An Oral History of the Crime Victim Assistance Field
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Steven D. Walker
Interview Transcript

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Interview Transcript



timecode Seymour: All righty. Steve Walker, thank you for being here, part of the OVC Oral History Project.

timecode Walker: Sure.

timecode Seymour: I'm gonna ask... start off by asking you to say and spell your name for the record, if you will?

timecode Walker: It's Steve... Steven Walker, S-T-E-V-E-N, Walker, W-A-L-K-E-R, and the first ten years of the movement, I was Hopson-Walker, H-O-P-S-O-N dash Walker, but I'm Walker now.

timecode Seymour: Known by many who loved you as Hoppity.

timecode Walker: Hoppity.

timecode Seymour: Okay. Steve, why and how did you first get involved in the crime victims' movement?

timecode Walker: In reality now that I look back on it as a clinical psychologist going all the way back to 1975 and prior to that I was an American Baptist Minister, I had interactions with victims especially in running alcohol and drug programs. We didn't state it that way, but my first formal involvement was in about 1988 I was a professor at Fresno State. Fresno State had started the first victim's certificate program in 1985. It was written by a gentleman by the name of John Dussich who was there for a year. He wrote the program and then left and in '88 I was asked to take over the program. My claim to fame at Fresno State at that time was dealing with criminal personality, but they asked me to take over the program. At that point, there had been 25 people to take the four courses, no one had ever graduated, and so I literally took the files from another department and brought them to the Crim Department and then started going to every conference I could find. At that time, NOVA had their Horizon Series. I went to the Horizon Series. I went to any conference that came across my desk to learn about victim's issues. What I found very quickly is I took brochures about the certificate program is that they would disappear, and I realized and people started asking, how could I take these four courses in victimology, victim services, family violence and legal issues. How can I take these four courses in Iowa or New York or Florida, and after the first couple of conferences, the very first one where I met Christine Edmunds, Marlene Young, Ed Stout, John Stein, was in Kansas City. And after that first one, in the middle of the first one, I called my Chair, Max Futrell, and I said, "We've got to do something. We need to make these courses accessible." So when I got back we created the Victim's Services Summer Institute, which is four weeks. It was in the month of June. It's now the month of July, so that people could come from outside of California and so for 15 years or so we've had this Summer Institute. So that's how I got involved.

timecode Uh, as a clinician, I had a greater sensitivity to victim's issues because of that previous experience. So, I, for me, it was like coming home to some extent, being involved with victim advocates, I met many, many committed people, and I traveled all over the United States whenever anyone wanted information about programs or wanted me to meet with academicians. I would... I would ride the train. I took the train to Ed Stout, and we spent two days at St. Louis University trying to start a program. Soon after that, because I was one of the few academics around in the field, I was asked by Doris Tate to be on a new board called COVER, Coalition of Victim Equal Rights, I believe it was, and it was her private non-profit legislative program, and I was on that for four or five years. So that was my introduction to the field. Quite incidentally I'd actually met Jim Rowland in 1981, as I was running alcohol and drug programs, but that was completely out of the context of victim's issues.

timecode Seymour: Do you... do you mind just telling us a little bit about Doris Tate, whose... whose no longer with us just so people understand who you're talking about?

timecode Walker: Doris Tate, the mother of Sharon Tate had founded, created long before POMC existed, Parents of Murdered Children, created a program that met on a weekly or monthly basis in Los Angeles for those that were homicide survivors, and by the time I met her, she was making two changes. One, that it had already happened which was that she came to see that the key to making changes for victims was legislative, and she really pushed for that. The other, prior to her death, she talked to me several times because of my background in dealing with criminal personalities. She... she had come to understand criminal issues and had gained more empathy in the area of what we now call restorative justice and was actually right before she died talking about that more than she was legislative issues.

timecode Seymour: Thank you. I want you, Steve, to describe the field of victim services when you first entered it, but also if you would because of your background, the field of criminology or the teaching of criminology at the university level. So it's a two-pronged question for you.

timecode Walker: Okay. This would have been about 20 years ago, and having had the luxury of being at the ground level in the field of alcohol and drugs prior to certification in that field, when I first got in the field I saw... I sensed that it was a new field. These were not junior psychologists. They weren't junior social workers. They weren't junior lawyers. This was a field with a particular expertise. So from the beginning my search was for the knowledge base and... and that you can imagine the four courses have evolved. Initially they was... there were no books in the field, and we all did it through, back then, mimeographing things... and now copying things. So it was a very dynamic field. The field of criminology which is relatively new starting in 1930 out of sociology was not accepting, it is not a surprise that only one university, Fresno State, was interested in starting programs at that time, and that... that really came from John Dussich and Jim Rowland being in Fresno as John Dussich and I've talked. It seemed like all roads lead to Fresno and certain areas when it comes to VORP and victim impact statement and our program. At that time, the size... the... having come in... out of seminary where the conservatives fought with the liberals and psychology where the behavior is fought with the Freudian, to enter this field where you had grassroots and criminal based folks didn't... there was a clear dichotomy than there is today. But it... I didn't see that as a negative. I saw that diversity as a positive, so those... those two major things, that this is a new field and that the diversity of the field will be its saving grace.

timecode Now, to academically meet those needs meant that we had to create a series of courses that touched on every area for both criminal justice and community-based programs. There was a fear of professionalization. As I often say, we never used the C word back then, the certification. We never talked about it, because as a male, as a criminologist, as a psychologist, I had three strikes against me walking into this field, and so my biases I'll talk about in a little bit was to keep my mouth shut and listen and... and to find out what the needs were. There was suspicion of academe but there was an openness to the few of us that were around, that... that I appreciated. But there was less advocate confidence, as I see today. Many of the community-based program folks had no college work. Some of the criminal justice based people did. So they didn't see the need when I first got started, but with the advent of the summer institute and then later NVAA, the need evolved and always, always it was important to us and our academic programs to have advocates involved and to get their feedback, and that's always been the case. We even have... we still have part-timer's teaching some of our courses that are from the field in Fresno and the Central Valley.

timecode Seymour: And looking at your pioneering areas in the victim's field, what was the greatest challenge that you and your colleagues faced in affecting change?

timecode Walker: I believe that there were two. One was the field's tenuous attitude towards academics in general, and... and not fighting that directly but simply letting it change through time, but that was one. The other, frankly, was the lack of bur... bureaucratic support at our University. I had the support of my chair, you know, and... but there was no time allowed to do this. There was absolutely no money, and the best thing happened that I hoped... that I could hope for was the liaise faire attitude, but there was not... there was not an understanding among criminologists about how important this was. In fact, a whole liberal wing of criminology was totally against victimization, because they saw it as either or, and I preached for 20 years that it uh... you do not have to take away criminal rights. You simply beef up victim rights. And uh, but there was this fear that as victims' issues became preeminent in... among criminologist that issues regarding criminal rights would disappear, and so there was an underlying, among faculty, resistance but underlying support from Administration that was the saving grace. In starting the three programs that we started and, hopefully, the joint doctorate is that a fourth in the future, the... most of the time I paid my own way to conferences, and because I was still in part-time private practice I was able to do that. I essentially used that money. So the... the two biggest things were the fear in the field of academ... academics and what that... would that... would the lack of their train... would their training, the lack of training cause them to be excluded from a field, and the other was the lack of support... lack of support.

timecode Seymour: Since you got involved in the field, what are some of the secrets or tactics or strategies and you and some of your colleagues employed that were most successful?

timecode Walker: Once I started going around to programs in various cities in the United States talking to advocates, helping advocates look at universities, I wrote what... what I today call an underground little newspaper, two pager on how to subvert the system, and... and being a child of the '60s that's essentially what I did. I'm a nice guy, and I did it in a nice way, but I... it's easier to ask forgiveness than permission and in essence every program I started, I started on a shoestring and it expanded and then the university saw it as a positive thing for them. So being willing to go behind or against a bureaucracy, being persistent, a willingness to go out and sell. I would... I would stand at tables at the NOVA conference or any conference and... and hand out brochures, and I often would miss workshops just so I could meet people. That's where I met Janice Lord from MADD and Carolyn Hightower from OVC, and others who... and we would stand there and talk about the need for these programs. Um...

timecode Seymour: Were people at those conferences, Steve, the field of criminology you said, was... they... wasn't very accepting. When you went to a NOVA conference or a NVC regional conference or a POMC, what did they think about you?

timecode Walker: I did some surveys back in those days and people were willing to do the survey, but they weren't... there... there would be a handful that would come up and talk about I think we need some courses. How can I get some courses? There... there would be five or six in a week of a NOVA conference that might come up and... the... the other thing I want to mention about secrets or tactics is my attitude was how may I help you. How... how can... what does the field need, and the prime example of that is that OVC, through Christine Edmunds and others approached us to provide credit for legal remedies for crime victims back in 1991, and it was the first time the Justice Department had ever provided credit. We provided one unit credit, and I figured out a way to do that and I filled out the paperwork. In some universities it would take a year and a half to get a course like that approved, but through Extended-Ed we were able to do it very quickly. So the... the last point for any academician is you've got to... you've got to be humble and you've got to go to the field and ask advocates what they need. There are things that they don't know about that you can raise with them, but there are things that we don't know about that the field needs, and there are many areas through NVAA that have evolved over the last eight years that we would have never imagined as topic areas previously.

timecode Seymour: Is this a good time to talk about NVAA?

timecode Walker: Yes. If... if we talked about my two greatest accomplishments, they would be creating the victimology major, because today we have two hundred majors at California State University, Fresno. We're lar... there are something like 70 departments at Fresno State, we're larger than most of them, just and our victimology major is a part of the criminology major. But the second, and I didn't... I was on the ground floor, but I didn't create the... the document that finally proposed NVAA, but I... but I created the... the thought paper in early... in the early '90s. We had created the Summer Institute where students stayed in the dorms for two or four weeks and took twelve units. Christine Edmunds were sitting around one evening in the middle of our Summer Institute saying, you know, these dorms are cheap, food is cheap, victim advocates could come here for two weeks or a week. And so we wrote a concept paper probably in 91 which proposed a... we didn't have the name National Academy, but proposed an... a one-week's worth of basic information delivered to the field over and over and providing academic credit. Within four years, Christine and others, wrote the actual proposal, and it became the National Victim Assistance Academy, and it... it is Carolyn Hightower is one of the key people from the Office for Victims of Crime, because she came up to me in 1993 and said we're still interested in this, and I told Chris, and then Chris eventually she and Jane Sigmon wrote the RFP. But it was the first time that OVC had supported basic education for the field. None of us imagined it would still be around. If it... if it happened one year it was a grand experiment like democracy. But it went for three and now it's... we're on our eighth or ninth year.

timecode Seymour: Can you tell us about the first... I mean...

timecode Walker: The very first one was at George Washington University and we stayed in some cold dorms, and actually very warm dorms at that time, but they were sparsely furnished and we walked two blocks with our bullet proof thirty-pound manual here. It was... it was about this size at the beginning. The content has changed tremendously, but we walked two blocks and had courses and ate in the food court, and the idea the next year was to try to do it outside of D.C. So the next year it was done at... in Washington, D.C. but also Washburn University and California State University in Fresno, Washburn University in Topeka, and then the following year at the Medical University of South Carolina.

timecode Seymour: So all concurrent sites?

timecode Walker: They were all concurrent sites at the time and connected, and I was not an advocate of compressed video and now I've become one and now we're not doing it, but all... all three or four sites, depending on the year. One site... one year we had five sites which was, a little unwieldy but we did. All sites throughout the week either for 10 hours or 15 hours were hooked up through compressed video. I came to see that maybe as a delivery system for education, compressed video, was not that good, but as a system to bring together the academy folks and to allow them to see some of the things people in the field that we couldn't bring into each site that for those two reasons the... the bringing of the academy together, and allowing them to see the... the old buffalos, it was a useful device, but there were better ways to deliver the information, I believe. So NVAA continues to go... exist now and I... I think that in some form it will continue. The field needs basic information and we will in the next ten years develop the advanced level of information that is specific to different kinds of programs.

timecode Seymour: Not as fun talking about failures as accomplishments. Have there been any failures in our field, Steve?

timecode Walker: Well... I think when you look at the history of the victims' movement it's been an amazing progression to have 10,000 agencies, 30,000 laws, and frankly, I did not think we would even be talking about certification until well into the 21st Century, so my view is as a process, the field is moving right along. But if I look at my area of academe, the greatest failure has been the inability to convince academic institutions and academics throughout the United States that this is viable area. It isn't uncommon still for me to walk into a Criminology Department and to get hammered for why we're even wanting to develop these four courses. It is still... it's still not surprising to me, but I... it is a failure because there are only between Sam Houston, Washburn University in Topeka and University of New Haven in Connecticut, there are only four institutions with Bachelor's programs. There are many community colleges with courses. The... the... actually the most extensive program is one that we created at Kansas City, Kansas Community College in about 1995..., 1996, but the greatest failure, I think, is that after 15 or 20 years, we still only have four institute... I... it's wonderful that we have those four, but it's a tragedy that others haven't taken it on. I'm... we're all hoping that through the development of State Academies and looking for partnerships that other universities will be involved, and there are some that are coming along that are starting to see the viability of these programs.

timecode Seymour: What's needed, Steve, today to continue the growth and professionalism of the field or flip the question, what... what's missing?

timecode Walker: I think the acceptance of standards in the field is the most important thing. That's gonna be a gradual process and there are gonna be differences of opinion between the community-based and the criminal justice-based folk, but I believe that those differences can be worked out. But I consider the development of certification the next key step, because what comes after that are... are program standards and then ethical standards, and Tom Underwood at Washburn University did his doctorate in the professionalization of the field and he speaks to this much better than I do, but when you... you look at the progress of the victim's field, it's about where it should be as far as seeing itself, having a body of knowledge, having an attitude, having seen itself as a particular profession at the next step formally and... and OVC has been very supportive of that, and... and there needs to be lots of input from the field. Lots of input. This is gonna be a slow process, but I think the next step is the development of first voluntary certification and then ultimately some kind of national certification. With that comes credibility, higher salaries and a bigger place in... in the market of the courts system.

timecode Seymour: And at... do you... will that have an impact do you think on how the criminal justice system and people who educate professionals in the criminal justice system how they view victim advocates?

timecode Walker: Yes, yes. And it will entice. There's a method in the madness for me as an academician. I believe certification is necessary for the field in and of itself, but when that happens universities will take notice and they will start getting involved and we will start having more programs. So I think... it should be the other way around. I think universities should provide leadership but they will follow particularly as we work with continuing ed folks, because in the university system those are the folks that understand professional education and when they see ten thousand agencies and all of these individuals in the field and certification, they're gonna want to be involved with that. And we're gonna have to be careful of... we can't just let anybody do it, because, just because you're trained in criminology doesn't mean you know anything about victims' issues, so we're gonna have to have our standards in place regarding training and education when that happens, but it will happen and that's my hope.

timecode Seymour: Got any advice for professionals and volunteers in the field, and in particular, Steve, ones who have more recently joined the field who don't know the 30 year history?

timecode Walker: Okay. Number one, you're in a wonderful exciting field that brings together much diversity. You'll find people with every philosophical attitude in this field, and I consider that a wonderful thing. So and... and number two, you need to learn about the history. You need to know the effect of the Civil Rights Movement, the anti-war movement, the women's movement, the law and order movement, you need to know that background. You need to know philosophically where you come from. And then the next bit of advice, back when I was an American Baptist Minister, the average stay at any church was two years. It's a very stressful occupation, lots of turnover. We were probably, if anybody did any research and we're hoping, as we start the joint doctorate in victimology soon to have research in these kinds of areas, I think we're gonna find that that's probably two to four years is the average turnover in this field, and so the question is, why is that? Well, it's a very stressful field, so the second bit of advice is to take care of yourself and to network, because that's how your family is not gonna understand what you do. Other people in the community are gonna be curious. In the old days, they wouldn't talk to you once they found out what you did, but now they're curious, but the people that really understand what you do are other victim advocates. So through education, through conferences, through NVAA, network... many states have annual state academies, and it's a wonderful resource to go back there for years an alumni and get your infusion from the field. Do that consciously, because none of us do a very good job of taking care of ourselves until we're sort of sinking, and so that would be my last bit of advice to take care of yourself. (Change of tape)

timecode Seymour: Steve, in the victim assistance field in the very recent past a few of us have taken on the issue of substance use and abuse. In a couple of categories is the pre-victimization factor, the post-victimization factor, and you, in particular, have focused on substance use and abuse among people who serve victims. Can you just talk for a minute about what that's all about?

timecode Walker: Yes. I'd earlier said that my advice would be, one of the things I would is, take care of yourself, and part of the reason for that is that standing back and looking at the field, and I love this field and I love the people in it. They're some of the nicest people I've ever met, and I like I said, it was coming home for me. But the two major areas that I saw where stress was taking its toll were in the areas of overeating and substance abuse, and since my background was in the area of substance abuse, we talked, you and I, and many on the project team for NVAA for a number of years about adding that to the curriculum and finally it was added four or five years ago. I think that area of dealing with vicarious trauma and stress, personal stress, if we can do that, if we can focus on those issues and discuss its... it's one of the three great taboos in our society, sex, drugs, and dealing with death. If we can deal with the issue of substance abuse not in victims, which needs to be looked at, and there was a conference at OVC created with the people from substance abuse nationally, and we met together and we discussed, providers in both fields working together, because many women that are abused are also... also abused substances. So, yes, that's an important area, but my focus is on advocates and the stress that they're under and how important that is, that we... there is a chapter in the NVAA text that I think is good, and we also discussed it at NVAA, but it is an area that needs to be discussed more openly as time goes on.

timecode Seymour: Do you think we will? Do you think we're getting there?

timecode Walker: I think so. I think it's gonna happen. It's one of the most difficult areas for anyone to talk about, and so I'm not faulting the field or anyone, but it will come. It will come. And we find in doing State Academies that at least that... that it leads to a discussion and that's more than we could have hoped for 10 years ago.

timecode Seymour: Great. Got any vision for the future of our field, Steve?

timecode Walker: Two. Certification, that I've already mentioned, I think, is a key issue in the next 10 years, and in my field of academic endeavors, the other is to create accessible programs, whether it's a certificate program or one course or a major or a master's or eventually the doctorate. We need to use the Web. We need to coordinate. We have created some coordinated courses between Washburn and New Haven and Fresno State, and we're hoping to incorporate other universities where a person could take a couple of courses here on the Web. They could come to our summer institute. I can also offer all those courses at the master's level. But the key issue is creating accessible education for the field. It was my prime issue at the beginning, and it still is an issue. So that's... that's what I hope we can develop that in rural areas of Iowa and Kansas and Wyoming, that someone can go on the Internet and have access to three units or even one unit, so... yeah.

timecode Seymour: Steve, what's your greatest fear for the field of victim assistance?

timecode Walker: My greatest fear is that...every profession goes through expansion and contraction, and I understand that, but there comes a time when you got to take that next step, and my greatest fear is that we will lose sight of the big picture and that we will try to freeze-frame where we are today. I think we cannot put off the professionalization of the field. I think we need to take it gradually, but my greatest fear is that now we... that we've talked about standards at the national level, that we will not take the next step of creating some ideal standards that people will look at, and again, I know it's gonna take some time, but my fear is that it may get lost in the middle of some other things. So that's my greatest fear.

timecode Seymour: And... and I just want to... I want to conclude by saying that you've talked about... you've been working on the same things for a really long time. What do you think so much of this takes so much darn time?

timecode Walker: Well, initially, it was a societal issue. Society was not accepting victims' issues and then any profession that is... when I was working with alcohol and drug counselors, one time we were certifying a program and I had to leave for the three days of state evaluation because they did not believe that psychologists should be involved, so I had to become invisible, and so fields struggle with taking the next step, and what's wonderful about the victims' field when you actually look at the history and every five-year period there's the... been this fear to get involved. There was a fear of having VOCA funds, that that money would have strings attached to it, but the field is an extremely vocal independent field, and so that fear has never been realized, that they've been co-opted as we said in the '60s. So the fear of the field, and just every organization, every profession goes through periods of inertia where they... and you get worn out. The greatest problem in the anti-war movement as I look at it today is that we did not create a second generation. The reason the Civil Right's Movement almost died was that they didn't create the... it... it took them a while to create the next generation of leaders. But we have that in the victim's field, and we have the young buffalos and they're gonna create... create this field expand it in a way different than maybe some of us imagine, but that's fine. I just don't want them to get stuck. That's my view.

timecode Seymour: Anything I haven't asked you that you want to add as a final thought?

timecode Walker: No. I'm fine.

timecode Seymour: Great. Thank you very much.

timecode Walker: Okay.