... (Break in interview)
Sigmon: So, I became the Director of the Office of Victims of Crime in the Spring of 1987. The Office was very young at that point. It had only been around -- it had been administratively established with the focus of getting the legislation passed, the Fund established and then finally, in fiscal year 1986, their first grants were awarded to the state assistance and compensation programs.
When I came in 1987, I had spent five years already in Federal agencies managing programs. The Children's Bureau was a billion dollar agency by the time I left. I had, I think, 30 pieces of legislation that I was responsible for administering, everything from special needs adoption to formula grants for foster care, entitlement grants. The National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect -- it's a very complex program. We had both grants to states and we had discretionary grants. So, when I came into OVC, it was such a young office, what it really needed was focus on getting it established as a -- as an office with credibility, that could influence other Federal agencies and could provide a focal point for the field for advocacy.
And that was -- at the time I went -- what I thought was the most important thing. Because it's -- it was a vision, but its potential hadn't really begun -- no one really new exactly how it was going to work. For example, grants to states for victims assistance programs -- the way the Federal government usually does business is that you give grants and the states then administer it. They give grants to local programs, but they're generally thought of as seed grant programs, which means that the local program gets money, it gets on its feet, it expands services or establishes a new service and then the Federal money is taken away after a year or two or three years. Because it's seed money. You want to seed the development of new ideas, new initiatives, new programs, that that might not have the money locally to get started. And that was the thought of VOCA originally that this would be one of these kinds of programs. And early on, we began discussing the question of well, is this permanent funding of the programs or is this seed money?
These were issues that came up all the time in the Children's Bureau -- it was -- the Children's Bureau was, as I said, one of the oldest Federal agencies and they had been debated and resolved years -- years earlier. But in the early years of the Victims of Crime Office, those kinds of issues had to be discussed. And as I said, no one really knew how much was going to be available.
During my almost five years there, it grew from $60 -- let's see, I think it started about $65 million and it grew to about $150 million. So -- and, of course, you know, years later it become hundreds of millions of dollars coming into the Fund in each year. So, I remember when -- I think it was one of those projects -- Project Ill Wind, which was the prosecution of defense contractor fraud cases. And the first $10 million deposit came into the Fund and somebody called me up and told me we were going -- and I read in the newspaper that -- that, you know, there was a criminal fine of $10 million.
And I thought, oh, my God [laughs]. Listen, we're talking serious money here. And it -- it began to raise. And what I remember reading years later about Daiwa bank having to deposit, I think it was over $300 million in one fell swoop into the fund -- I thought, boy, there's just no limit to what -- not that there's unlimited money, but the potential is so great for what this money can do for crime victims. So, my -- I think the thing that I focused on initially was getting the place organized. There was just a handful of staff, we created the divisions, established organizationally with the state crime victim division and the Federal crime victim division and the discretionary grant division. The focus initially was on the -- on the formula grants and getting those grants established. But early on it became -- I realized that the Victims of Crime Office, as a young Office -- the Director was not a Senate confirmed position.
And I looked around the Office of Justice Programs and um, JJJP, the Office of Juvenile Justice Director -- Administrator was a position that had to be nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate, as was the Bureau of Justice Statistics. I thought, you know, the victim's office needs to be elevated to that level. When I came in I was an Attorney General appointee. I was hired, I'm pleased to say, by Ed Meese, who was the Attorney General at the time.
But we began to -- the field was advocating for amendments to the Victims of Crime Act in 1988. And one of the amendments that was very important I felt was that the position being made a Senate confirmation position. I didn't want that for myself. And, in fact, I was never Senate confirmed. We went to -- after the passage of the amendment that established the office as a Senate confirmation position -- what they call in bureaucracy a PAS, Presidential appointee, Senate confirmation, the Office of Legal Counsel rendered an opinion that I could stay in the Office and continue on as Director. But as soon as I vacated the Office, the next person occupying the position would have to be Senate confirmed. And I ended up staying in the office until 1991. And continued on quite a long -- long time after that. Was never Senate confirmed and didn't need to be.
So, establishing the Office in the law was a priority, establishing the Office organizationally and establishing the Office's mission and role as a credible focal point for crime victim's issues was really important at that time.
Seymour: When you came to OVC, to the Justice Department, can you just describe what the field of victims' rights and services was like including the context of the era in the '80s?
Sigmon: Well, my perception was -- and remember, I came out of the field of child abuse and I didn't have so much experience with advocates in domestic violence and sexual assault as probably I should have or I wished I had. And it was -- it was a little fractious and a little bit contentious. There were very few national organizations that were speaking for victims. The domestic violence and sexual assault coalitions, I think, were good at attending to the needs of the -- of the victims that they were -- that they served.
And there was -- you know, when money's tight it creates conflicts that shouldn't be. And it wasn't a field in which the advocacy organizations would -- got together very much cooperatively on -- feeling that -- that if every -- if we all do better -- if the program does better, we're all going to do better. Just as an example, one of the first amendments to VOCA early on in the mid-80's was the Children's Justice Act. And this -- this was a piece of legislation that established grants to states and communities then to improve the handling of child abuse cases. And I was very very supportive of that Act. But I was also very intent on having part of that money go to Indian reservations to help Indian tribes improve their handling of child abuse cases.
And I went to the Hill. I met with Judiciary Committee staffers and I made the pitch and the plea -- it was really the plea is what it was to include Native Americans in the Children's Justice Act. And I was shocked to find out that one day I was up there, the domestic violence coalition leadership in Washington had been there the day before arguing absolutely against it.
And I -- I think I was probably a little on the naive side when it came to legislative advocacy, but that was a surprise to me. I couldn't imagine -- and I actually -- so, what do I do, I call a person up and talk to her and say, the needs are so great -- and basically what I was told was, yes, and our needs are great also and we have to pay attention to our needs and the needs of the people that we service, first and foremost, because that's what we're about. And that was a hard lesson for me realize that folks were so committed to assisting the victims that they served that they often weren't willing to advance the causes of others.
And I think the field has come a long way in that respect. But MADD, Mothers Against Against Drunk Driving had to advocate for legislative change to pry open the door to include drunk driving in VOCA as one of the priority areas of victims. And, you know, they shouldn't have had to do that, but they did. They had to get named in the law to get the attention of the VOCA administrators and to uh, to begin to have money designated to develop programs to serve those victims. But I mean, that's the way it works, unfortunately. It takes people totally committed to a particular issue to draw attention to it and to advocate for change. And for resources to be devoted to that -- to those victims in that issue.
So, early on the field was fractious, there were -- as I said, it was very young. Among the things that we did was to -- you know, we -- Crime Victims' Rights Week -- Ronald Reagan -- President Ronald Reagan had proclaimed the first Crime Victims' Rights Week and all throughout his Presidency had made this a priority. And we were trying to insure that the transition to the Bush Administration -- that they would continue on with Crime Victims' Rights Week. Because, you know, when you have Presidential attention to an issue, everything follows from that.
You can get -- you can get more resources devoted. You can get attention for legislative change and improvements that you couldn't get otherwise. And when -- in the Bush Administration, when we were leading up to the first April after he took office, contacting the White House, the word was unless the joint resolution was passed by the Congress -- that there was not going to be a proclamation for Crime Victims' Rights Week. Because this President didn't want to be trapped into have -- into requests -- endless requests to declare everything under the sun as a commemorative week. And, so, he was only going to declare those commemorative weeks where the Congress had decided that it was so important that there'd be, they'd pass a joint resolution. Well, the joint resolution didn't pass in -- I guess that would be 1989.
And I was on the phone back and forth and I was talking to the Attorney General's office and they said, "No, he's not going to declare a Crime Victims' Rights Week." And we were preparing for -- to honor folks during that week. And -- and I remember talking with the Secretary of the Cabinet saying, this is a very big mistake. President Bush needs to -- needs to provide the continuity and the national attention to Crime Victims' Rights Week and he needs to do it now. And he needs to do it at his first opportunity.
And about a week before I was still advocating for this and I was told it's just not going to happen, because it's not consistent with the criteria that he had established. And I can understand having those -- those criteria. I mean, I didn't understand why we had national broccoli week and things like that, so -- but literally the week before I got a call from the White House and they said he has -- he has decided that this is so important that this is going to be the first proclamation of his Presidency. (Break in interview)
Sigmon: So, just before crime victims rights week, I got the call and we had these folks who had been selected to receive the national awards and we were told to bring them over to the White House and that President Bush was going to sign the proclamation in the White House, in the Oval Office with the honorees. And that I was able to escort these folks in and he signed the proclamation on his desk and we did a nice photo op there. And he closed the book and he took the pen and he put it in a box and he handed it to me and he said, "This is for you." And I have that pen on my wall framed with the proclamation that he signed. [crying] [pause]
You know, people have opportunities in life and you have to use them to the max and it was a -- it was a wonderful opportunity to be able to talk with a new White House about the importance of continuing the tradition of Crime Victims' Rights Week. And -- it evolved into National Crime Victims' Rights Week and it -- another thing that we did that was important, I think, in carrying that on -- and it's part of getting the office organized and started -- is that we developed a nomination process for people who would be selected to get those awards. Because before it had simply been a great idea and the leadership at the Justice Department looked out across the nation and picked people who uh -- had made significant contributions to the field and honored them during Crime Victims' Rights Week.
And it seemed that it was time during the time that I was there to formalize the process and do a call to the field and do a letter out to the field as best we could saying we want you all to nominate folks. You in the states, you in local communities, you in local programs, nominate folks who should be recognized during Crime Victims' Rights Week.
We officially changed the title to National Crime Victims' Rights Week and started the nomination process and it's become really quite an extensive nomination process at this time. But it needed -- we needed to take it from simply somebody in Washington plucking people out because of who they had happened to come across to folks in the field nominating their colleagues, their mentors, their visionaries to receive this, this recognition. So that was -- that was very, very important.
Probably the other most important thing that took place during that early first couple of years was looking at the discretionary grant program that initially was one half of one percent in the Victims of Crime Fund. When I got there, there were, as I said, a few national organizations that were given funds to do very significant projects, training and technical assistance and carry the message out across the field. And I had administered discretionary grant programs at the Children's Bureau -- several of them actually -- and was very familiar with a competitive peer review process. And I looked at the field that I was relatively new in and I absolutely believed that it was important to establish a competitive process for the discretionary grants that OVC administered.
And that was kind of new. We hadn't -- OVC had not done that before. It was -- they were non-competitive awards to organizations like NOVA. MADD didn't get any money at that time. I think IACP and NDAA -- the National District Attorneys Association, the International Association for Chiefs of Police got some initial awards. But I was absolutely convinced that it was -- the best thing that could happen to the field was the development of as many advocacy organizations to focus attention on it and the various kinds of needs and expansion and development of those organizations to expand the field.
You know, it kind of goes back to my interdisciplinary days. I don't think any single discipline can solve a problem. Just like child abuse, it takes interdisciplinary, interagency. I don't think any single -- I truly believed that no single organization could meet the needs of the growing crime victims' field. And that it was really important to support the development of other organizations and expand their role, their leadership role in advocating for the victims that they served.
So, I established a competitive grant process, but we had to get from a pipeline that went to organizations that were selected to...a very few organizations...to a competitive grant process. And so, in between, there were some organizations that we had to show how to write grant applications and we had a year or so in there where awards were made and we encouraged organizations to apply so that other organizations could, in fact, receive discretionary grants also. And we made a transition into discretionary grants where priorities were announced and organizations could then apply. Initially the priority-- the development of priorities was...it was a struggle trying to decide if you have such limited discretionary grant funds how do you allocate it. And we set some priorities and...in improving the mental health impact of...improving the mental health treatment of victims who were so traumatized by crime. And I'm sure that's because my training is rooted in psychology, I was extremely interested in that.
And each Director...that's one of the nice things about it is that you get to emphasize things that mean...that probably relate to your personal experience. And my training was in psychology and mental health and I was very interested in developing methods and training for folks to treat folks who were traumatized by their crime victimization.
I was also very interested in...I think we funded spiritual dimensions to...since many people turn to their clergy, and we wanted to promote the understanding of clergy, of what this trauma was like and this was...particular issue...especially with regard to domestic violence and child abuse. And we wanted to have folks...a non-denominational group, speak to clergy of many denominations and talk to them about trauma and victimization and what their role is, since many folks turn to their faith for support and assistance.
So, we did some programs like that and gradually we evolved to a competitive grant process for all of the discretionary grants.
Seymour: What was the greatest challenge that you faced in affecting change, specifically in the area of victim assistance in Indian Country?
Sigmon: The greatest challenge? Well, everything about trying to provide assistance to victims in Indian country was a challenge. I don't know that there's any greatest challenge.
I think I'd have to talk about what opened the door. Not long after I arrived at OVC in April of '87, I was contacted by a Federal U.S. Attorney Victim Witness Coordinator in Arizona who called me up and said that they were investigating a case that looked as if it was a pedophile who had gotten himself a job on an Indian reservation. And it looked as if he had been there for some time and was abusing a number of children. And they needed some assistance for the children who had been victimized.
And, I said, "Well, we should be...we have a small portion of the Fund for Federal crime victims, we should be able to identify and address these needs." And that's...that case took me to Arizona and to the Hopi reservation and to a...to come...it came to...it really was the beginning of my understanding of how great the needs were.
This was a case in which a man had gotten a job as a remedial reading teacher on a reservation and he was provided with housing right next to the elementary school. And he had systematically abused 141 children over his eight years there. And we know 141, because I have to this day the document where he kept records. Many pedophiles, you know, they're so proud of their accomplishments and they like to keep good records of what they do. And he had kept a checklist of each sex act he had performed with each of the children leading from fondling to videotaping his sexual assaults on them.
I went out there and I began to become aware of the scale of this case and the impact and began asking the question well, what kind of treatment are these children getting? We were...the U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI was working hard at getting a conviction and trying to minimize the number of children that would have to testify and still maximize the sentence the guy would get to be held accountable. And he was an offender. The evidence was overwhelming about what he had done. He had provided...with tremendous amounts of evidence. But when I asked the question about well, what was being done for these children...and we're talking an eight year period, some of them were teenagers and young adults who were beginning to abuse other children acting out and having all kinds of problems that were...obviously had their root in their own victimization.
And the answer was, "Almost nothing." So, I began to talk with the Indian Health Service and I began to talk with the Bureau of Indian Affairs about...who provides mental health treatment for victims on Indian reservations.
Well, the Indian Health Service provides the mental health side and all their funds and services were committed. They didn't have anything...I couldn't believe that they didn't have resources that couldn't be directed to address such a fantastic, incredible problem of this...you think about the rippling effect within a community when that many children is abused within a community...the siblings, the parents, the aunts and uncles in this close community. And they simply had no resources so, the...talked to the Bureau of Indian Affairs who operates the social service agency, they didn't have resources to deal with this.
So, I thought, how can you know about these needs and not respond and create services, so we decided, well you know, well, we should create some services. And the question was how do you do it? There wasn't any expertise in child sexual abuse treatment on the reservation at this time.
And we actually went to the lengths of taking the Federal Crime Victims' Funds and the Victim Witness Coordinator...I said, you find a therapist and you find a therapist who understands the Hopi culture and I don't care what it takes, we're going to send somebody onto that reservation to provide treatment for these children. And we ended up going to the lengths of finding a therapist, I believe in Albuquerque, flying that person twice a month on to the Hopi reservation for a day of therapy with the children and the families, offering...opening up shop saying come...if you would like this we are here to help.
And it's extremely expensive. It's not a great way to provide services to fly a therapist in hundreds of miles on to...I flew into the Hopi reservation in a four seater airplane, where you, you land...you have to be in and out before dark because you land on a dirt strip and it is very remote. You can't get people in any other way with the competence...people who have the competence to treat these children and families.
So, that was an eye opener. What I found was that there was no help for these folks -- for these children and their families close by. So, we I decided this was an okay stop gap measure, we can use some of our money to provide treatment to those who want to bring their children for this treatment.
We did other things. You know, we did some training on the reservation and other things. You know, then we had, within a very short time, we had another multiple victim case on another reservation near by. And we had to develop services there on the Navajo reservation. There were actually two pedophiles operating there. And then there was another one up in Montana. And, you know, it's like, okay, we have to develop more comprehensive approach to this. We can't be flying people in every time we have a case like this. What we have to do is develop a systematic method of enabling the reservations to develop these competencies to be able to assist their own people. So, decided to develop a special grant program, the Victim Assistance in Indian Country Grant Program.
And set aside a certain amount of funds that only -- that had to be used solely for services on Indian reservations. They weren't just for child sexual abuse, but what I came to learn was that issues of domestic violence were very significant. Drunk driving was a very significant problem on many reservations. And the havoc that that wreaked in families when they were vehicular homicides, the issues of sexual assault and the treatment of child sexual abuse within families was also a very significant problem. It was really an unrecognized problem. There were no programs to respond and assist.
So, we set out and said, "Okay, we're not quite sure what this is going to lead to." And I felt like I was opening Pandora's box and I publicly admitted I felt like I was opening Pandora's box, but it was...
Seymour: What year was that?
Sigmon: It was 1988. And I said we have to do something, so, we're going to begin this process and...we stepped out slowly. OVC was a very small staff and, so, we said to the state VOCA Administrators for assistance grants, we're going to give you money and you have to make the awards to the Indian nations.
Well, these were not just Indian tribes, these were Indian nations. These were sovereign nations and it was very controversial. What I did was I said to the Indian nations, you are not going to be going to the Federal government for your money, in part because we have such a small staff, I didn't think we were ready to administer a national program to Indian nations. So, we said you...at the more local...you uh, you victim assistance agencies of the states, could you please take some of this money? We'd like to encourage Indian nations to apply to you and get some of this money. But it's money that we're going to give to you, but it has to be used only for Indian nations. And that's how we started the program. I knew full well that in time, the office had to evolve into administering that grant program directly to Indian nations.
But the Indian nations didn't know what OVC was and they certainly didn't know, you know, about the Victims of Crime Act and funds to...for victim services. So, it was a learning process at the beginning. One of the things we did to promote that...it was a mutual learning process, by the way. They were learning and we were learning. We decided what better way to do this than to have an Indian Nations conference.
So, we reached out in a couple of states where...South Dakota, for example, where they...there was a...I think one of the first shelters on an Indian reservation was the White Buffalo Cap Society in South Dakota. And we reached out to the women who had advocated for the establishment of that shelter and said, we want to convene Indian Nations to talk about the issues of crime victimization. And nobody had done that before.
So, we convened the first conference in Rapid City, South Dakota. And I will never forget speaking in this...my sense was of relatively small conference room kind of place...it seemed like kind of a basement. There were these big support beams in the biggest hotel in Rapid City, South Dakota. And people had come from all over the country. I couldn't believe it. Representatives of Indian Nations had come from all over the country. And I stood up and said, you know, we're starting something here and we're starting victim assistance in Indian country grant programs.
And part of my message was to explain what OVC, how this money came about, how the purpose of this money to promote the development of services and the fact that we wanted to encourage Indian Nations to apply for this money. And to take leadership in developing programs to assist folks on their reservations to provide services and assistance to child sexual abuse victims and to domestic violence victims and to people who suffered terribly because somebody had killed...I mean, we had...we had hom...vehicular homicides in which three or four people crossing the road were killed. Families had been killed and sexual assault...there was very little talk about sexual assault and domestic violence, but there was tremendous need. And it was the beginning. It was opening Pandora's box. I knew that...there was a time when I thought the need is almost limitless and how can we ever meet the... this need.
But I just...all I wanted to do was to open the door and begin and having an Indian Nations Conference which provided a forum for representatives of Indian nations to come together and learn from each other and share what they had done and for us to learn from them. And we had some experts in victim assistance come to these conferences and speak, but they were Indian Nations Conferences. And I will never forget, we did the first one...some of the people from the Justice Department said to me, "What are you doing again? You're convening Indian nations?" And I said, "Yeah, we are and we know that this is a good thing to do, it's an important thing to do" and it became an annual conference after that. It was...
Seymour: To this day it, it's still an annual conference.
Sigmon: Yeah, it is. It was very important to do. But it all started with a couple of individual cases that opened the door. And I made some trips to Indian reservations and met with tribal leaders and met with advocates, people who wished things could be better. And we made it a point to recognize leaders on Indian reservations during crime victims rights week early on. So that we could recognize the significance of their accomplishments in the face of so many obstacles and such a paucity of services. It was...I really felt that that was very important.
One of the people that I had the good fortune to recognize before we started the national nomination process, was Jan Emerick, who is the Victim Witness Assistance Coordinator for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Arizona, who was fairly dogged in her calls to me and said, "You've got to do something."
And those cases that developed in Indian country, those serious crime prosecutions -- 'cause tribes are responsible for the prosecution of misdemeanors, but felonies are prosecuted by...they're investigated by the FBI and prosecuted in cooperation with the Bureau of Indian Affairs investigators, but...and they're prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Offices. So, child sexual abuse would be prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's office.
Those...the call for assistance in those cases when very shortly after I got to OVC prompted...really led to the establishment of the Emergency Fund for Federal Crime Victims because what we found is that...that hey literally...they...there was no money to help them come to a trial for...to be a part of a trial, not as a witness, but as a victim family, to come down and be part of the trial hundreds of miles away...they had to come down to Phoenix and we...and there was no mental health counseling for them on the reservation. So, we used...we developed the Emergency Fund for Federal Crime Victims at that time to meet these dire emergency needs when there was no existing service system. There was no VOCA assistance program to tap and say, you know, refer folks to, because the programs didn't exist.
And many of the direct service monies that we used in the Federal Emergency Fund were used in Indian reservation cases. Because there was no victim assistance expertise out there. And we had to buy mental health treatment. We had to buy the most basic services by, you know, actually having service providers that were reimbursed for their services.
So, we developed the Emergency Fund. We developed the Victim Assistance in Indian Grant Country Program...Victim Assistance in Indian Country Grant Program. I became convinced the Children's Justice Act Grant Fund had to include Indian nations. They needed monies to improve their handling of child abuse cases. There were things like that we -- that all stemmed from some of these early cases that were opportunities to see how great the need was.
Seymour: Cookie, again going back to the early years, uh, can you talk a little bit about what you perceive to be the greatest success, but also, perhaps, were there any failures that would be instructive to people?
Sigmon: Well, probably -- I would say greatest successes -- you have to -- you have -- the first great success took place before I was really a part of this movement -- and that was the focusing of national attention when President Reagan decided that attending to the needs of crime victims was important enough for a Presidential Task Force. And that -- and so much flowed from that national attention.
During the time that I was at OVC, I think some of the successes -- you know, when an office is first established, its role is undefined and defining its role in providing leadership within the executive branch I think was very, very important. And I think that was a success. I think about some of the ways that that success played out. Being able to talk directly with the White House about the Campus Security Act. That the -- Connie and Howard Clery were advocating so strongly for enactment of the Campus Security Act and the Executive Branch was not sure if it wanted to support legislation that was going to produce more requirements of universities, because this was an administration that was really focusing on minimizing the Federal role in terms of requirements and enabling -- it was Federalism was a very strong principle.
So, we -- I was able to articulate to the Justice Department why this legislation was important and the education department was opposing it. And the Justice Department became convinced and lobbied the White House and OMB and said this legislation must pass. And we won.
And that, that is that wasn't a win/loss thing, that was an opportunity for advocacy within the Executive Branch when the Office -- you know, it began to be evident that the Office had a very important mission within the Executive Branch. So, that was -- I think that was -- I look at that as something that is -- was very important. We ended up having a White House briefing and I was very pleased to be able to speak at that -- on that legislation -- took place in the Treaty Room at the White House and it was -- it was very, very important. That legislation has been -- was the foundation for requiring universities and colleges to report crimes after Howard and Connie's experience with Lehigh University and understanding the importance of information and knowing, you know.
"Being forewarned is being forearmed," they used to say. I used to use that in my speeches. If you don't know what the risks are you can't protect and prepare yourself for them, so -- and there's been other legislation that -- it's been amended to improve that legislation. But that -- that's an example of the office becoming -- maturing had having a Federal leadership role. So, I, I think that was -- that leadership -- there were a couple of other pieces of legislation which I can't remember right now.
Oh, for example, the Victims of Child Abuse Act. That was -- that was very important to me, because that was the first time we put in Federal law that in cases where there was Federal jurisdiction we should have an interdisciplinary response. And the -- the uh, the Federal system was not as well-developed in terms of its response to crime victims. As the -- as local programs were -- local communities were, and putting that into law was -- was really very important. So, being able to advocate -- I remember there was a guy designated in the Criminal Division of Justice and he and I worked back and forth on the Victims of Child Abuse Act. And, you know, we didn't want to -- Justice wasn't so eager to support that legislation, but gradually people began to see that this was very important and I think if there hadn't been a victim's office, I don't think -- I don't think the Justice Department would have come out for that legislation. (Break in interview)
Sigmon: That was a very important piece of legislation. It is to this day. (Break in interview)
Seymour: Were there failures that you can articulate?
Sigmon: There definitely were failures. And at the time you look at them when you're in a situation and you view them as struggles. But every once in a while there's a critical moment in a struggle and you know that something hasn't gone the way it should. I think when I was OVC one of the really significant moments was...the Federal criminal justice system was...I think it's...I think it's accurate to say in the '80s...was pretty far behind local criminal justice systems.
You know, the model for prosecutor-based victim assistance existed from the '70s and there were some fabulous local prosecutors who had made...some with LEAA funding...that had made improving the treatment of victims a high priority within their prosecutorial offices. And though we had wonderful legislation, the Federal Victim Witness Protection Act of 1982, and guidelines to implement that legislation that were drafted and signed by Attorney General William French Smith in 1983...by the time I got to OVC in 1987 -- I think it's accurate to say that we were not anywhere near full implementation of those guidelines for Victim Witness Assistance.
In fact, the U.S. Attorney's Offices had evolved to having a single staff person who was half time devoted to LECC, as they called it, Law Enforcement Coordination Committee, and Victim Witness Assistance. Which meant that folks were not able to concentrate full-time on victim witness assistance, to assist their prosecutors and assist victims. Help assist prosecutors to understand what their roles and responsibilities were and -- by way of victim witness assistance.
Seymour: And this is one person, half-time, for an entire district?
Sigmon: Yes, for an entire U.S. Attorney's District. And this was all cross the nation. And it was very clear especially those U.S. Attorney's Offices that had Indian country, that they needed a full-time person and in fact, they probably need more than one full-time person. And, so, I began to advocate for full-time designation. That we needed to split law enforcement coordination and victim witness assistance, so that we had at least a full-time designated person for victim witness assistance.
And it was very clear to me that the program, victim witness assistance, wasn't going to grow and flourish until it had dedi...full-time dedicated staff in each of the prosecutor's offices. And that was something that I advocated. It took me a while to figure out that that was a critical point. And I advocated for it and I advocated and I advocated, but I was unsuccessful.
The decisions were made that there wasn't fund...there weren't sufficient funds for additional staff and nobody thought about...you know, we didn't...we weren't so...there weren't so many folks going to the Hill for earmarks within VOCA at that time. And there really wasn't an understanding of what that money...what the potential Victim of Crimes Fund...what the potential of that Fund was for supporting the expansion of services, certainly in the Federal level, to say nothing...I mean...and also at local levels. But there simply was a budget decision...there wasn't money in the budget to be able to hire full-time dedicated staff. That was a great disappointment to me. But it paled in insignificance to the lack of progress made during the time that I was there in Federal criminal investigative agencies.
You know, our...probably our most significant movement toward trying to improve the understanding of Federal law enforcement officers of victims, their needs and what their responsibilities were to victims was by funding a position, a victim assistance training position at the Federal law enforcement training academy at FLETC in Glynco, Georgia. And we were able to do that, so that everybody who came through the Federal Law Enforcement Training Academy and um, were able to receive some training in their responsibilities to victims and witnesses. But this was truly a drop in the bucket. The Federal agencies didn't have victim witness assistance coordinators and we made very little progress. It's only been in the last year or so that the Federal law enforcement agencies have taken huge strides in establishing victim witness assistance programs. (Change of Tape)
Seymour: What do you perceive to be the one greatest accomplishment that has promoted victims' rights and needs?
Sigmon: The one greatest accomplishment..you know, my perspective on that has changed a lot since I now work for the State Department, and I have the opportunity to assist victims who are victims of violent crimes in other countries. These are American citizen victims in other countries.
And I am faced with, coming to understand the criminal justice systems, and service systems in other countries, and the paucity of services and the, the just horrific treatment in some countries for crime victims. So, I think that now, I would say the greatest accomplishment is in fact the Victims of Crime Act...the establishment, as amended, which included the establishment of the office in law. And that Crime Victims Fund, that has grown to produce so much money to support the expansion of the field.
That is so unique in comparison to other countries. And so significant because it is a national focal point. It is a place that focuses solely on crime victims, their needs, their treatment within the system, and meeting their needs outside the system, the criminal justice system.
The significance of, to me, the progress, so much of the progress that's been made has been is that -- not to diminish in any way the incredible advocacy of tireless people who have led the way for legislation, like, you know, the creation of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. And advocates like John Walsh and Connie and Howard Clery, who focused on campus crime. And others who focused in on...and MADD -- Janice Lord -- leaders who focused attention on individual issues, and advocated for legislative change at the national level and at the state level. Not to diminish in any way, the role of those leaders. But the simple fact that there is an office whose sole focus is promoting the need...promoting and developing the programs to assist victims and improving their treatment all across the board. It creates an environment. It's like, people can't forget -- there is an Executive Branch focus for this.
And keeping a level of visibility of the issue is very, very important. So you, you look at the enormous amount of legislation that's passed at the national level. Yes, advocates are the reason that happened. But it was enhanced by the fact that there is a national office dedicated to pressing forward and advocating for crime victims.
I just think that's incomparable. It's astounding when I look and try to find services for folks and there's no such equivalent.
|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.|