An Oral History of the Crime Victim Assistance Field
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Seymour: Good Morning, Ed. Thank you for joining the Oral History Project, sponsored by the Office for Victims of Crime. I'm Anne Seymour, the project director. Thank you for being our first interviewee today.
Stout: Thank you.
Seymour: We want to start today by asking you to just give us a little bit of history about how aid to victims of crime was started in 1972.
Stout: Aid for Victims of Crime, which is a non-profit service agency was founded in 1972 by Carol Vittert. It was actually first victims assistance program in the country.
I asked Carol why she did it and she said, you have to remember, one, it was right after Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed, right after the Kennedys were assassinated and she wanted to do something. She didn't know what it was. And she mentioned that she went to a juvenile detention center and while she was there, she was talking to staff who told her that they had a policy that when a juvenile became a crime victim, they released that person.
Because now that person is no longer a juvenile offender, they were a victim, and therefore not eligible for their services. And this struck her as odd. And said why should that change anything. Victims need help and she went looking around and she found out that in the city of St. Louis there was no person -- no organization responding to crime victims.
So, she and a few of her relatives and friends got together and she tells the story about how she stayed up all night filling out the IRS 501 (c)3 form, got incorporated and literally as volunteers, they would go down to the police department and get a list of crime victims and drive out to those neighborhoods and knock on doors and say, how you doing. And -- and that was how the victims' movement started.
Seymour: In the early days of AVC were there other organizations around the country that came to your organization for help, for mentoring, for guidance?
Stout: Actually, the records we have in the office don't show people who came to Aid to Victims of Crime in St. Louis, but there was a whole series of articles around 1973, 1974 where Carol and staff members were called to other states to give talks about this new unique thing they were doing in St. Louis called victims services.
There was a series of articles about Anna Forder who was Executive Director at that time who later became a circuit judge -- being called and giving talks in Iowa. And then there's a series of articles about how, because of those talks, they started victims services in Iowa.
And I always talk to Anna and Carol about the fact that they were kind of the Johnny Appleseeds of the Victim's Services movement. Because the articles range from Kansas, to Iowa, to Florida, to New York, literally all around the country, where they were called or somebody read an article. There was a New York Times article. Somebody read about it and said we ought to be doing it in our state.
And, so, there was this kind of seed planning that very quietly went on in the beginning of the victims' movement, which was kind of exciting.
Seymour: Last question about AVC. What do you think has sustained AVC for a 30 years when there are so many other non-profit victims services organizations that began with great intentions, but did not continue on?
Stout: I don't know. God. Maybe it's the spirit of St. Louis that good things hang on even in the tough times. We have had community leaders involved with the organization, board members, volunteers, who even in tough times -- and there were times -- there was a time when the doors actually even closed and even at that time when -- when people were involved with AVC were very depressed about this good thing having to close its doors, they said we're going to get them reopened. And did.
In fact, that's how I got involved in 1978. I had been doing community organization work in low income neighborhoods in St. Louis. And we pulled together five neighborhood organizations, helped them write a law enforcement assistance agency community anti-crime grant.
And we were involved with the -- the mayor's crime commission, who was helping Aid for Victims of Crime get reorganized. And because of the work that we were doing in those neighborhoods asked me if I would join the board in 1978.
And that was kind of a struggle for me philosophically, because I'd always been, you know, a supporter of the Bill of Rights and helping ex-offenders and I was even hiring ex-offenders to do outreach in our community anti-crime program. Because they knew the streets and they could reach people.
And now all of a sudden somebody was saying to me, "Ed, will you get involved with crime victims?" And I had a little struggle with it, because it didn't fit and I thought about it and I realized that there's two sides to the justice coin, and that's justice for people who are accused and justice for the victims -- and that they aren't contradictory. And, so, I joined the Board.
Seymour: Could you describe the field of victims rights and services also within the context of the era, 23 years ago?
Stout: Well, there weren't cell phones and pagers and video tapes. There were no training programs, there were no books, there was no research, there was simply a group of people -- a handful of people who reached out to crime victims and said, "How can we help you, how are you doing?"
When I became Executive Director in 1982, which was 10 years after the agency was founded, it was pretty much myself in the beginning. I can remember days when I was writing a proposal and the deadline was that night. It had to be postmarked. And the phone would ring and it would be a victim and I would literally have to say to that victim, "Is this an emergency?" "Can it wait until tomorrow morning? And here's the reason why. I'm writing a proposal. If it doesn't get in, we close our doors and won't be able to serve." I had to say that to victims, because I was the only one in the office.
And they would all say, "Not a problem, I call you tomorrow." But at that point in time it was just myself and we started getting VISTA volunteers and we were able to start reaching out into more of the police districts. This was in 1982 - 83. And I guess the whole spirit of volunteerism was still alive, as it is today in victim services and still a vital part of victim services.
Things have changed, yes and no. The victim's stories are still the same. The injuries, the pain, the suffering, the trauma is still there. There are certainly more services available.
In 1982, I often talked humorously about what was going on at that time in St. Louis. Because there was no funding for victim services each of the victim service agencies were struggling. The sexual assault programs, the domestic violence programs, the prosecutor's office programs were struggling to stay alive.
And, so, there was a feeling of we don't talk to one another, we talk about one another. And I think that negative spirit was there because everybody was trying to survive. And slowly but surely we started sitting down at tables together and saying we got to work together.
There's more victims out there than any one agency can handle, can reach out to. So, I think in St. Louis right now there is that spirit that wasn't there back when the funding was -- well, there just simply wasn't any funding. Today there's not enough funding, but at least most of the organizations are stable.
Seymour: Being the first organization, what was the one greatest challenge in affecting change?
Stout: I think in the early stages the whole issue of the stigma that was attached to victimization, a lack of understanding of who we were and what we did -- I remember and it wasn't that long ago, in the mid-80s-- we applied -- and I apologize to my friends at the United Way now -- we applied to the United Way for membership.
And in the first year we applied, our application was rejected. We went back and said why and they said, "Well, we just thought that was something the police did." And it hit us, you know, like a hammer in the middle of our forehead -- we got a problem. People don't know who we are and what we do and why we're needed. And, so, we went to work on that.
And, so, that -- in the early '90s, we were accepted. I think the need was recognized. And I think that was the biggest problem we encountered -- was simply the community recognizing that there is a need that -- here that they're not responding to.
Seymour: What were the secrets and tactics and strategies you and AVC employed that were successful to your continuing as a vibrant non-profit organization?
Stout: That's a question I've never been asked and there's a story I've never told. Politically, we were kind of the Lone Ranger in the community, not well looked upon, not well-accepted.
And I decided in the early '80s that if we were going to have an impact on public policy affecting victims, we weren't going to be able to do it by ourselves. We're just this little small non-profit agency that even then we're still called a bunch of do-gooders.
And I think that -- that was part of the history too -- that in the early stages there's actually a newspaper clipping in our archives where there's an article about Carol Vittert founding the first victim service agency and the headliner is "Do Gooder Starts New Program."
So, I think we had an image to overcome that we knew what we were talking about when we talked about the need for public policy change. We had no political power.
So, over a period of time, I started talking with people around the state and in 19, I think it was '84, we got a call from the Department of Public Safety that -- the Department of Public Safety and the National Organization for Victims Assistance wanted to do a state conference in Missouri and bring victim advocates together.
And I said to my Board, here's our chance to develop a powerful organization that can't be ignored, because it's the whole state. It's victim advocates, it's mental health, it's domestic violence, it's sexual assault, it's prosecutors, it's hopefully judges, it's hospitals all in a united voice saying victims have specific problems that we aren't responding to and we've got to change the way we look at victims and we've got to change the law and public policy.
And it wasn't long after that -- in fact, in 1986 -- I think was our first major public policy success and we got them -- the Victim Bill of Rights passed. We knew when it passed it wouldn't do anything, that it was a nice piece of poetry, but it was public policy that said we've got to respond differently to victims than we have in the past and that was the start I think to major public policy change.
But that was I think one of the strategies that we adopted in that we realized we can't do it alone. We don't have the kind of clout in the state or even in St. Louis or the state, so we helped build a state network called MOVA, the Missouri Victim Assistance Network that is still alive today and is the oldest state victim services organization in the country.
Seymour: What were the failures of the field that affected the progress?
Stout: I think in -- in the early days of the victim's movement -- again, and I attribute a lot of it to lack of funds available -- the organizations that grew up in the early '70s -- late '70s early '80s were struggling to stay alive.
And as a result we didn't want to talk to one another, we didn't want to work together. I didn't want to have to tell you where I got some special funds from, although I'd like to steal from you where you got your funding.
And, so, I think there was a hesitancy to talk to one another. And that to me was a major -- if you want to call it a failure, it was -- it was something that slowed the movement down until we finally said, you know, we're not going to get that fund that helps all victims unless we come together.
We're not -- we have to create our own stability. We have to get into law funding for victim services and I think it was the early '80s, right around the time of the President's Task Force, where we started seeing that spirit growing among the different victim service providers, of coming together.
In fact, in St. Louis, we made it -- I think a deliberate attempt -- a deliberate effort to use the President's Task Force coming to town to bring everybody together, to start working together. Because prior to that time, we were hesitant to do it.
So, a couple of us got -- put a call out saying the President's Task Force is coming, we've got to help them. We have to mobilize victims to -- to stand up and be counted. And, so, I think it was around that that the whole spirit changed of cooperation and collaboration.
Seymour: I want to ask you briefly about the President's Task Force. You were one of six sites chosen around the country that President Reagan's Task Force went to do public hearings. Were you at the hearing and if you were, could you tell us a little bit about what happened?
Stout: Well, the hearing lasted three days in St. Louis. And there were people -- not just from St. Louis literally, but from four, five, six states around St. Louis. And Aid for Victims of Crime, the Victims Services Unit in the Circuit Attorney's Office and St. Louis County, other victims services organizations came together and said, "We've got to help the Task Force be successful."
So, we provided some logistics for the Task Force. We organized speakers. Some of us spoke. And I was very excited about it, because I saw it as maybe the beginning of a door opening up for victims, not just in St. Louis, but obviously for around the whole United States.
To hear people say things that we've been saying kind of privately among ourselves -- and not just victim advocates -- and victims saying them -- but judges, psychologists, clergy. For the first time in the country we're all standing up saying, "We're hurting victims and we've got to do something about it." And that was exciting.
Seymour: Is it true that one of the Presidential Task Force members was from Missouri?
Stout: Yes, Chief James Damos, who was the Chief of Police of University City, a suburb just outside of St. Louis. Or as he used to say, St. Louis was a suburb of University City -- was a member of the Task Force.
And we were kind of proud of that, because Chief Damos was a friend. Back in those days, you didn't have too many people -- especially leaders in law enforcement standing up saying, "We've got to treat victims differently."
He, at that time, I believe, was also the President of the international association of Chiefs of Police. He provided the leadership for the adoption of a major public policy statement that they issue to all Chiefs of Police around the country that called for victims of crime being treated with dignity and respect.
So, we were very proud to have -- have Jim on that. In fact, our state network just named its new public policy leadership award after Chief Damos.
Seymour: Looking at the outcome of the Presidential Task Force report -- the final recommendation was an Amendment to the Federal Constitution. And I know that Missouri was very involved in that -- the Federal effort since 1986 -- that I believe you had some work to do with MOVA and passing your own state Constitutional Amendment. Could you talk a bit about that?
Stout: In 1988 -- of course we were all kind of dumbfounded and surprised about reading that recommendation from the Presidential Task Force that the 6th amendment of the Constitution be amended to include rights for crime victims.
And I think we were just kind of frozen staring at like -- what does this mean? By 1988 I think we had a clear idea of what it meant and we had our victims -- state victims network conference in Kansas City -- in fact, it was at Arrowhead Stadium.
And I'll never forget it, because at the general membership meeting, I stood up and I made the recommendation -- I mentioned the Task Force and the recommendation to amend the Constitution -- a lot of people said what, what's that all about.
So, we took a few minutes to explain it and I put a resolution on the floor that MOVA set up a Task Force to begin exploring what this would mean to -- to crime victims in Missouri and whether MOVA should support a state Constitutional Amendment.
The President of our network at the time was a Sergeant in the University City police department, Fred Marquard. And the next thing I knew I went to Fred -- when the membership unanimously approved the resolution -- I went to Fred and I said, "Fred, I want to chair that committee." He said, "Nope, you're going to co-chair it." I don't want to co-chair it.
He said, "No, you're going to co-chair it with prosecutor Mike Insco." Well, I'm an old 1960's community organizer from the War on Poverty and the last thing I wanted to do was have to co-chair something with an elected public official.
And I think Mike had the same feeling about me. You know, he was an elected public official. He knew politics. He didn't what to have to deal with this, you know, rabble rouser, community organizer. But as it worked out we both became very close friends.
And I think our -- our experiences kind of complimented one another and we actually had a lot of fun over four years, literally organizing the state to pass a Constitutional Amendment.
So, we spent the first year, kind of, you know secretly in back rooms and we formed a Task Force that included crime victims and victim advocates, one of whom who was Hyman Eisenberg. He and his wife, Phyllis, founded Parents of Murdered Children in St. Louis. And Hyman was kind of our spiritual leader.
And we had our first meeting and we didn't start talking about laws and amendments, we said, "We've got to talk about what problems crime victims have. And then we can look at this Amendment and talk about is this a tool that can help. Because if it isn't, then we need to focus on some other tools."
So, we literally spent months looking at problems victims had in the state of Missouri. And in the ones that kept coming to us from victims themselves, were the problems related to the criminal justice system and their lack of standing in the criminal justice system.
So, we drafted a Constitutional Amendment and we took it back to our membership at the next meeting, next annual meeting of the membership in 1989 and they unanimously approved our -- MOVA taking a leadership role to get it introduced in the state legislature.
Well, then we had the whole political process of getting the legislators educated and part of what we did was we formed a volunteer organization around the state. Kind of divided the state up into sections and we had leaders in each section, kind of captains.
And we had a formal training session with the captains and how do you get the word out. How do we educate the community and it was everything from organizing parties and rallies and neighborhood block parties to getting people to sign petitions and how to write letters to the editor.
And we decided we didn't care whether we got good press or bad press -- the old '60s adage about any press is good press. And that worked for us. Because what we wanted people around the state to realize was there was an Amendment coming up that had to do with creating rights for crime victims. And we -- we -- and we had editorials opposing it, because it was detrimental to the rights of the accused, all the kinds of arguments we hear against it. But we didn't care, because it informed the community that this -- the legislators were considering it.
So, then people started writing letters to the editors. One day we received a packet in the mail and it was a packet of petitions signed by the members of the Wham Bam Sewing Club. And we'd get these things in the mail from bowling leagues.
And it was just kind of exciting to see people looking at this issue, not being concerned about the technicalities of the law that all of us were fighting over, but just the recognation that, yeah, that's right. It's time has come.
When we finally got it to the state legislature and on the ballot in November of '92, it passed by 85.5 percent of the voters of the state of Missouri. And we were told by state legislators that that was the highest single ratio of voters supporting any Constitutional Amendment in the history of the state of Missouri. And that was for crime victim rights. So, we were kind of proud of that.
Seymour: Ed, you wanted to share a story with us about Hyman Eisenberg?
Stout: It's a story about a gentleman, Hyman Eisenberg, Phyllis Eisenberg, their son was murdered a number of years before the -- the whole campaign for victims rights started. And they founded Parents of Murdered Children in St. Louis.
Hyman became one of the leaders of the drive -- the campaign in Missouri for the Constitutional Amendment for victims rights. He was at every meeting, at every hearing and he was kind of the spirit of the whole campaign.
And there was a Senate hearing one evening and we had mobilized several hundred people from around the state to come to these hearings, which surprised the legislators, because they weren't used to people -- hearings would get organized and we would get notified, you know, 24 hours before. And we'd get the word out through our phone tree. And maybe there were 200 people from all over the state coming to these hearings.
But we were sitting up in the senate chambers one evening and it had just been -- the state had just spent several million dollars refurbishing. It was beautiful, all the gold leaf and the new -- all the new colors and the fancy theater seats.
And we're looking down into the chambers of the Senate while the hearing is going on about the Constitutional Amendment.
Now, Hyman, you have to understand was an engineer. And he was very detailed. He loves details and I'm sitting here and he's down here and I see him writing very carefully -- words -- and looking up and looking down and writing words down.
And I said, "Hyman, what are you doing?" And he said -- if you looked around the capitol, the rotunda, there were all these philosophical words, truth and justice, you know, all around -- and he said, "I'm looking for integrity and I can't find it anywhere."
And I think it's -- it was a beautiful story about a man who put his heart and soul into the victim's movement and he's kind of retired from it now for health reasons. But I think it exemplifies the spirit, you know, of Hyman looking for integrity. Who's going to stand up and be counted when it comes to rights for crime victims.
Seymour: You were talking about some of the struggles being people competing for funding and not willing to collaborate. Has that changed today?
Stout: Oh, I think it's changed tremendously. I think we've seen it in St. Louis. We've seen it across the state of Missouri and it's partly because I think some of those funding issues are settled, you know.
Everybody has money, not enough, we still have to struggle to keep the doors open, but I don't know that survival is the issue as it was to the degree, you know, 10, 15, 20 years ago.
And I think victims services in St. Louis, in the region -- metro -- metropolitan region and around the state have realized that there's just too many victims out there for us to be fighting over victims.
We don't need that. We need to cooperate and collaborate to make all of our services more accessible, because none of us has all the services. Aid for Victims of Crime is what we call a general purpose victims service agency.
We serve victims of all kinds of crimes. And it doesn't matter whether a warrant is issued or not. We have a 24 hour hotline, full range of counseling and advocacy service, crisis response team, help people with victim compensation.
But there's a lot of services and needs that victims have that we can't make available: food, clothing, housing, legal services, domestic violence services. We don't specialize in domestic violence.
We don't specialize in sexual assault services, because there are sister agencies and brother agencies that do. And our job is to provide that crisis intervention when they contact us and then make sure that those other services, our sister and brother services, are accessible to them. We're helping the victim. We may not be providing that service, but we can get them to where they need to go with whatever papers they need and what are the deadlines that they need that they don't know about.
So, I think there's been a very positive change in the victim's movement in that we all realize now that if we're going to survive we're going to do it together and if we're going to reach more victims than we can with our limited funding, we have to do it together.
Seymour: What do you perceive to be the one greatest accomplishment that has promoted victims rights and needs?
Stout: Well, I think -- again, I go back to my old '60s community organizing and training -- when we were told that if you want your issue to survive you've got to get it concretized into law -- learned that sitting around pubs at night talking with all the other community organizers and crime victims' rights leaders in St. Louis.
And I think that principle is still valid today in that neither one hallmark of the victims' movement -- maybe is the Victims of Crime Act of 1982 -- because then, you know, the -- if you want to say it, the highest court in the land said victims are important, they have special needs, they're a segment of our community we aren't responding to and it is now public policy that we're going to do something about it.
I don't know if we knew then what that meant, but now it's public policy, we got it into law. And then victims -- victims services groups across the country went to work using -- using that as a tool.
Seymour: What is needed today, 2002, to continue the growth an professionalism of our field overall?
Stout: [pause] I think the victims' services movement is at a crossroads. And where it goes depends upon, first of all, crime victims pushing it, crime victims standing up and saying we're not through being counted.
But that also means that we who call ourselves victim advocates and victims' services providers have to renew a commitment to listen to them. There's a tendency in any movement, especially one that's 30 years old -- any social movement -- to start what I call hardening of the arteries.
To start responding to the rules and the regulations and the guidelines to get the money rather than to the human need. And if we don't keep our eyes and ears open and listen to that human need, we're going to fall by the wayside like so many other institutions have, so many other social movements, who become bureaucratized, who suffer from hardening of the arteries.
Who say, oh, here's a problem, what's does the rule book say? How will we resolve it? Rather than, here's a problem how do we resolve it, how do we mobilize the spirit of the community to deal with the problem rather than, hmm, can I get some money to do it or what guidelines am I going to have to follow. And I think that's the crossroads where we're at.
Seymour: And you articulated the human need that victims have. Have those needs changed over the 20 some years that you've been in the field, remained the same, both in terms of victim's needs?
Stout: I don't think the basic human needs have changed. The basic human needs of a person who is violated -- of their need not to be ignored. Their need to have someone reach out and say, as Carol did it and the original volunteers and Aid to Victims of Crime said, how are you doing. That need will always be there when a person is violated.
So, I don't think the needs have changed, except that they've grown in numbers as more and more people have become victims. We have to ignore the fact maybe that the crime rate is down, because there are still so many -- there's hundreds of thousands of victims who have never been served.
In the city of St. Louis every year, there are approximately 50,000 crimes reported to the police. We know from the Bureau of Justice Statistics that two out of three crimes are never reported, so that's another whole large group of victims we don't hear from. My agency might reach 1500 - 2000 victims a year in the City of St. Louis. And it's our job to serve all victims and that's a resource problem. So the needs are the same, the needs have grown in the fact that more and more people are victims and more and more people are going unserved every year.
I think the field has grown and changed in that we've learned so much from experience, from research, from collaborating with researchers about trauma and what happens to human beings.
I hate to say it but I think September 11th really brought that message home to the United States. But I think we have a job now to do of re-translating it. There was an article in the paper this morning about the millions, billions of dollars that have been contributed by citizens of the United States for all the funds of the victims of September 11th.
I think we've got to say, you know, those were crime victims and there are crime victims in our street and in our neighborhoods and in our communities every day who have the same and similar needs -- to the same intensity that the victims of September 11th have.
And can we regenerate that spirit of giving to those people too, because there's not a dif -- there's no difference between them, except maybe the numbers that happen in one day.
Seymour: What advice can you give to professionals and volunteers who have joined our field in the past one to ten years?
Stout: I think in the field -- in victims services over the years, there's always been the discussion and the debate of services versus social action to make change.
I see more and more today, less emphasis on the social action and on the public policy change and an emphasis on serving victims one by one by one. And I don't want to minimize the need for that. That's an absolute essential in the victims' services field.
But that's also where we learn that there are problems that all victims have, because of society, because of public policy, because of culture, because of laws, the lack of laws, the lack of funding that affect victims not just in St. Louis but throughout the state of Missouri, throughout the country and the problems are the same.
The lack of recognition that victims exist -- we don't want to admit they exist. And, so, I guess the -- the advice that I would have is we have to keep the balance going between providing services to victims and the public policy or social action necessary, so that those laws, those public policies, those cultural reactions that we as a society have to victims get changed.
So that that impact that those problems that all victims have is reduced. They're still going to have major problems. But if we can reduce the problems that are created by public policy or the lack of it -- we've gone a long way to helping people become empowered to stand on their own two feet again.
So, I would just say that there needs -- we need to keep that balance between public policy, social action and services and not just continue to do the services, because that's where the funds come from and that's what the guidelines say we should do.
Seymour: What vision do you have for the future of the field of victim assistance?
Stout: And here's where I get into the fishing story that you asked about. I envision a retirement home where we can all go fishing together (laughing).
(Garbled) I guess that is the vision I have. I would like to run a retirement home for victim advocates and victim service providers on a lake where we can sit around and catch blue gill and bass and talk about our history.
But at the same time, that should be a training ground too for new people coming into the field. Come on out to Ed's resort, you know, catch a few bass, and catch a few fish and let's talk about where victims services is going in the country.
Seymour: How important is it for the older generation of victim service providers to provide the kind of guidance you're talking about to the next generation?
Stout: Well, on the one hand, I think sometimes those of us who have been in the field for 10, 15, 20, 25 years talk about the new generation. It may come across as kind of demeaning or looking down and I hope we can avoid that. That's not our intention, I think.
Because I think they have something to teach us too in terms of a renewal of spirit, a passion for what we do. Because I have to ask myself I think daily, when I go into our office and sit down at my desk and start going through the grants and the guidelines and writing reports, "Where's the passion in this?
'There's something lost here. How can I get out of that rut?" And I think sometimes I will sit at my desk with my door open and listen to our young advocates and listen to them on the hotline talking to victims.
And while I'm getting bogged down with all the administrative details, which have to be done so they can do their job, it kind of renews me at the same time, because I'm hearing them doing what we've always done and that's reaching out to people, saying, "How are you doing, how can we help?" And just listening.
And sometimes I'm listening to them listening. And I get excited about that, because that's what we're supposed to do.
Seymour: Looking at the future of the field of victim assistance, what is your greatest fear or do you have a greatest fear?
Stout: Going back to what I said earlier, I think my greatest fear is the hardening of the arteries, of becoming so institutionalized, so bureaucratized that the passion is drained, that we lose sight of why we're here, that we focus on the rules, the regulations, the guidelines, the procedures rather than -- again -- you know -- and I've seen it too often and it scares me when -- when a victim advocate or a victim service agency is presented with a problem and they turn to the rule book for the answer.
And the answer is not in the rule books. It's in people's hearts. It's in people in the community and the resources in the community and reaching out into the community and reaching out to victims and that's where the answer is. But I'm afraid we're starting to look at the rule books too much. That's what scares me.
Seymour: Anything that needs to be added that we didn't, that you would like to add?
Stout: Maybe a story. When we train student interns or advocates, we say something to them that kind of throws them off guard and we say when the phone rings and you pick it up and a person says -- and you say, "Aid to Victims of Crime" -- and the voice on the other end of the phone says, "What do you all do?" our policy is you don't tell them.
You don't tell them what we do. And the interns looked at us an say, well, "What do we say?" And we say, "Well, you say something to the effect of we're here to listen to you, if you're a victim, to help you identify the problems that were created by the crime and to help put together a plan of action and give you some information, so you can solve those problems or learn to cope with them." And I said the problem is if we give people an itemized list of the services that we provide, then they're going to go shopping from that list of services and we're not responding to their needs.
There's a tendency if you say, well, "We do information and referral and we do counseling and we can help you with victim comp," and so forth, and so on, that a victim's going to say, "Well, you can't help me."
And the story I'd like to tell is, one morning I opened the office up, and this was 18 - 20 years ago when we did have an answering machine, and I replayed the tape. And there was a paramedic on the message.
And he said, "Would you please call Mrs. Smith in South St. Louis. Last night we were called to her home, two men broke into her home, they vandalized her home, they tied her up, they harassed her something awful, they broke eggs over her head and they dumped tabasco sauce on her. And literally just scared the daylights out of her.
They took her dog, which was her only companion into another room and they came back out and told her that we had killed your dog." And the paramedic said, "Can you call her? Can you go by and see her. We think she's got injuries. But because she's afraid she couldn't afford them -- the medical care -- she refused medical treatment."
So, we sent one of our volunteers down to talk with her. And we explained victim compensation to her and -- because we wanted her to get to the emergency room, we knew there were some injuries.
So, she said, "Well, if you can find somebody to take care of my dog, I'll go." They hadn't killed her dog. It was just another form of harassment. Well, we don't have dog sitting on our list of services.
Because we didn't list services to her, we asked her what her problems were and how we could help, she said, "Find me a dog sitter and I'll go to the emergency room if what you tell me is true, that victim comp will take care of my medical care."
Well, luckily we found a neighborhood organization that got a volunteer to do dog sitting. The volunteer took her to the emergency room and luckily she got to the emergency room, because she had nerve damage to her hand where they had tied her up so tight. And then she was able to get medical treatment.
So, the -- I guess the moral of the story is I think in victims services, again, we don't want to tell people all the different things we can do, we simply want to say, "What happened to you?" and listen, find out what the problems were and then respond to those problems.
Because if we hadn't listed dogs -- if we had, you know, listed our services to her, she might have said there's no way you can help me. Because what I really need is somebody to take care of my dog.
|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.|