An Oral History of the Crime Victim Assistance Field
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Marlene A. Young J.D., Ph.D.
Interview Transcript

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Interview Transcript



timecode Beatty: Marlene, could you start by stating your name and spelling it for, yes, saying your agency and the position?

timecode Young: I'm Marlene Young, M-A-R-L-E-N-E, Y-O-U-N-G. I'm the Executive Director of the National Organization for Victim Assistance.

timecode Beatty: We'd like to start by asking you how you got involved in the movement? What brought you to the issue of victim services and victims' rights?

timecode Young: Well, like many people, it was really by chance. I was looking for a job. I had a background in law and political science and I came across an ad in the newspaper in which they were looking for a research director at the Multnomah County Sheriff's Department in Portland, Oregon, and I thought, well, they wanted somebody to do research on victims and the elderly particularly. Read the ad, I thought, well, I'll go in and I'll apply and I did, never thought I'd get the job, but got offered the job, I took it, knew nothing about victims and knew nothing about the elderly but I figured, well, research is research. So when I started to look at elderly crime victims, I went out and did a massive survey of elderly crime victims and as I was doing that I was asked at the same time by the sheriff to begin a demonstration project on serving them and so it caught my interest and I did begin to see how badly victims were treated and thought, well, there ought to be more.

timecode Beatty: Now how did you go from there to the National Organization for Victim Assistance? What was the transition or evolution of your career path?

timecode Young: Well, there wasn't a lot of transition or evolution. As I said, I knew nothing about crime victims, and the way to get information, I figured, was to go to the library, I was a researcher, use the periodical index and see if there are any articles written, and I looked up the articles I found, there weren't a lot, and I looked them up, I read them, and whenever I saw anything to do with victims and there was an author or a reference, I wrote a letter, a massive letter writing campaign to say, tell me what you know. In the process I met a number of people who are running programs doing research, there weren't a lot of them either. But in talking to them and following up with telephone calls and things like that, I said to all of them at the same time as they were saying to me, we've got to find a way to get more information about each other, do some networking. And so we said, well, why don't we start an organization and I talked to Sheriff Brown at the time who was in the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office, Lee P. Brown, and he said, Marlene, never do anything locally. If you're gonna do something on a basis of networking, do it nationally. It'll give you a lot more information. So that was really the genesis of the idea from my perspective.

timecode Beatty: You were one of the people who actually were there at the beginning of this field. I wonder if you could describe for us what was it like then and how has it kind of evolved over the years as to where we are now?

timecode Young: Well, I actually feel like I came in not really at the beginning because I really began working in 1975 and I knew that there had been other programs and I knew there had been other interests and one of the things that struck me was the field of victimology which had begun in the last efore 1975 internationally, that we had a lot to learn from that. And I... it also struck me that there was a dearth of knowledge, if you will. No one really knew what they were doing in terms of skills in serving victims. We used to laugh a lot about, you know, flying by the seat of our pants because there was no... there was no map for you. There was no way to say, well, I'm gonna turn to this person and ask them how to do stuff because there's no one to turn to. So in that sense there was a huge void. I think another thing that was real clear to me is that no one outside of victims that you talk to directly cared about victims, and in fact, many people who were victims didn't even know they were victims because the terminology or the concept of what a victim was wasn't really well recognized. I mean, there was nothing about... defining about it, so they didn't have a role, they didn't have an identity, and I think that was striking to me even in terms of part of how the movement got started. One of the seminal influences in research was Witness Cooperation written by Frank Cannavale, who studied the process of witnesses in the system, and in fact, came up with the idea that we should improve the treatment of witnesses. But it's striking in retro... retrospect that that's what he was focusing on is witnesses. It wasn't victim witnesses, it was witnesses. So you have to extrapolate from that really the idea and concept of victim. Now there had been victimization surveys and I think that contributed a lot to the initial sort of impetus to do something for victims, but the concept itself was not really well-formed.

timecode Beatty: What was the landscape for... for victims and their reality different today than it was, you know, 20, 30 years ago when you first started this work?

timecode Young: Well, from my perspective there were a whole lot of things missing, and perhaps there wasn't anything there. You can start with the criminal system because really much of the victims' movement focused initially around the criminal justice movement... or criminal justice world, and you can compare it. You can say, you know, in 1975 there were no protections for victims, protection from harassment. There was no protection from intimidation. There were no protections in the courtroom. There was no way, no sort of assistance for victims when they went into the courtroom, so there were no protections. There was no information given to them usually. They didn't find out about their case status. They didn't find out about whether or not anything happened, the disposition in the case. So they're... they simply... if they were used at all, they were used as witnesses, but there was no acknowledgment that they had any role otherwise. You looked at the situation then and you would say to yourself, we talked today about a right to be counseled or a right to participation. There was no rights to participation. In fact, we often referred to victims as just one more piece of evidence in the trial process. There were virtually no reparations. It's true that a few states had compensation, but when I first started in the field, I think the number at that time was 16. So today you can say there's 50 states with compensation. There was an ability for judges to give restitution, but it was almost an anomaly for any judge to give restitution, and so victims would be a piece of evidence in the courtroom, and in fact, as one prosecutor told me once, he said, I woke up one day and realized that we were asking victims, if they were witnesses, to subsidize the criminal justice system, because when they came into trial, which they had to, then they had to pay for their own parking. They had to take days off from work. They had to get childcare.

timecode They were basically paying for all of their expenses and all we cared about is that they showed up and if they didn't, we could throw them in jail. Pretty bleak landscape if you think about it. Many of the due process rights that have been achieved in victim rights weren't available. You know, I think historically it's significant that one of the things that we had on our litany of rights for victims eventually was to have due process, by which we meant the defendant and the victim should have an even keel in the courtroom. Well, one of the big issues as early in the '70s, and certainly earlier than that, but one of the big issues was that in jury selection in many states, defendants had their right of three strikes to every one strike for the prosecution. Now that doesn't exist anymore. But if I talk to young people, even young lawyers, it's like that could never have happened. Well, that was part of, you know, the big difference in how victims were treated. Now that was just in the criminal justice system, but as I said from my perspective, most of the efforts outside of rape crisis centers and domestic violence shelters, most of the efforts on behalf of other victims were on criminal justice assistance. In fact, if you were not involved in the criminal justice process, you just were not counted, and in this country generally about eighty percent of cases never get to the criminal justice system and no one was focusing on the trauma, no one was focusing on crisis intervention, no one was focusing on family survivors as opposed to the direct victim. I think about today we talk about survivors of homicide or the family members of victims.

timecode Well, back then I remember talking to one victim on the courthouse steps and she was crying and this judge said to... I said, "Well, how did it go, what was the problem?" She said, "Well, the judge just told me that he didn't care about me being in the courtroom. I had no right to be in the courtroom on this trial, and he said, it might interfere with the defendant rights," and he... she said, "But I... my daughter was killed," and he said, "Well, then she was the victim, you're not the victim." I mean that's changed phenomenally in that area, so we now are looking at at crisis issues, trauma issues, as well as the criminal justice issues.

timecode Beatty: You talked about some of the changes that have occurred during the evolution of the field. What were some of the greatest challenges, some of the hurdles that had to be overcome to affect those changes?

timecode Young: Well, I think there's probably two areas to look at that question. The first is sort of in the substantive area, I'd say, and I sort of alluded to it earlier and that is this great lack of knowledge, this great lack of information, the lack of research and also a lack... a great lack of understanding of practical skills. Most of us in the '70s were really inventing the knowledge base in trying to figure out what worked and then translating it into both practice, but also translating it into documents and... and and the like because that lack was there. The... the second area I'd say was this huge lack of awareness which I alluded to. The fact that people didn't have a concept of it unless they'd been a victim and if they'd find themselves as a victim, and that most people didn't want to hear about it either unless it touched them and that was so significant that in 1975 when NOVA was founded, the National Organization for Victim Assistance, when we generated an annual event to recognize victims and to look at their issues, the first name for that week or that day was National Forgotten Victims Week. It evolved over the years to what we now call National Victims' Right Week, but at that time things were so bleak because of the lack of knowledge, victims were really invisible and we had to overcome that as a barrier. And I think the third area was that there were... there were no support... there was no institutional support in the way of laws, legal institutions, and anything that gave victims any kind of method of being able to be heard in the institutional system.

timecode Beatty: What did you find, and I think you mentioned a couple of them, but maybe you can expand a little bit. What did you find were the most effective strategies or secrets or tactics in accomplishing those successes?

timecode Young: You mean in overcoming those kinds of things?

timecode Beatty: Yeah. What did you find is the most effective way to create the change that victims were seeking?

timecode Young: Well, I think that I mentioned sort of in passing, but in terms of the lack of knowledge, what I felt we had to do and I say this collectively, those of us that were interest... we had do the research. We had to get the knowledge base. We had to form the framework for understanding. We had to develop the theoretical concepts that were needed, and we had to publish them, do research and publish them, and I don't say that simply from a sort of former researcher's perspective. It was desperately needed to sort of bolster the conceptual basis of our field. I think in terms of public awareness, one of the things that I know some of us did was simply to say there's no voice for victims, we're gonna become that voice, and that meant creating or responding to any possibility for public speaking, to create or respond to any possibility of... of testifying in public forums, to do that as much as possible which for many people meant really cris-crossing the country or their state and creating their own forums to be heard. Similarly, I mean in the same vein as we did with NOVA and sort of for general victims, that was clearly the same strategy that was used in the development of the rape crisis world because there were consciousness-raising forums that were going on and we were doing consciousness raising as a strategy to overcome this sort of lethargy and lack of recognition. I think that the... in the third are of legislation and creating a legal framework, again we were in a position, not just as the Federal level, but of actually drafting legislation, getting it introduced and making sure that we followed it through the legislative process.

timecode Now one significant difference in terms of strategy then of the... from other movements or other kinds of areas is that we knew because we didn't have the support of the public generally, that we were not going to be able to create this massive grassroots uprising that has accompanied some major pieces of legislation. So we resorted to what I figure was kind of... of an effort of target lobbying and kind of an effort of secrecy in some ways, it slipping legislation through the legislature with the help of maybe one or two legislators taking on that issue and that was much better for us than trying to either do grassroots efforts or even trying to do a lot of awareness within the legislature because we would find opposition. While there might not have been opposition to sort of the general idea of victim rights, I mean who can argue with it even that once you've pronounced what they should be. Who can say they're against victim rights? What you would find is the law enforcement organizations or the prosecutorial organizations or the judge's organization or whatever would oppose them because they saw the possibility that it meant more work for them, more money, less resources. One of the uh... .I think one of the great stories of those early years was in 1980 when NOVA decided to change National Forgotten Victims' Week to National Victim Rights Week, one of the things we did at the same time was to say, well, now we've changed the name, what exactly are those rights? So we came up with uh... with a list of seven basic rights and I kind of alluded to them earlier but they were the right to protection, the right to information and notification, the right to counsel, the right to reparations, the right to property and employment, the right to due process, and the right to dignity and compassion.

timecode Well, when... when we first did that our Board of Directors gave me the mission of assembling uh... we were so uh, I think, naive, in assembling a national group of criminal justice practitioners together of national organizations, and the idea was I was gonna go present this to them and they would endorse it and we would all be able to go back and take them to the states and get them implemented. So we put this list together and at that time the head of the list was dignity and compassion, which was over our team, and I got to this meeting and there were about 28 representatives, which was pretty good. There were judges that were there. There were uh... and these were all organizational representatives, National Sheriff's Association, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, they had... we had probation people there, correctional people and the like, and I presented this great document of these seven basic rights and after I presented it and I gave a little talk--- there was a lot of shuffling around the table. I mean, it was like people were real uncomfortable, and I remember one of the, and I think it was the National Sheriff's Association representative at that time, after a few minutes of uncomfortable silence, raised his hand and I called on him, and he said to me, "Marlene, those are great ideas, those are great ideas," but he said, "First, I don't think you can include the right to dignity and compassion in that list." And I said, "Well, why?" He said, "Well, you know, law enforcement officers know what dignity and compassion means," but he says, "prosecutors don't." Well, the... the representative from the National District Attorneys' Association got up, stood up and said, "Well, I disagree." He said, "Law enforcement officers may know what it is, prosecutors may know what it is," but he said, "judges don't." And in essence they had refused to endorse not only the document in that particular section but none of them wanted to endorse it not because they didn't, you know, they disagreed with the concept quote, unquote, but some other organization couldn't implement it, so they all got out of it that way. Well, I think that's been instructive about the opposition when we were going into legislation, so the idea of target lobbying, keeping it a secret in once sense till the Bill got to a point where it had to be passed on the floor or whatever, I think was very effective.

timecode Beatty: What, in your estimation, would you say are the... the greatest failures or maybe the greatest challenges left for the victims' field?

timecode Young: Well, I think there are some huge challenges. The first is the problem that we're facing with, again, the institutionalization of the movement. I think that when I go out and talk to groups now, in many cases I find that it takes a lot to inspire groups, even of victim advocates, because they have a nine to five job and that's a nine to five job. You... they have salaries. They look at it as a job. Many of them graduate out of college on a career track, which is good, with the idea that, you know, I'm gonna become a victim advocate, which was unheard of early on. But, as a result, it's looked at as a job. It's not looked at as a mission, and there's a big difference in the energy you pour into a job versus the energy you pour into a mission in most cases. I think the second challenge is the on-going challenge we've had all these years is funding. We have the Victims of Crime Act today and that's great. It's probably one of the best accomplishments of the field to establish that as a piece of legislation, but it seems like it's always in jeopardy. It's not in jeopardy of repeal, but the fund that is set up through the Victims of Crime Act is always in jeopardy of being raided, and that's at the Federal level. At the state level it's the same. States that are funding victim services, a lot of them are undergoing budget problems now across the board, and one place to look is victims' funds or to transfer them. I was astounded just this year when I heard that the State of Nebraska had introduced legislation to reduce their compensation program to twenty thousand dollars a year.

timecode I mean, that's not enough to begin to compensate in many cases one victim, but is uh... and that's a challenge to maintain our funding, improve our funding so that we have the resources available. But I think there's other challenges because there's new things on the horizon. I foresee in one sense that we will be eventually challenged with all the new victims quote, unquote. We've been serving well what I call the traditionally-served populations. They weren't traditionally twenty or thirty years ago, but you can usually find a domestic violence program some place in a state, if not in every county. You can usually find a rape crisis center or somebody serving sexual assault victims. There's usually someone to serve child abuse victims, and in most prosecutor's offices there are victim witness programs and the like. So the landscape's changed a lot but it only really serves those kinds of victims. We haven't yet begun to serve the victims of financial exploitation. We haven't been... begun to serve victims that have been victims of terrorism because we never really have been exposed to it, and I suggest that's gonna be a major field. We haven't yet really begun to even think about victims of war, which could be a major challenge for the field as a whole in the next few years. So we haven't begun to address victims that... who are immigrants, who are refugees. We haven't done well enough even in the traditional fields to reach those people of color, those people who are differently-abled. All of these are victims that are left to be served. Well, I think that can last for a generation at least.

timecode Beatty: Now we talked about failures. Now I was wondering if you could tell me what you perceive is the greatest accomplishment of the victims' fields today?

timecode Young: Well, again, there's... I probably... it's always hard to pick the, you know, the worst victim case. Similarly, it's hard to pick the greatest accomplishment. I think probably the biggest turning point, if you're looking at it historically in the field was the production of the President's Task Force Report in 1982, because it was the seminal force behind the Victims of Crime Act and the seminal force behind establishing the idea and the recommendation for a Federal Constitutional Amendment. I think that was a major turning point in one sense. So legislatively or if you think about it in terms of public policy, that was probably the beginning. In services, I think there was a huge turning point when NOVA was helpful in developing the whole idea of crisis response. I mean it... it was one of the interesting aspects of that was the fact that NOVA was able to distribute and send 700 volunteers to New York in the aftermath of the... the terrorist attacks on September 11th. As a result of that, we produced this video, which documents that whole effort, but all of those were volunteers with a background of professional training in crisis response, which is responding to the emotional aftermath of... for victims of terrorism as well as crime. That was a huge turning point to have established that back in 1986 so that we had the knowledge to do that in the year 2001.

timecode Beatty: What in your estimation is needed to continue the growth and professionalism of the field?

timecode Young: Well, I could say training, training, training, education, education, education, in those two ways. There is no doubt the people today-- we have thousands, tens of thousands of victim advocates across this country and having been out there and doing some training and doing some speaking, I am absolutely woefully aware of the fact that many of them have had no training and are working with victims. Some of them even have been in the field, if you call it being in the field attached to their programs, working for three, four, and five years and never have gone through any training. We have to make education available. I believe we have to, in this sense, make it at no cost or little cost, which is not available at that level today. I think that's the responsibility that goes with the Victims of Crime Act. If you're gonna give support to programs, you need to give support so that they have training and education, and it's the one big, sort of gap, in the Victims of Crime Act originally was that no money was allocated in the original formula for training and technical assistance. So I think that we still... uh, we still are looking at that as we look at... to try to professionalize. The second is, I believe strongly and fervently, we have to begin a process of certification. I know a lot of people refer to it as credentialing and that's fine, but I really do think it's more than credentialing; I think it is certification. And I think probably people refer to it as credentialing because it... we want to kind of quietly get people used to the idea so it doesn't scare them.

timecode But I believe that involves more than just training. It means testing. It means establishing accountability. It means establishing commissions, if you will, which is fearful, but so that you can be, to use a parallel, disbarred. I mean, you should at some point if you have really sort of messed up with a victim, I think you should be told you're not gonna be able to work in victim services, and that that should be a part of your record so if you go to another state, and I realize that we don't... aren't even effective in doing that with doctors, and to some extent with not lawyers, but to me, that's gonna help make us professionals is to hold ourselves accountable, get the training and to certify ourselves.

timecode Beatty: What advice would you give to a young professional or a volunteer that is just now coming to the victims' field?

timecode Young: Train yourself and educate yourself. I won't repeat my sermon on that, but I think you... that has to be the starting point. Don't get into this field unless you're willing to do that. I think the second thing I would say is, don't get into the field if you're getting into it for a nine to five job. This job is not for you. You know, victims are victims at any time and most of us know that some of the quote, worst cases happened on Friday night, on a Saturday, the weekends, or Christmas holidays or New Year's, whatever, and you have to be available for that. You have to be willing to commit yourself to that. And if... if you don't like it, and when I hear people complain about those kinds of things and they say, you know, I don't carry, you know, the beeper or I don't want to be on the hotline, I'll do this part of the job and not that part of the job, I say, well, get out of this field because you don't belong here. You only belong here if you're willing to be of service to victims. But I think it's a very important lesson for people when they come here. The third lesson, I would say, is because of that aspect of the job, prepare yourself and know yourself well enough that you can manage the stress. This is a field... everyone has financial stress and everyone has probably family stress or job stress, but this field you're gonna be exposed to murder, mayhem, and misery, and you need to prepare yourself to be able to take that in and survive and that's a crucial issue for any new professional.

timecode Beatty: What would you say is your greatest fear for the victims' field at this point?

timecode Young: Well, some I've already mentioned. The... the institutionalization or the lethargy, fear of being de-funded clearly is a fear. I... I think one of the things and perhaps this whole exercise is going to help address it, I really fear that most of the people who were sort of a part of starting the movement or still in the leadership are, and I hate to say it, becoming older and older, and we're gonna see a lot of our good resources retire out, and that doesn't mean they're gonna lose their, you know, desire to be involved, but we're gonna lose their energy. We're gonna lose their knowledge. Much of what is transferred in knowledge in the victims' movement today is not written down. I mean, if you think about conferences and you go to conferences, you know, NOVA has probably the largest conference in the world annually, and every year there's a call for quote, unquote papers, well it's really a call for workshops. No one writes a paper. They all come and they explain what they do and that's all great and they go home. They have handout or something but there's no documentation of that.

timecode You think if you go into a university, and I'll probably offend somebody who looks at this some time, but when you go into a university and you take a course, there are not good textbooks out there for victim assistance. You know, there's some victimology textbooks but victimology is not the same. There's not good textbooks, so we're here, you know, twenty or thirty years after the movement has started, we're looking at professionalizing the field and there's very few good documents and that... that's difficult to think of because the... where's the legacy? I mean, this exercise, this project goes to record some of the how the... you know, the history of where we've been, but in terms of recording the actual knowledge and transferring the knowledge, we don't have a project to do that in documentation.

timecode Beatty: What else do you want to add? Anything that we haven't raised in... in the questions that you'd like to... to make sure makes it onto the record here?

timecode Young: Nope.

timecode Beatty: Covered everything?

timecode Young: Yeah. Well, all that I can think of now.

timecode Beatty: Right. Thank you Marlene.

timecode Young: Thank you.