Offender and Victim Advocacy: Is there a Middle Ground? DC Public Safety-220,000 Requests a Month

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[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes:  From the nation’s capital, this is D.C. Public Safety.  I’m your host, Leonard Sipes.  We have, what I believe, is another very interesting show.  We’re going to be talking about crime victims, and I know we’ve been talking a lot about crime victims lately, but this time, we’re going to do it from the faith based perspective, the fact that my agency, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency really has what I consider to be one of the best faith based programs in the United States in terms of reaching out to criminal offenders, volunteers and churches, mosques, synagogues to help them readjust from prison, or even on probation, but in this context, we’re going to be talking about it in terms of the faith based initiative.  Anne Seymour is one of our guests today.  She is with Justice Solutions.  She’s a national expert on the issue of victims and victimology.  Anne’s website is  I’ll be giving that out again all throughout the program.  Reverend Bernard Keels, the director of the University Memorial Chapel at Morgan State University in the great city of Baltimore, Maryland, where I am from,, he’s also joining with us today.  He’s a mentor and facilitator in terms of faith based groups.  Before we begin the show, our usual commercials, we’re up to 200,000 requests a month for D.C. Public Safety, television, radio, blog, and transcripts.  That’s media, M-E-D-I-A – dot-CSOSA – C-S-O-S-A – dot-gov.  Your input into these shows is what makes the show enjoyable, and what makes the show come alive, and we really appreciate every email, every comment on our comments box, your responses via twitter, and your responses, once again, via email.  If you want to get in touch with me directly, it is Leonard – L-E-O-N-A-R-D – dot-Sipes – S-I-P as in Peculiar-P-E-S –, or you can follow us via twitter at  Back to our guests, Anne Seymour and Reverend Bernard Keels.  Welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Anne Seymour:  Thank you.

Bernard Keels:  Thank you.

Len Sipes:  Anne Seymour, now I’ve read your resume and been on your website, Justice Solutions,  You’ve done a ton of work with the U.S. Department of Justice in terms of victims’ issues.  You are, what I was told by Christine Keels, the person who heads up our faith based program, truly one of the national experts when it comes to victims’ related issues.  We’re approaching National Victims’ Week in April.  Give me a sense as to what’s happening with the victims’ movement throughout the country.  Is there a way of summarizing that in a couple minutes?

Anne Seymour:  Yeah, I think, boy, summarizing the victims’ movement, we’re a very, very diverse movement.  So it’s hard to summarize, but I will say that, you know, we’ve got 32,000 laws across the states and the Indian country at the federal level that protect crime victims.  A big issue now for victims is making sure that these laws are more than just rhetoric, and so we’re looking a lot at compliance issues.  For me personally, one of my big issues is also making sure that we’re identifying victims who choose not to go through the justice process, which is the majority of victims who don’t report crimes, and they never know that services are available to assist them, and so I’m working a lot now with victims who choose not to report, as well as with agencies like CSOSA, which has been really a national model in terms of the work they do with crime victims.

Len Sipes:  And I think, and I thank you for that, and I think Christine Keels, the person who heads the faith-based program, really deserves a lot of credit for that and really has re-invigorated the whole faith based initiative. It’s interesting you talk about people not reporting crimes.  Most crimes are not reported to law enforcement.  40% of property crimes and about 50% of violent crimes are reported.  So I’ve oftentimes wondered what happens to those people who float through their victimization without going through the formal criminal justice system; that you’ve just brought up a very interesting issue.

Anne Seymour:  It’s interesting, and I think it’s also very sad.  I mean, one of the things we need to do is to make sure that everyone in a community knows about victims’ services, because I may not report to the police, but I may talk to my hairdresser, to my child’s student, or if I’m at school, I may talk to the school nurse and still not want to report.  That’s my choice, and I support victims who choose that, but we still want them to know that they can access services for mental health counseling, for medical services that they may need.  There’s a lot of services that do not require reporting and going through the system.

Len Sipes:  Okay.  Reverend Bernard Keels, director, University Memorial Chapel, Morgan State University in the great city of Baltimore, again, where I’m from.  Morgan,, one of the well known institutions of higher learning in the Baltimore Metropolitan Area.  You’re a mentor and a facilitator in terms of faith based organizations where, here in D.C., in Baltimore?

Bernard Keels:  Yeah, with the Family Reunification Program in D.C.  One of the things that I think Anne has touched on that is so powerful is that the whole issue of the rhetoric that is present in our society, churches and faith based organizations oftentimes had to separate the historical imperative from what’s happened in contemporary times.  Going back to the Cain and Abel saga, where the first, probably the first victim was Abel, I think churches have to really begin to understand that there is a duality, if you will, with how people who are victims of crimes need to have restitution, need to have restorative justice that happens to them, and many, many times, churches tend to be so caught up into the dogma of worship that they forget the everyday issues that affect the people who are worshipping, i.e. crime victims, and yes, people do report crime victims to hairdressers and to strangers, and sometimes, the last place they come is a faith based institution because of the built in negative images of what it means to accuse, for instance, a cleric of abuse.  Some of the institutional abuse you hear about, pedophilia in some of the mainline denominational churches, so faith based churches and institutions need to really broaden their understanding that it’s okay to leap out with your faith, but to understand the very basic issues that affect people, because people, after all, bring the whole idea of parishioners, and I think that’s where we have to become more relevant.

Len Sipes:  The, especially when it applies to women victims, most, in most cases, women know who attacked them.  In most cases, there is prior knowledge or a prior relationship.  That is extraordinarily difficult when your best friend/brother/husband/friend of five years/somebody that you’ve known for the last 30 days victimizes you, and thereby the struggle, and we understand that, in terms of people not reporting crimes, they see this in many cases as a personal event, not necessarily an event that you would report to the criminal justice system, but she’s a victim nevertheless.  So I would imagine, I can see that person going to their Imam.  I can see that person going to their priest, going to their minister, going to their rabbi, and saying, although I don’t want to report this to the criminal justice system, I am reporting it to you, I need spiritual counseling in terms of best, next steps.  What should I do, correct?

Bernard Keels:  Yeah.  Not only are you correct, but it’s so incumbent upon that spiritual director to recognize the boundaries of their ability, his or her ability, to become a meaningful mentor, a meaningful person that could intervene in it.  So many times, people will go to their cleric, the imam, the rabbi as a way of sort of ameliorating the situation and saying that prayer will change that, or the fact that I’ll come to church will make it easier, and it takes a very strong and well-trained cleric to realize that it’s okay to be able to access those governmental, or organizations like a CSOSA, to be able to partner with those governmental organizations and partner with Anne’s group, and to be able to say, help me learn how to translate what I do so that a victim actually has a face and a person they can believe in in the process of healing.

Len Sipes:  Now before going on in the program, to cretae clarity, some clarity out of all the issues we’re dealing with over the course of the next 25 minutes, we have to deal with the faith based component, and the faith based component, ordinarily, is one of mentoring people under supervision. So we’ve got to be dealing with the fact that there are people under supervision, and we use the faith community to mentor to them, to help them regain their footing, not do drugs, get together and take care of their families and not continue a criminal lifestyle.  We’ve got to deal with that.  We’ve got to deal with that in the context of the victims’ movement, and we’ve got to deal with the victims’ movement across the board.  So that’s three gigantic topics that we now have, oh, 20 minutes to deal with.  Do we want to start off with the mentoring to people under supervision/criminal offenders?  Do we want to start off with that component and how that interacts with the victims’ movement?

Bernard Keels:  Yeah, one of the ways that we started was to be able to help offenders understand that there’s not that much difference between a mentor and a mentee.  So many times, we draw an invisible yet concrete barrier between those who have transgressed society and those who are nice, normal people.  I’ve found that it’s important to tell your story and be a very good listener so that a person realizes that no matter how far you’ve gone, you can come home.  The Hebrew biblical story of the prodigal son comes to mind.  It’s important to realize that if we live against society, rehabilitation and restorative justice is possible, then that offender has to have the very realistic goal that if he or she can begin to first seek some forgiveness within themselves, their higher being, whatever it might be, then and only then can they begin to go to that person that they’ve transgressed and try to be able to create a more helpful and hopeful dialogue.  So mentors have to be very careful not to prejudge a situation based on their own concept of morality, their own concept of religion.  Religion becomes so narrowly defined sometimes that it can become dangerous when we begin to judge people from a unidimensional yardstick that says, if you’ve done this, then this is the result.  I don’t know a person’s story, but I can hear who they are and interact with who they’ve been, and then share a bit of my own story.  So I think that that mentoring thing, in the faith based community, has to be able to step outside of its own power, if you will, its own sense of history, and look in the universal sense of, what does it mean if I have offended Anne, to know that Anne has the right to come to her own terms of forgiving my offense.

Len Sipes:  All right, so basically what I’m hearing is, first, the individual has to heal themselves.  The faith based mentor, whatever religion that persons happens to represent, can’t be too judgmental.  He’s there to help that person cross a bridge, but there is a certain point where he or she needs to acknowledge that they’ve done a tremendous amount of harm to another human being, they need to acknowledge they’ve done harm, a tremendous amount of harm to the community, so it’s just not that particular act in isolation.  There’s no such thing as a burglary.  There’s no such thing as a rape.  It is multiple, multiple victims.  It may be one person that the state uses to prosecute, but there’s an entire family, there’s an entire community that’s been harmed, and that offender needs to come to grips with that community –

Anne Seymour:  And their own family as well.

Len Sipes:  Yes.

Bernard Keels:  Good.

Len Sipes:  Go ahead –

Anne Seymour:  Oh, I was just going to say, that’s the whole concept of restorative justice, is that you really need to look at the harm you’ve done to yourself.  I really agree.  You’ve got to go to yourself first.  It’s not about me first as a victim advocate, or as someone who’s a probation officer, it is really looking at you and the harm that you did, but how I hurt you and your family first, and then your victim, and then your neighborhood, and then your community, so it’s very, very important that we understand, it’s almost like a tidal wave that occurs.  It may start out as a little wave, but when you think about the impact of crime, it goes so far in our society, and I think traditionally, a lot of folks that are under community supervision, we’ve never made them think about it, and a big part of what we’re talking about today is that we want them to think about it, and we’re going to give them help to acknowledge that they have caused harm to people, and that we’re giving them an opportunity to make up for the harm that they’ve caused.

Bernard Keels:  From a spiritual point of view, acknowledgment is only part of it, Leonard.  Understanding becomes an even deeper part, because when you understand something, there’s a possibility for transformation to take place.  So many times, people carry on the label of being an alcoholic or a drug addict or a recovering drug addict.  I try to get a person to the point where they both acknowledge and understand they can become a delivered person so they don’t go that pathway again.  They discover new pathways to conflict resolution, new pathways to understand that their personal issues don’t have dominance over someone else’s issue because of their role or their gender or their relationship or their wealth, and so many times, society begins to casually assign value on crimes based on who’s committing the crime.

Len Sipes:  Well, the society puts labels on each and every one of us for a thousand different reasons, whether you’re African American, whether you’re white, whether you’re short, whether you’re tall, whether you’re Hispanic, whether you’re a male, whether you’re female, whether you’re from the United States, or whether you’re from Germany, we all tend to provide stereotypes.  So the stereotype of the criminal offender, or the stereotype of the person under supervision, however you want to describe that person, doesn’t that come with the territory?  Anne?

Anne Seymour:  You know, I think it does.  I think we are judgmental, even though we’re all mamby pamby and say we’re not supposed to be, but we do judge.  We very often do judge a book by its cover.  But it’s the same thing when, you know, when we talk about victims, people see victims as weak, as someone who might have been partially responsible for what happened to them.  We make judgments about victims, and when we talk about why crime victims don’t report crimes, it’s because they are afraid that no one’s going to believe them, and they’re afraid of being blamed, and the thing that you mentioned, Leonard, I think is so important.  Very often, they know the person, and so they don’t want to get that person in trouble, or they’re fearful of that person.  So we need to recognize that we do judge people who have committed offenses, and very often, I think our judgments are way off, just as they are with crime victims, that we should not make assumptions that anyone is a certain way because they committed an offense, or because someone committed one against them.  With victims, for me, it’s always so important to, despite all the research that tells us about domestic violence victims, and kids who are child abuse victims, everyone is unique.  Every single person has their own story.  Every person came to the path of victimization with a lot of stuff that came before that we need to recognize, which is going to affect how they cope with the victimization.

Len Sipes:  I want to reintroduce my guests halfway through the program, and it’s going by like wildfire.  Anne Seymour, Justice Solutions,, national expert in terms of victim assistance.  Reverend Bernard Keel is director of University Memorial Chapel at Morgan State University in grand and glorious Baltimore, Maryland,  We go with the research, and you go with a certain sense of pragmatism, and I just want to touch upon this whole sense of labeling very quickly and then move on.  If I don’t introduce that, if I don’t introduce the anger on the part of the crime victims, if I don’t introduce the anger on the part of the average citizen who happens to listen to this program, they don’t see the program is relevant.  They say, Leonard, for the love of good god, at least acknowledge the fact that we are suffering and the community is suffering.  Yeah, I do understand that programs need to be there for offenders/people under supervision.  I need, I understand all of that, but somewhere along the line, you’ve got to acknowledge the harm.  Okay, so if we acknowledge the harm, then we can move on and say that the research is pretty clear that these programs, and programs run the gamut from drug treatment to mental health treatment to finding jobs to dealing with a wide array of other social issues, do have a way of lessening recidivism, which means fewer offenders go back to the criminal justice system, which saves a) victims from being victims, and b) taxpayers from having to pay additional taxes.  The research indicates that there’s approximately a 10-20% reduction in recidivism, so Reverend Keels, by mentoring to individuals, helping them cross that bridge, that’s accelerating that process, is it not?

Bernard Keels:  Not only is it accelerating the process, but it really assures that recidivism does not become the revolving door that so many times is in the criminal justice system.  Apart from the understanding of the offender, I want to really talk a bit about the victim.  So many times, the victim, in his or her silence, has been shunned by all of the institutional support.  Most of the institutional support in America is for offenders, and so the support, there’s parole, probation, there’s –

Len Sipes:  98% of it is focused on the person, the participant within the criminal system.

Bernard Keels:  This is where the community becomes important.  The community becomes the holistic vehicle by which we can rally around the whole adage about, it takes a village to heal something, can rally around and begin to say that it’s not your fault, that there is a way of you being able to come to grips with your own hurt, and maybe someday, at your pace, forgive, but not to put the victim in a sense of being revictimized.

Len Sipes:  Yes.

Bernard Keels:  So many times, faith communities make that mistake, Leonard, to revictimize the person.

Len Sipes:  And that’s part of the problem here, in terms of the calls and letters that I get, or the emails, is that, don’t revictimize people who are victimized by crime.  We do understand that you’re advocating for more programs for criminal offenders, and we understand that, but somewhere along the line, you have to advocate for us, which is the reasons why we’re doing these radio shows in.

Anne Seymour:  I just remember, as a young victim advocate, and this was 25 years ago, I was training probation officers, and a woman lingered afterwards, and told me about being a battered woman.  She was a probation officer who was in a chronic battering, and she told me about going to her minister, and he said to her, if you would just be a better wife and think about your children, it’s important that you stay with him for the sake of the family.  And I remember her crying, and I remember crying myself thinking, oh my gosh, we have to do something if that’s the advice that faith communities are giving to victims, and that’s why I’m so happy to be addressing this subject today, because people do not, they’re not mean to victims intentionally, but they say the wrong things, and the faith community, in trying to keep the family together and trying to stick with, especially the Christian requirement forgiveness can be extremely hurtful to victims.  So we have partnered, over the years, and developed wonderful training programs, and a lot of work like the mentoring that the reverend is doing, that helps them understand that they have two options: they can help victims, or they can hurt victims, and we’re kind of hoping that everyone sides on the help part, because there’s a lot of help needed by victims.

Len Sipes:  There is middle ground.  From what I’m hearing from both of you, there is a way of mentoring to victims, and to be sure that their rights and responsibilities are constitutional rights in most of the states, so there is a constitutional right in terms of the federal crimes, they are, they have constitutional protections.  There is a way of taking care of the victim, and at the same time, being sure that the people under supervision, by my agency or any other agency out there, we’re talking about five million human beings, seven million people caught up in the criminal justice system and the correctional system, but the vast majority of them belong to us, the people who provide community supervision.  There is a way to take care of the victims’ issues, and there is a way to take care of the people under supervision to provide them with that bridge, and in many ways, and I’ve seen it first hand in the 20 years that I’ve been dealing directly with the offender community, there are literally hundreds of thousands of people who have crossed that bridge, who do come to an understanding that they’ve done a tremendous amount of harm, who have gotten the programs and the services necessary to help them go from tax burden to taxpayer.  So we can do it all, is the point.

Bernard Keels:  Traditionally, institutions like faith based institutions have done, by every means necessary, to protect the pristine image of being perfect.  Nothing bad happens here.  Everything that walks through this door gets returned to a perfect relationship with the creator and all those kinds of things.  One of the things that I try to do personally and professionally is to realize the need to be able to acknowledge brokenness with the victim, and to talk about those issues both biblically, historically, interpersonally, where broken does, when it becomes uncared for, brokenness becomes a characteristic, if you will, or a habitual cyclical thing where people feel to be broken.  Case in point, and Anne reminded me so much, you’re talking about that crime victim went to her pastor, I had a young lady come to me some years ago, battered and bruised, and told me that she needed to be a better wife because she knew her husband loved her, and I said why, because he beat me.  And you know, for her, that was her Judeo-Christian training in terms of wives, submit to your husbands.  Property issues.  And I said to her that, let’s rethink that again.  If you remain in a state of brokenness, normally, you do not become well, you might pass that brokenness on to your offspring.  So your children may begin to understand that that’s the role of a woman, to be battered, not to be made, self-actualized through her own abilities, her own talents, and when pastors and imams and rabbis are not properly trained, they will almost always go to maintain the integrity of the institution, and not the integrity of the individual who’s hurting within an institution, so it’s critical to do that.

Len Sipes:  These are all extraordinarily sensitive issues, and I think we’re tackling them rather well.  We’re not avoiding them.  We’re not being a bunch of bureaucrats.  Let me throw in one more.  The great majority of, according to research, especially women caught up in the criminal justice system, they’ve been crime victims themselves.  Males, I mean, there’s a strong piece of research, series of research articles out there talking about the fact that everybody caught up in the criminal, not everybody, the majority caught up in the criminal justice system are subject, have been the recipients of child abuse and neglect.  The instance of women offenders being sexually assaulted, especially as children, especially by people they know is astounding.  I understand why, after 40 years in the criminal justice system, why so many people do take to drugs, why so many people, in fact, it’s 50%+ claim mental health issues, not diagnosable mental health, but they claim their own mental health issues.  I understand a lot of that, not trying to rationalize the criminal behavior or excuse the criminal behavior, but when you come from that sort of a background, I understand why they get into drugs, and I understand why drugs, in many cases, leads to criminal behavior.  Who wants to tackle that?

Anne Seymour:  Well, I’m happy to tackle that, and thank you for bringing up female offenders.  I think a real theme of what we’re talking about is that, in the old days, we would have the people who worked with offenders, or people in prison on one side, and the victim people way on the other side, and we have come to a rightful conclusion that it is not black and white.  We are all gray in this, and you raise a great example of women offenders, at least 90% of them have victimization and trauma in their background, which causes them very often to use and abuse, to cope with the trauma, which puts them in dangerous situations, which sometimes lead to criminal situations.  Now tell me that’s not a victim assistance issue!  And I actually am starting  to work on women offender issues, but similarly, I think of CSOSA as a great example.  Why does CSOSA have a victim assistance program? People go, they’re supposed to be working with people on probation.  It is great!  Every probationer, and people talk about victimless crimes.  I’ll make the case that there is no such thing as a victimless crime!  For every probationer, someone is hurt by that.  So they need to be having victim services to be able to recognize that fact, and I will give you another example.  Prison rape is an issue.  That’s a huge concern now in this country.  Who is stepping up to the plate to work with people who are incarcerated, men and women and youthful offenders?  It is victim advocates.  We have a moral obligation to not say, this person’s a criminal or a murderer, or they raped themselves.  That doesn’t matter to us.  They’re a victim in need of help, and so I just say that, because we not only judge people, as we said earlier, but we tend to pigeonhole people, and the beauty of what CSOSA is doing, and I hope a lot of other programs out in this country and internationally is recognizing that we’ve, we can’t box ourselves in anymore.  We just can’t.  Everyone is or knows a victim of crime.  Everyone knows someone who has been through some sort of criminal or juvenile justice supervision, so let’s look at it from that perspective.  This affects every single one of us.

Len Sipes:  It’s a massive amount of suffering, whether you’re the victim, whether you’re the person caught up in the criminal justice system, whether the person caught up in the criminal justice system who was victimized when they were young, there’s just a massive amount of pain going on out there, and I guess it’s our job, in terms of the victims’ community and the faith based community and government, I sort of have to laugh when you say government.

Anne Seymour:  No, it’s a big role.

Len Sipes:  Well, we would like to, but I think the leadership is going to come from the victims’ community, and I think the leadership is going to come from the faith based community, quite frankly, because you all can say and do things that we can’t in government.

Anne Seymour:  The giant sucking sound we want.

Len Sipes:  The giant –

Anne Seymour:  – to get wrapped into what we’re doing.

Len Sipes:  The giant, the giant sucking sound.  Well, but we also want, at the same time, we want to convince people that it’s all shades of gray, that there’s very little black and white here, that it’s very little E=MC2, that there is a massive amount of suffering.  If the faith community steps up to the plate and provides the leadership which they’re so capable of doing, and can mentor to individuals in a way that government, quite frankly, cannot.  I’m paid to do what I do.  So that person, regardless of where I spent my career, part of my career in terms of helping people caught up in the criminal justice system, I’m still paid to do it.  The mentors are there because they see it as God’s work.

Anne Seymour:  And the keyword in all that is servant leadership.  Leadership by itself does not hold, I think, the true sense of what can be accomplished by serving others, a servant leader takes, at the very center of his or her setting to meet a person at the point of their need, and the need of victims, the need of offenders, the needs of the secondary and tertiary victims who sometimes feel helpless because someone they love has been victimized are really, really important, and one of the things that I try to consistently understand is this marvelous study in the Hebrew scripture about Nathan, the friend of David.  David had victimized people without realizing, because his authority said you can do it.  You’re the king, take Uriah and kill him.  You know, you’re the king, do whatever you want to do, and Nathan appeals to the core of who he is, and here through the friend, the king, who has an influence over his subjects, comes and writes one of the most powerful restorative psalms that you can read in Hebrew scripture.  So I think that it’s important that that victim realizes, never be forgotten, that Anne and I are crucial to what you do, but you are crucial too, because a part of the government, the rules and the issues become subtle and arrived at, and we’ve got to be able to go into institutions and say, for instance, the homosexual rape, indeed, is victimizing people.

Len Sipes:  Okay.  Anne, I’m going to give you the final 30 seconds of the program.

Anne Seymour:  I just want to reiterate that I think we’re all in this together where we are victims or people who choose to victimize others, everyone’s going to have needs, and we as a community, I think, have an obligation to identify the needs of victims and try to meet them, but also recognize, I really appreciate what we’ve said, this whole thing is that, I think a lot of offenders, not all of them, a lot of them deserve a second chance, and the only way they can get that chance is if a community is willing to accept them and accept the fact that they have done something terribly wrong and give them opportunities to be held accountable to their victim and to their own community.

Len Sipes:  Our guests today have been Anne Seymour of Justice Solutions,, a national expert on the issue of victimology.  Reverend Bernard Keel is director of the University Memorial Chapel of Morgan State University, www.morgan – M-O-R-G-A-N – dot-edu, a mentor and faith based group facilitator.  Ladies and gentlemen, this is D.C. Public Safety.  Once again, we are extraordinarily appreciative of all the contact that you provide us, either through the show notes, the comments, and our four websites at media – M-E-D-I-A –, or reach me directly via email, Leonard – L-E-O-N-A-R-D – dot-sipes – S-I-P-E-S –, or follow us by twitter –  I want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]

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