Appendix: Victim Involvement in Action

The following examples of victim activist efforts demonstrate the viability of victim activism and its benefits for both victims and their communities. They are both local and national in scope, and they include programs created to encourage victims to get involved, as well as entire organizations initiated and operated by victims.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD)

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) was founded in 1980 by Candy Lightner and Cindy Lamb, whose daughters were, respectively, killed and maimed by drunk drivers. In the case of Cari Lightner, the driver, who was out on bail from another drunk-driving crash only two days before, had three prior drunk-driving arrests; sentenced to only two years, he was allowed to serve his time in a work camp and a halfway house. Laura Lamb became the country's youngest quadriplegic after being hit by a driver without a license who had a record of 37 traffic violations, three for drunk driving.

MADD is one of the most successful victim activist organizations in the nation. With three million members and more than 600 chapters, MADD provides a wide range of victim assistance, advocacy and prevention activities. The Victim Advocate Training Program is a 40-hour course that teaches volunteers to counsel victims, accompany them through court proceedings, and speak to the media. The Court Monitoring Program trains volunteers to serve as watchdogs for victims' rights in courts. Court-mandated Victim Impact Panels compel offenders to hear from victims about the devastating impact of drunk driving on their lives. Studies have found these panels to have benefits for both offenders and victims-offenders' attitudes are changed and rates of recidivism are reduced, and victims' traumatic symptoms often are diminished.41 In the words of one victim impact panelist, "I do not want my daughter, Amy, and what happened to her to be forgotten. I can't have her back, but I do believe that by telling her story, I am making a difference for my three beautiful grandchil- dren."42 MADD also has played a key role in the passage of state and federal bills, including the Age 21 Law (setting the minimum age for drinking at 21). Other efforts, like the Project Red Ribbon "Tie One On for Safety" campaign and Designated Driver programs, have helped raise awareness of the problem and prevent drunk driving injuries through simple, straightforward messages. Victim involvement is at the heart of all of MADD's activities. The majority of local volunteers, two-thirds of board members, and a considerable portion of the employed staff are victims of drunk drivers or family members of those killed or injured.    

Parents of Murdered Children (POMC)

Parents of Murdered Children (POMC) is a nationwide network of self-help groups and advocacy and assistance programs which help families deal with the aftermath of homicide. The organization was founded in 1978 by Charlotte and Bob Hullinger in Cincinnati, Ohio, after their daughter, Lisa, was murdered. The loss of a child to violence is often an intensely isolating experience; survivors often find that others are unable to understand how it feels and are reluctant to talk about it. POMC's goal is to allow family members to share their grief with others who have been through similar experiences, thereby breaking down the isolation that many families face.

POMC has grown from its first self-help group in Cincinnati to a network of more than 100 local chapters serving 38,000 survivors each year. It also has become active in more extensive community involvement projects. Praised by survivors for helping them "see justice," the Truth-in-Sentencing program mobilizes the POMC membership to ensure that the convicted murderers of members' children serve at least their minimum sentences. When an offender comes up for early parole, the network helps victims respond. POMC's annual national conference offers survivors the chance to meet one another, network, and participate in workshops and seminars. National and local newsletters serve as a forum for members to communicate and express themselves. Survivors also help provide a range of other services on behalf of POMC, including court accompaniment, writing anniversary letters of consolation to other survivors, and serving on a speakers' bureau.    

P.O.W.E.R. (People Opening the World's Eyes to Reality)

Following the shooting deaths of two New York City high school students in 1992, mobility-impaired victims of gun violence at Goldwater Memorial Hospital created P.O.W.E.R., a group that visits at-risk youth in schools, community organizations, and detention centers to show what can result from a life of drugs and violence. Ranging in age from 19 to 44, most of the group's members are former drug dealers, addicts, or gang members. Their personal stories and physical conditions present a compelling argument for youth to reassess the direction of their lives. P.O.W.E.R. also has testified at the state and federal level for passage of stricter gun control laws and has participated in demonstrations against street violence. Many of the P.O.W.E.R. members feel that they have been given a second chance at life and that their victimization will have meaning if it can benefit others. Staff at the hospital have found that participation in the group has helped to increase members' self-esteem and has enabled them to come to terms with their disabilities.    

Remove Intoxicated Drivers (RID)

In 1977, Karen and Timothy Morris, ages 17 and 19, were killed by a 22-year-old drunk driver. A newspaper article about this tragedy struck a nerve with Doris Aiken, the mother of two children the same ages as the victims. She was particularly concerned that the offender was not only not jailed, but allowed to continue driving. Together with friends, she began investigating how drunk driving cases were handled by the criminal justice system. They were stunned to learn that drunk driving was rampant-killing 25,000 people each year-yet arrests, convictions and suspended licenses were rare.

In 1978, in Schenectady, New York, Aiken formed Remove Intoxicated Drivers (RID). RID currently consists of 151 chapters in 41 states. Its activities include counseling and guidance for victims and family members, legislative advocacy, court monitoring, speakers' bureaus and public education. Based on the work of victims and other volunteers, a string of successful legislative efforts in New York State have reduced plea bargaining by drunk drivers, ensured that drivers lose their license temporarily if they refuse to take an alcohol test, and instituted other strategies to strengthen the state's response. One study by the New York State Police Superintendent estimated that, over a ten-year period, these measures saved over 6,000 lives. RID helped to pioneer the use of Victim Impact Panels, in which drunk drivers hear directly from victims about how their lives have been affected. Stressing the accountability of government officials to the will of the people, RID provides materials and information for victims and others in the community to help them find their voices and demand stronger action against drunk driving.

Almost entirely a volunteer effort, RID has enjoyed strong partici- pation by victims and their families. In many instances, one victim's story has served as the spark to create new chapters. In 1981, RID- Missouri was founded by Marge Charleville, whose letter to a local newspaper about her daughter's death in 1980 received 128 letters in response and led to funding to establish the chapter.

Victims are empowered and trained to work actively to monitor courts, review pending legislation and appear as spokespersons on national radio and television programs, with RID acting as sponsor and agent. These public activities help to heal the wounds inflicted by drunk drivers. In one survivor's words, "Since the most tragic loss. . . that anyone can endure [one's child], I have been clinging to everyday survival by my work helping other DWI victims, and by giving talks to high school assemblies,. . .state troopers, and in victim witness panels to defendant drunk drivers. It is my reason for living."    

The Stephanie Roper Committee and Foundation

Based in Maryland, the Stephanie Roper Committee and Foundation were created in 1982 to improve the criminal justice system's treat- ment of victims and their families. After the brutal murder of their daughter Stephanie, Roberta and Vince Roper were astounded both by the way they were left out of the court proceedings and with the outcome of the trial. Stephanie's convicted murderers were eligible for parole in just 12 years. Roberta began speaking out before local groups about the insensitivity of the justice system to victims. Friends and neighbors joined her efforts, sparking a movement that quickly spread throughout the state. Members collect petitions, hold rallies, and support other activities in the fight for victims' rights.

Both the Committee and Foundation are staffed by trained volunteers, half of whom are themselves crime victims. The Committee focuses on legislative reforms to protect victims' rights and increase services in Maryland, and it has been a major force in passing three dozen victims' rights bills since 1983 (e.g., laws ensuring mandatory victim impact statements, restitution and court attendance rights, and a state constitutional amendment for victims' rights). The Committee issues a regular newsletter to inform members of pending legislation and to encourage them to support the bills.

The Foundation provides direct services to crime victims, including support groups, a Court Companion program to help victims and their families during the trial, and a Courtwatch program to monitor the enforcement of victims' rights. Through its newsletter and other channels, the Foundation actively recruits new volunteers to be trained in providing these services.    

Teens on Target (TNT)

Following an increase in the number of on-campus shootings, the Oakland Unified School District in California started Teens on Target in 1989 to involve young victims of violence and at-risk youth in violence prevention. An additional chapter was later opened in Los Angeles. Pointing out that "those who are most at risk have not been invited to be part of the solution," the program's founders have trained 100 students to be violence prevention advocates. They make presentations that explore the causes of youth violence and suggest solutions, based on their first-hand experiences, for schools and school boards, city and state legislators, national conferences, and the media. With a specific aim to get victims involved, the Los Angeles chapter operates in partnership with a local spinal cord injury program and trains youth with firearm-related spinal injuries to become TNT advocates. In addition to providing a voice that other youth will listen to, these advocates find that their actions help their recovery. One advocate who was paralyzed by a gunshot wound said, "Talking to other kids in the program and in classes has helped me get through it." By speaking out, he has received support and encourage- ment from others that has helped him rebuild his own life.

TNT recently began "Caught in the Crossfire," a peer visitation program for victims of gun violence. TNT advocates visit young victims at Highland Hospital in Oakland. By sharing their own personal experiences and statistical information on gun violence, they attempt to dissuade victims and their friends from seeking revenge. These advocates can give a uniquely convincing argument against continuing the violence because they often speak from the same perspective as the victim.    

Youth Empowerment Association

Created by a young adult survivor of sexual assault, the Youth Empowerment Association (YEA) was initiated to improve the treat- ment of teen survivors of sexual assault by the mental health system and to enhance their recovery through peer counseling and personal empowerment. Based in New York City, YEA operated from 1992 to 1995, when it closed due to the loss of funding and key staff members. YEA trained teens who had spent time in the inpatient ward recover- ing from sexual assault and related symptoms (substance abuse, depression) to serve as peer counselors to other recovering youth and to speak about their experiences at conferences and policymaking forums. In addition to creating an opportunity for youth to learn new skills and improve their self-esteem, YEA created a comforting support system for victims in the mental health system, which is sometimes criticized for failing to diagnose sexual abuse among its patients.

To participate in the training, young people had to express an interest in serving as counselors and to have been out of the inpatient ward for at least six months to demonstrate sufficient progress in their own recovery. If substance abuse had been a problem, they also had to have been clean and sober for six months. To prepare participants to counsel other youth in the hospital's inpatient ward, the training program gave basic information on sexual assault, substance abuse, and other mental health consequences of victimization, as well as communication and peer counseling skills.

YEA also prepared young people to speak publicly about their treatment and other experiences before professional conferences, policymaking task forces, and legislative hearings. YEA participants found that, by becoming peer counselors and youth advocates, they advanced their own recovery, increased their feelings of control over their lives and realized they had something of value to contribute. Many first entered the inpatient ward feeling they had somehow failed in life and were incapable of helping themselves or others. By taking on these new responsibilities, participants were able to increase their feelings of self-worth and set higher goals for their own recovery. Working with others who had shared similar experiences also allowed both counselors and patients to talk about their problems without fear of stigmatization.

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