of the 1982
Task Force on Victims of Crime
A COMPONENT OF THE OFFICE FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME
ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
Office for Victims of Crime
Office of Justice Programs
U.S. Department of Justice
Written by Melissa Hook and Anne Seymour
National Association of Crime Victim Compensation Boards
National Association of VOCA Assistance Administrators
National Organization for Victim Assistance
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 document are
those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official
position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.
- The OVC Oral History Project
- The Office for Victims of Crime
- The Mission of the President's Task Force on Victims of
- The Process
- The Initial Findings
- Sixty-Eight Recommendations
- The 68th Recommendation: The Federal Constitutional Amendment
- Organization and Perseverance
- Advice to the Field in 2003
- Testimony from Crime Victims and Survivors
- President Ronald W. Reagan's 1982 Task Force on Victims
The OVC Oral History Project
The Office for Victims of Crime Oral History Project is
cosponsored by Justice Solutions, National Association of Crime
Victim Compensation Boards, National Association of VOCA Assistance
Administrators, and the National Organization for Victim Assistance.
Sponsored by the Office for Victims of Crime within the Office
of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice, this project seeks
to document the rich history of the victims' rights and assistance
field since its inception in
1972. The project's four goals are to:
- Develop two special reports that highlight the historical
importance of two events: 1) the 30-year anniversary of the field
and 2) the 20-year anniversary of the publication of the President's
Task Force on Victims of Crime Final Report.
- Provide initial documentation via videotape of the past 30
years of the victims' rights and assistance movement through
interviews with key contributors to the movement's overall
- Develop archives housed in a university setting (videotaped
and paper-based), as well as on the Web (digital tape and electronic
versions of transcripts).
- Develop a recommended format for states, U.S. territories,
and the District of Columbia to develop their own individual
As part of the Oral History Project, Attorney General Edwin Meese,
and seven surviving members and the Executive Director of the President's
Task Force on Victims of Crime joined together in 2003 to discuss
the vision and original goals of the Task Force in 1982; to describe
the process by which they conducted the regional hearings and collected
testimony from crime victims and other witnesses; and to reflect
on the short- and long-term impact of the recommendations they
issued in the Final Report on the field of victims' rights,
the criminal and juvenile justice systems, and allied professions.
The Office for Victims of Crime
The Office for Victims of Crime is committed to enhancing the
Nation's capacity to assist crime victims and to providing
leadership in changing attitudes, policies, and practices to promote
justice and healing for all victims of crime. OVC works with national,
international, state, military, and tribal victim assistance and
criminal justice agencies, as well as other professional organizations,
to promote fundamental rights and comprehensive services for crime
Something insidious has happened in America: Crime
has made victims of us all. Awareness of its danger affects
the way we think, where we live, where we go, what we buy,
how we raise our children, and the quality of our lives as
we age. The specter of violent crime and the knowledge that,
without warning, any person can be attacked or crippled, robbed
or killed, lurks at the fringes of consciousness
The lessons of the victims run like a thread
throughout and are the foundation of all the proposals that
follow. Please take the time to learn, as we have, the depth
and the human aspect of this grave social problem, then join
in seeking and implementing the solutions.
Hon. Lois Haight Herrington, Chair
Statement of the Chairman, 1982
President's Task Force on Victims of Crime
Twenty-three years ago, the President's Task Force on Victims
of Crime was formed in response to an Executive Order by President
Ronald W. Reagan to conduct a nationwide study to assess the poor
treatment of crime victims in the criminal justice system. To understand
the plight of crime victims, the Task Force traveled the country
to interview victims about their needs, their concerns, and their
experiences. They gathered testimony, collected anecdotal evidence,
and spoke with experts in the nascent field of victim assistance,
as well as criminal justice and allied professions. It was anticipated
that the interviews with victims would form the basis upon which
the Task Force would formulate their recommendations to the President
and, not surprisingly, victims' voices provided both compelling
and convincing evidence that their plight was indeed grave.
The Task Force members were unanimous in their findings that the
criminal justice system regularly re- victimized victims; the system
was out of balance in favor of offenders; and the poor treatment
of victims was more widespread than they had imagined. The publication
of the President's Task Force on Victims of Crime Final
Report in 1982, particularly the 68 recommendations for action
to the Federal Government, represents an historic milestone in
the victims' rights movement, one that many long-time victim
assistance professionals believe was a significant turning point
for the field.
The Task Force was comprised of a practicing attorney, a prosecutor,
two directors of nonprofit victim assistance legal organizations,
a police chief, a criminal psychologist, an educator, a state Attorney
General, a state Supreme Court Assistant, and a clergy member,
all of whom were already leaders and innovators in their fields.
They brought a variety of expertise to the table, and yet they
were individuals whose understanding of the issues prior to the
study had been largely influenced by their contact with victims
within the context of their professions. It is a true measure of
the effectiveness of their endeavor that the Task Force was able
to clearly assess the complex issues facing crime victims in 1982,
and that the Final Report providedand continues to
providea viable and contemporary framework for the development
of policy, programs, and protocols to define and protect victims' rights
in the 21st century.
The impact of the testimony of crime victims/survivors was eloquently
expressed by Task Force member Doris Dolan: You hear about
crime on TV or read it in the newspaper, but the only way you really
find out is to have the people who have suffered as victims come
and testify in person, and from that you get the real feeling of
the horrible suffering that they went through and what we have
to do to try to balance the system. Criminal psychologist
Stanton Samenow concurs that there is nothing like hearing
from a victim himself or herself to truly hear the layers and layers
of harmthe multi-challenges, the multi-layers, the multi-dimensions
of this made us embrace more and more the fields and areas we thought
Executive Director Terry Russell emphasized the need in 1982 to come
up with recommendations that could help make the victim as
whole as possible'
and then to help prevent secondary
victimization by the system.
Task Force members were unanimous in their praise for the leadership
and vision of Lois Haight Herrington. As Reverend Pat Robertson
Lois's leadership was exemplary. I think she pulled
together and the staff pulled together some diverse elements that
I think were truly commendable.
Executive Director Russell concurs: I do have to say that
Lois was so key
Lois worked really full-time and worked directly
with the staff, and she was extremely instrumental in all this. Dr.
Samenow notes that, All I can say is that Lois led the Task
Force into a frontier where there were so many wide-ranging specific
recommendations because of the neglect of victims at all levels
there was almost no end to the number of areas that cried
The Mission of the President's Task Force on
Victims of Crime
There is nothing
like hearing from a victim himself or herself to
truly hear the layers and layers of harm
- Dr. Stanton Samenow
The need for an indepth look at crime victims' experience
was first identified in the findings of an earlier study under
the Reagan Administration conducted by the Violent Crime Task Force.
U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese, the Chairman of the initiative,
explains that during the process of studying violent crime, it
became clear that many victims were treated badly by the criminal
justice system. To address this problem, they recommended a follow-up
study to focus specifically on crime victims' needs, concerns,
and rights. According to Judge Haight, The mission and goal
as created by Ed Meese were to find out how victims are being treated,
and what we can do to improve their treatment.
On April 23, 1982, President Reagan issued Executive Order 12360
that: (1) called for a Task Force on Victims of Crime that would
conduct a review of national, state, and local policies and programs
affecting victims of crime; (2) requested the Task Force to work
with the Cabinet Council on Legal Policy; and (3) requested the
Task Force to advise the President and the Attorney General with
respect to actions, which can be undertaken to improve efforts
to assist and protect victims of crime. (Executive
Order 12360-President's Task Force on Victims of Crime.
April 23, 1982. Office of the Federal Register. Washington,
Meese notes that President Reagan ordered a Task Force on Victims
of Crime to determine what the Federal Government could do to improve
their treatment, considering the fact that crime is generally dealt
with at the state and local level. What might be done at the federal
level? What kind of information could be collected and published
that would inform state and local criminal justice systems?
Kenneth Eikenberry, the Attorney General of Washington at the
time, remembers that the Task Force started the investigation with
the presumption that the system wasn't operating fairly.
Our mission was to take available data and identify the defects,
and then make particular recommendations for correcting them. He
believed from the outset, however, that dramatic changes in the
system were required if victims were to receive fair treatment. My
personal motivation was that we needed to upgrade the legal status
of victims and rebalance the whole system so that there was a similar
focus for victims as was already granted to defendants, he
Dr. Samenow notes that he came to the Task Force really
knowing very little about the victim or the psychology of the victim
the Task Force hearings showed how off balance the scales of justice
it just struck me over and over and over again.
and goal as created by Ed Meese were to find out
how victims are being treated, and what we can
do to improve their treatment.
- Chair Lois Haight Herrington
Task Force Executive Director Russell describes the Task Force
Study on Victims of Crime as a two-step process. First, we
had to find out what was happening. But then we had to build on
that to come up with key recommendations that could help make the
victim as whole as possible and prevent secondary victimization
by the system, he explains.
The Task Force members met several times in the spring of 1982
to plan how they would establish a process to effectively collect
the information they needed to learn about crime victims' experiences.
They identified cities in which they would hold hearings and assigned
a staff member to make connections with local authorities and key
people in each location. Staff members were sent out to interview
potential witnesses. As you can imagine, says Russell,
describing the planning stage of the initiative, there were
hundreds of witnesses and a large part of what we did at the staff
level was to first divide this broad area into specific issue
areas.' What are the key issues that we would look at and
who would be the best witnesses to help elucidate these areas? When
they realized that they required feedback from issue areas in
criminal justice and allied professions, such as the ministry,
healthcare, and mental health, the Task Force expanded the scope
of the interviews to include them.
The Initial Findings
Once all the interviewees were identified, the Task Force conducted
six regional hearings, heard from 187 witnesses, collected the
information, and summarized it. The stark reality of secondary
victimization shocked every member of the Task Force: the ways
that victims were badly treated by the system, their lack of rights,
the system's poor understanding of the impact of crime, and
the absence of victim services. As Dr. Robertson remembers, It
came through so clearly that the system actually victimized the
victimall the way up and down the line from the earlier impact
of the crime, to the sentencing, to parole, victims were not considered
appropriate wards of the system.
It came through
so clearly that the system actually victimized
- Dr. Pat Robertson
The President's Task Force on Victims of Crime analyzed the
plight of victims through the lens of their individual professions
and what they found in each of their areas was disturbing. When
then-Clark County, Nevada District Attorney Robert Miller (and
later Nevada Governor) joined the Task Force, he was already aware
of a number of cases that were being lost due to victim and witness
reticence to participate in investigations and trials. Once the
Task Force testimonies emerged, he recognized that the extent of
the poor treatment of crime victims in the system was far greater. There
was complete disenfranchisement. We were treating victims somewhat
like inanimate objects to be present, to say their piece, and to
then be removed from the process, he explains.
Attorney General Eikenberry recalls being struck by the lingering
effects of crime, How these traumatic events create a fight
or flee' attitude on the part of victims that will perplex
them for the rest of their lives...I had been an investigator,
a deputy prosecuting attorney, an attorney general in Washington
State, and yet, after working with all of these victims, I really
had not comprehended what happens to them, what they go through,
and how their lives change forever in so many instances.
Dr. Samenow had worked primarily with offenders when he was asked
to join the Task Force. He was knowledgeable about the rights and
services the law accorded to criminal defendants, yet he knew little
about crime victims' issues. Samenow became deeply concerned
by the lack of rights for crime victims, noting, The out-of-balance
of the scales of justice struck me over and over again. Moreover,
as a psychologist, he recognized that professionals in the mental
health field lacked the training they needed about the trauma of
victimization to effectively assist crime victims.
Mental health professionals who worked in the criminal justice
system were also interviewed for the Task Force hearings. Russell
describes them as a group focused on how to help criminals who
appeared to fall back on general therapeutic practices when they
counseled victims. Rather than helping victims deal with their
victimization and their trauma, counselors tended to question them
about their childhoods and their relationships with their parents.
They did not appear to realize that they were ignoring the victim's
experience of the crime.
As Chairman Haight recalls:
One of the issues that struck me the most was the mental
health aspect of it because the criminal got the psychiatrist or
the psychologist, but most of the time the victims never did. Then,
when they got them, the psychologists were asking, How did
your mother treat you'?' Not, what has been the
impact of the crime on your life?' It was an incredible revelation
as well that in the hospitals, ministries, and schools, they were
blaming and mistreating victims.
Deeply moving testimonies from crime victims are engrained in
the memories of Task Force members: Betty Jane Spencer, a mother
left for dead after watching assailants murder her four sons; a
horn player stabbed in the throat for $2; a rape victim forced
to sit beside her rapist on a bench outside the courtroom; and
an immigrant couple's life ruined by a home robbery that left
them disabled for life, among others. The stories told indicated
that in many ways the costs never ended and I don't mean just the
dollar costs, explains Samenow. There is nothing like
hearing from a victim about the layers and layers of harm...there
was almost no end to the number of areas which cried for
The multiple aspects of re-victimization prompted the Task Force
to expand the scope of the study and identify other areas that
they saw as deficient in terms of treatment of or services to crime
victims. Attorney General Meese sums it up when he describes how the
problems of victims were more widespread than had originally been
anticipated. It applied to the recommendations, ultimately, not
only to police, prosecutors, judiciary, parole boards, and those
directly involved in the system, but there were a lot of recommendations
for other organizations like hospitals, the ministry, the legal
profession, schools, the mental health community. It had
become much broader at the conclusion of the study than many people
had thought at the start.
The Task Force investigationa full time job for nearly a
year for some members and staffsought to develop a mandate
that could make a difference for victims. We used a litmus
test, recalls Russell. Will this recommendation create
change for the benefit of the victim? How they are treated, how
they recover and so forth? Each recommendation that we used in
the different issue areas and the different sectors of society
had to meet that test.
The Task Force Report included 68 recommendations in five areas:
- Proposed executive and legislative action at the federal and
- Proposed federal action.
- Proposed action for criminal justice system agencies (including
police, prosecutors, the judiciary, and parole boards).
- Proposed action for other organizations (including hospitals,
the ministry, the Bar, schools, the mental health community,
and the private sector).
- A proposed amendment to the Federal Constitution.
What has been the ultimate result? With the exception
of the federal constitutional amendment, most of the recommendations
have resulted in significant changes in policy, programs, and practices
at the federal, state, and local levels. The most notable results
of the President's Task Force on Victims of Crime are:
- The establishment in 1983 of the Office for Victims of Crime
within the U.S. Department of Justice.
- The passage of the Victims of Crime Act of 1984 (VOCA)
that funds victim services through fines and fees levied against
federal criminal offenders.
- The creation of VOCA Assistance Administrators and Victim
Compensation Programs in all 50 states, the District of Columbia,
and all U.S. territories.
- The establishment of crime victim services in law enforcement,
prosecution, courts, community corrections and institutional
corrections agencies, and the juvenile justice system, as well
as through thousands of community-based programs, from just 2,000
in 1984 to more than 6,000 today.
- An important recognition of the concerns, needs, and interests
of crime victims that have provided the foundation for the victim
assistance field today.
In general, the Task Force members and staff were impressed by
how well the Final Report was received. Unlike many of the
products generated by special task forces that end up on government
shelves, the Final Report continues to be a living
document. Yet, all agree that we are still a long way from
the full and complete implementation of all the recommendations.
In fact, Dr. Robertson suggests that the President's Task
Force Final Report be re-released with some new recommendations
to refresh the memories of the older professionals, and to educate
newer professionals and volunteers entering the fields of criminal
justice and victim assistance.
The 68th Recommendation: The Federal Constitutional
thing that really crystallized my thinking and
somewhat shocked me was a bold statement the Committee
advocated for a Constitutional Amendment,
which I thought was the ultimate.
- Dr. Pat Robertson
The discussions in 1982 among Task Force Members about
the necessity for a victims' rights amendment to the U.S.
Constitution had produced a variety of opinions. Judge Haight remembers
being against the amendment initially because she believed that
state and local governments should have the opportunity to put
the Final Report recommendations into action. On the other
hand, Robertson found the Task Force's advocacy for a constitutional
amendment to be a bold statement that crystallized his
thinking about the importance of the issuesthat victims
should have their concerns addressed as a constitutional right.
Eikenberry looked for feedback from the field. He asked the lawyers,
judges, and professors who had testified before the Task Force
what they thought about the potential effectiveness of a
Federal amendment to guarantee victims' rights, and
learned that everyone he consulted with agreed that a constitutional
amendment would be a positive affirmation of the importance of
the other recommendations.
Today, Judge Haight is an avid supporter of a federal constitutional
amendment guaranteeing victims' rights because she does not
believe that states and local governments have totally respected
or enacted many of the recommendations. As she describes it, Continuances
are granted and victims are not informed. Cases go forward
and victims have no input into sentencing. Many judges are not
sensitive to victim issues, and law schools do not teach victims' rights.
Nor do doctors, nurses or members of the other allied professions
learn about victims' needs during the education phases of
There was a general consensus among most Task Force members 23
years ago that a constitutional amendment was necessary to
give teeth to the 67 other recommendations included in the Final
Report, and that remains true today. A federal victims' rights
constitutional amendment was first introduced to Congress in 1991
and has been reintroduced several times since then. Thirty-two
states have passed their own constitutional amendments. The Task
Force members participating in the discussion were asked their
opinions about what it will take to get the federal amendment passed.
They have a variety of suggestions about actualizing the 68th recommendation.
Organization and Perseverance
in every criminal prosecution shall have the right
to be present and to be heard at all critical stages
of judicial proceedings.
- Task Force Final Report,
December 1982, p. 114
Since 1991, the original language in the Final Report for
a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution on victims' rights
has changed several times, expanding and contracting in length
in the process of its evolution. Several Task Force members suggest
keeping the language of the proposed amendment short and simple.
They are also partial to their original statement.
Challenges to the passage of the federal amendment continue to
be strong 23 years after the initial proposal. Attorney General
Meese does not believe there has been a sufficiently unified
effort to bring it the attention of the general public so
that they will put pressure on Congress. Miller agrees, noting
that despite the work of victim assistance organizations, It's
never going to happen unless there is a strong group lobbying it
on a full-time basis at least through one Congress and with one
Administration. Then it has the potential of succeeding.
Returning to one of the most powerful themes of the Final Report,
Terry Russell reminds us of the power of the victim's voice: Things
don't really happen in the system unless you personalize it,
and demonstrate how much difference it makes in the lives of victims.
Advice to the Field in 2003
really happen in the system unless you personalize
it, and demonstrate how much difference it makes
in the lives of victims.
- Executive Director Terry Russell
Twenty-three years after the President's Task Force on Victims
of Crime, many of its members have remained actively engaged in
efforts to achieve a balanced criminal justice system that treats
crime victims fairly and with sensitivity. When asked what they
think is the most important advice that they have to offer to victim
service providers today, the Task Force members had several
Attorney General Meese believes in the importance of training
programs: One has to continue to pass on the information.
That is necessary but secondly, show people who are involved in
victim services that there are individuals like them all over the
country who are enthusiastic, innovative and creative. I would
say that this is one of the most important things that could happen
to perpetuate and add to the progress of the movement.
Governor Miller offers advice both to victim service providers
and crime victims. He stresses the importance of putting oneself
in the position of the person who has been victimized: If
you were them, what would you want and what would you expect? For
crime victims, he emphasizes the importance of assertiveness. They
[victims] are not expected to know all of their rights, but they
should go in with an attitude that they have some and that they
are going to exercise them by asking questions and desiring to
participate, Miller explains.
In a similar vein, Eikenberry believes that if a person is to
be an effective advocate in this field, he or she must do everything
possible to walk in the shoes of the victim. He quotes compelling
witness testimony cited in the Final Report:
It is hard not to turn away from victims. Their pain is
discomforting. Their anger is sometimes embarrassing. Their mutilations
are upsetting. Victims are vital reminders of our own vulnerability.
Eikenberry reminds us that we think it should be easy to sell the
problems that victims have. [But] we actually all think that
if we have the right stuff, then we wouldn't be in those circumstances.
It is essential to get over that point in selling anything from
a constitutional amendment to a local service, he says.
According to Dr. Robertson, empathy and compassion are of enormous
value in serving crime victims. We need to remember that
these people are not statistics. Empathize with their hurt, their
financial plight, the effect [of crime] on their families, on their
health and their surroundings. Otherwise we get cold, we get professional
and again we treat them like ciphers, he says.
Finally Judge Haight, a Superior Court Judge in California who
meets new crime victims on a daily basis, has this to say to victim
Be vigilant, victim service providers. Be very vigilant
in what is going on in your county. Watch your courts. Sit in your
courts. Talk to your District Attorneys. Talk to law enforcement.
Find out what is going on because so many people change. Things
go on, new people come on board that have no idea. Be very vigilant
and keep fighting because it's not over.
If you were
them, what would you want and what would you expect?
- Governor Robert
TESTIMONY FROM CRIME
VICTIMS AND SURVIVORS
I think what made this Report
one of the most compelling that I have read of
its nature was including the statements of the
various victims along-side the recommendations.
- Attorney General Edwin Meese III
To blame victims for crime is like analyzing
the cause of World War II and asking, What
was Pearl Harbor doing in the Pacific, anyway?'
I will never forget being raped, kidnapped,
and robbed at gunpoint. However, my sense of disillusionment
of the judicial system is many times more painful.
I could not encourage anyone to participate in this
Why didn't anyone consult me? I was the
one who was kidnapped, not the State of Virginia.
What others see as an inconvenience is for
the victim an endless nightmare.
Balancing competing interests and equities
in deciding a sentence can require a Solomon-like
wisdomand even Solomon heard from both sides.
W. Reagan's 1982 Task Force on Victims of Crime*
They were intelligent, intuitive
and brought the resources of their backgrounds
to the Task Force
- Task Force Chair Lois Haight Herrington
U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese III ** (provided
oversight to the Task Force)
Lois Haight Herrington, Esq., Chair ** Practicing
Garfield Bobo (deceased) Court Assistant,
Supreme Court of New York
Frank Carrington, Esq. (deceased) Executive
Director, Victims' Assistance Legal Organization
James Damos Chief of Police, University City, Missouri
Doris L. Dolan ** Founder and President, Laws at
Kenneth O. Eikenberry, Esq. ** Attorney General,
State of Washington
Robert J. Miller, Esq. ** District Attorney, Clark
Dr. Marion G. (Pat) Robertson ** President, Christian
Broadcasting Network, Virginia Beach, Virginia
Dr. Stanton E. Samenow ** President, Center for
Responsible Living, Alexandria, Virginia
Terry Russell ** Assistant U.S. Attorney, District
of Columbia and Executive Director, President's
Task Force on Victims of Crime
*Current positions in 1982. ** Participated in the May 12, 2003,
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Melissa Hook is the Deputy Director of the Victims' Assistance
Legal Organization and a national victim advocate.
Anne Seymour is a Senior Advisor to Washington, D.C.-based
Justice Solutions and has been a national victim advocate for more
than 20 years.
|National Crime Victims' Rights
Week: Justice Isn't Served Until Crime Victims Are
||April 1016, 2005