Victim Services-An Academic Approach-DC Public Safety

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Leonard Sipes: From our microphones in downtown Washington D.C., this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. We’re going to talk today about the collegiate approach to victim assistance ;back at our microphone is Bill Sondervan, the Executive Director of the Center for Criminal Justice Administration, University of Maryland, University College where 95,000 students all throughout the world attend online collegiate instruction and truth in advertising; I teach for Bill. I’m an associate professor of Criminal Justice at University of Maryland, University College, and we have Roberta Roper.

Roberta is somebody who’s a sheer joy to talk to. I’ve talked to her lots of times in the past but the first time on this air. She is the Chair of the Maryland Crime Victims Resource Center and she is, again, a passionate, passionate advocate for victim assistance. And again, the whole idea is how can a college, how can a university system take victims’ issues and incorporate them fully into the instruction of criminal justice personnel? What can we do regarding criminal justice personnel and sensitize them to not only the rights but obligations of the criminal justice system towards crime victims?

Ladies and gentlemen, before we begin, let’s share our usual commercial. We are up to 177,000 requests for DC Public Safety for the month of July. We are really appreciative of all the emails that you’re sending us, all the comments on the program and the fact that you’re following us by Twitter. If you want to get in touch with me directly its And with that out of the way, Roberta Roper and Bill Sondervan, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Sondervan, Roberta Roper: Thank you.

Leonard Sipes: Bill, you’ve been at this air a couple of times now. The last program that you did was really interesting. We did a program of how the university is incorporating instruction with the Baltimore City Police Department, how they’re using, I guess, Tools of the Trade to improve public safety for the city of Baltimore. And now, I would imagine that, in essence, is what you’re doing here. You’re taking a collegiate approach to victim assistance in conjunction with the Maryland Crime Victims Resource Center. In essence, not just for the state of Maryland, but for the entire world considering your population goes throughout the world – trying to do what you can to incorporate a victim’s approach to criminal justice instruction.

Bill Sondervan: Yeah. That’s exactly what we’re doing. We’re trying to use all the tools available to us to do that. And as you know, UMUC has classes all through Maryland and we teach in 26 countries around the world on the ground but we also are the online arm of the university System of Maryland. And about 50% of our students are military and others and they’re all over the world, and in foreign countries. So how we got into this with Roberta Roper was, well, first of all, my background, I’ve been retired, I was a Chief of Police in the Army, I was a Provo Marshall, and then I was the State Corrections Commissioner. So I’m very, very aware and very sensitive to the issues of victims.

And I taught part-time as a way of giving back in the classroom for years, and I always thought,victimology is one of the courses that I taught. And victimology is really important but you have to get students involved in it, and you have to make them interested in it. I was having trouble getting students to see this is more than just a college class. And so what I did was ask Roberta Roper if she would come to my class and be a guest speaker. We did this about the third class into it. And Roberta came to that first class and she talked about what happened in her life, the personal tragedy that happened to her daughter and her family. And then she talked about what happened when she went into the criminal justice system, this was 25 years ago, and how poorly they were treated and how little that they were – had rights and how little they could talk about their daughter.

Then she talked about what happened over the years and how things had changed, and when she got done talking for about an hour and a half and interacting with the class, victimology became a very important topic and the students had tears rolling down their eyes and it went from being a college elective to be something very important to them. And a lot of our students over the years then went and volunteered and got involved in helping victims, and got involved in victim rights issues. And to take another step farther, when I became the director of the program three years ago, I thought, what a great way to be able to reach people worldwide and get this very important message out and make victimology important to our students all over the world.

So what we did was we asked Roberta Roper to come to our studios and we interviewed her in the studio, and the interview and the conversation was along the same line. Roberta talked about what happened to her daughter and her family, and she talked about what’s happened in the victim’s rights area over the last 25 or so years; and we put that in our classes. So now when a students takes a class with us they go online and they log on to a learning management system and they have a textbook and they have discussions every week but a part of that we have built-in modules. And, in one of our modules, right in the beginning to get people really interested in the topic, you click on the module and Roberta comes on, and Roberta talks about her experiences and, along the way, the film stops and there’s discussion questions. So then they have a discussion about the issues and we play it through like that. And so what a great start to get students interested in the topic of victimology and it’s really, I think, turned people’s thoughts and views about the whole subject around from just being a college course and just an elective they’re taking, to something that they’re very passionate about and something that’s very important to them.

Roberta Roper: Bill is absolutely correct. Changing attitudes and creating an atmosphere in which people can identify with others is critical to getting and making any progress. And that’s what’s so extraordinary about this whole series and the University College’s efforts in our collaboration. It’s nothing short revolutionary from it was 27 years ago.

Leonard Sipes: The whole idea I think of this larger issue of victim assistance, We have done, by the way, a series of programs and we’re going to continue to do a series of programs with the National Organization for Victim Assistance, NOVA. And this whole concept of victims’ issues, victims’ rights, for those of us who have been in the criminal justice system, it is – we saw first hand how victims were victimized not only by their attacker but the criminal justice system. The fact that we did not provide everything to that victim that we could do, should do, and the fact that it’s now we have a national constitutional amendment and there are state amendments in most of the states, constitutional amendments in most of the states, not only suggesting that the criminal justice system do the right thing but compelling the criminal justice,

Roberta Roper: Requiring, yes,

Leonard Sipes: ,requiring the criminal justice system to do the right thing in terms of crime victims. And Roberta, you’ve been there from the very beginning. Bill, you have been there from the very beginning. I’ve been there from the very beginning. I used to be the Subject Level Specialist for Crime Prevention and Victims for the Department of Justice’s clearing house. So all of us were there from the very beginning; we saw what happened, we saw how terrible it was. Roberta, I never know how to summarize your particular set of circumstances, but your daughter was murdered viciously and your process through the criminal justice system was not pleasant.

Roberta Roper: Well, you said it earlier; the secondary victimization was in many ways worse than the horrific crimes committed against our daughter, very destructive. One year parents and you try to raise children properly. It almost destroyed our family because unlike our daughter’s killers, we had no right to information, no right to observe the trial, no right to be heard and a victim impact statement before sentencing. And fundamentally, being treated with dignity and respect, that’s critical. Though Americans are a caring people, we tend to think that crime happens to other people, it can certainly happen to us.

We live good lives and so this way to create identification is key to any progress, and certainly from our experience in 1982 – today things are vastly different. You mentioned state constitutional amendments, 33 states now have state constitutional amendments. We have not yet succeeded on the federal level, however, we do have one of the strongest pieces of federal legislation that was passed in 2004, the Justice For All Act – Crime Victims Rights, in which again, there is not only a requirement but there’s the ability to have an attorney represent the interest of victims when those rights are not enforced. And so we’ve made extraordinary progress.

But I think the real extraordinary thing for me is this, what’s happening on the educational level because, obviously, we have to look to the next generation to maintain and continue to expand – but to keep the promise, because laws are wonderful, but laws that are ignored are meaningless. And so we need to have people in the field who understand their obligations under the law. And more importantly, can see through the eyes of a crime victim and how important it is that they’re treated with dignity and respect, and that to the extent that they are able to participate and choose to participate, that they be given those rights.

Leonard Sipes: But,

Roberta Roper: I personally dream of a day when crime victims’ rights and services are part of the fabric of our whole criminal justice system, just as the rights of someone accused or convicted of a crime are. But we’re not there yet.

Leonard Sipes: Bill Sondervan, University of Maryland , University College, you’re incorporating this whole concept of victimology into all the different courses that you offer there through the University of Maryland, University College. My sense is, and I think the sense of an awful lot of people who have been in the criminal justice system is that even though we have, I think, 33 constitutional amendments and we have national legislation, a lot of us in the criminal justice system still do not fully understand victimology. And I don’t think it’s because we’re bad people, I don’t think it’s because we don’t sympathize greatly with victims. I think all of us are running at a 500 miles an hour, we’re handling hundreds of cases. We’re doing an awful lot of stuff and the real effort that it takes and it takes, I think, a good amount of effort to service victims properly. I think that gets tossed to the wayside because we’re just running so hard on so many different things. Am I right or wrong?

Bill Sondervan: Yeah, I think so, Len. And I think that victimology in academia is really like a secondary subject. It’s not one of the primary courses you have to take to get your degree. So our approach to this is to make it part of the degree and make it really an exciting, hard-hitting course that has a big impact on people and just really, really grab their attention, get them into it and make it important to them. And that was what our whole goal was in this class and I think we’ve done that.

Leonard Sipes: But I mean, is it one class? Is it a variety of classes?

Bill Sondervan: Well, no, it’s one class and it’s a 15-week class. It’s very in-depth and it’s very thorough but it leads students into understanding other things in the criminal justice as well. But what it really gives them is just the real appreciation of the plight of victims and the importance of this whole victims’ rights movement.

Leonard Sipes: Is it a required class or an option?

Bill Sondervan: It’s an option, but it’s one of the ones that everybody takes.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. And everybody should take because, again, I get back to this larger issue. When I was a police officer decades ago, I would see the impact of what crime meant to individual human beings. I would imagine all of us fully understand that if there’s a violent assault or a rape, or a homicide, obviously, the family and the larger community is going to be impacted by that. But the whole concept of victimology extends to somebody breaking into your garage. I’ve seen people move out of communities because their garage was broken into twice. It goes way beyond violent crime in terms of our perceptions of our own personal safety, the safety of our family, which is fundamental to all of us. But, again, we run hard within the criminal justice system and I think sometimes we see these issues as just getting in the way. Roberta mentioned she wants to see these institutionalized as much as protecting the rights of the perpetrator and that does require legislation, I think, Roberta.

Roberta Roper: Well that’s why we have states to pass state constitutional amendments and efforts continue on the national level, as well, and the Justice for All Act was one piece of that, and that we’re now in the process of testing this. But without a mechanism to seek enforcement and a remedy, when those rights are not enforced, they’re just simply paper promises. So we have to not only pass legislation, we have to change attitudes; we have to provide training and the support services that are needed. And you’re right, nobody intentionally seeks to harm another person who suffers the consequences of crime but it does take training and it takes a shift in attitudes, understanding that, in fact, without the respect and cooperation of crime victims the system would cease to exist.

Leonard Sipes: Yesterday, Bill Sondervan, the Executive Director for the Center for Criminal Justice Administration. You can reach Bill at University of Maryland, University College has 95,000 students throughout the world. Roberta Roper is just not the Chair of the Maryland Crime Victims Resource Center, she is a national figure on the issue of crime victimization. You can reach her directly at or the website is or the 800 number, the toll free number is 1877-VICTIM-1. Roberta, one of the things that you wanted to bring up was the National Day of Remembrance, which is this September 25th in Washington D.C. And there is a national toll free telephone number for that, 180-0438-6233 and we’ll be putting that into the show notes as well. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Roberta Roper: Yes, thank you. Yes. This will also represents the collaboration between the Parents of Murdered Children, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and the Maryland Crime Victims Resource Center, and our audiences are the families of homicide victims but also stakeholders and legislatures, and others who work in the field. And it includes a day-long symposium at the Ronald Reagan Building during the daytime and an evening ceremony and reception at the Press Club, and we’re certainly trying to, again, raise awareness. Congress, at the urging of Parents of Murdered Children several years ago, established this National Day of Remembrance, and it’s a bipartisan effort, and it’s the first of its kind and so we’re really pleased to be part of it and working together with POMC and MADD.

Leonard Sipes: The concept, getting back to the criminal justice system, and its approach to victims issues, I talked to, interviewed people who were directly involved in providing victim services to individuals and my question at one point was, “How many times do you have to remind your hierarchy?” Now these are individuals within bureaucracies and they’re the ones who are charged with helping victims out and cutting through the clutter, cutting through the disarray within the criminal justice system and helping these individuals wherever the law allows. And so they are passionate representatives of victims’ rights but the question was, how often do you have to go to your hierarchy and remind them that there is federal legislation or a constitutional amendment to help victims and this is not an option, this is something that you’re legally obligated to do? And they looked at me through the microphones, if you will, and in essence said, “Well, it happens quite a few times.” I know you think that’s,

Roberta Roper: It’s an ongoing effort. Yes.

Leonard Sipes: That’s the heart and soul of this whole concept, Bill Sondervan, and I think that’s one of the reasons why you’re doing what you’re doing.

Bill Sondervan: Yeah. When I was a States Corrections Commissioner it was really important to me and I saw this as well. I mean, like you said earlier, everybody gets caught up in the day-to-day operations. There’s so much concern about the perpetrator and about the inmate that sometimes the victims are forgotten. So we set up a Victim Services coordinator and a Victim Services officer and this person’s full time job was to keep the victims’ issues at the forefront to do a variety of things, to commemorate, to remind people, working on programs where we could advise victims when an inmate was going to come up for parole, when an inmate was going to be released, to take requests from victims, victim’s families and coordinate those requests and make things happen. We would take victim’s families on tours of prisons. We did everything we could to keep this in the forefront.

Leonard Sipes: And again, within a very a busy criminal justice system, that could be problematic. I think the newspapers – we violated individual’s constitutional rights, a person accused of a crime, or the person convicted of a crime, I think – very quickly be on the front page, yet I don’t see a lot of newspaper coverage of us violating the rights of crime victims, Roberta.

Roberta Roper: No, you don’t because number one, most crime victims don’t know that they have a right to do anything about it. That’s an inherent problem. Making certain that every crime victim knows that they have certain constitutional rights within their state, and then providing them legal assistance to seek enforcement if those rights are endangered or denied, and then taking further action. The Maryland Crime Victims Resource Center actually has one of the nation’s first legal clinics to provide free legal assistance because the crime victims shouldn’t have to pay for – most of them can’t afford to do that. And the purpose of the attorney is not to interfere with the prosecution in any way, but simply to ensure that the rights that the crime victim has under their state’s laws are enforced and, if they’re not enforced, that there’s some action to remedy that.

An example of another collaboration that we are working on here in Maryland is with the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. Again, the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Service is trying to make that agency more victim-friendly to ensure that victims who desperately need compensation, perhaps to bury a child, to seek counseling for a family member, or lost wages when a crime has occurred or the principal bread winner has been murdered. And it’s been very rewarding to see some progress, though slow, on that effort and, as you say, all of us have the demands of our daily lives but again, this is a topic that the criminal justice system has only in recent years has really begun to address. If we had a timeline we would be on the very first little couple of dots in terms of criminal justice system in progress, and in relation to how victims are treated. And again, victims simply deserve certain fundamental support services, and to be treated with dignity and respect.

Leonard Sipes: No argument there. I remember as a police officer years ago where a burglary victim wanted me to stop by the house and talk to that individual about what I was doing regarding their particular burglary. And I said to myself, “I’ve got five calls scheduled, there’s no way that I can go back and talk to that individual. What I will do is get back to that individual at the first available opportunity, but it’s not gonna be tonight,” and it turned out not to be next night and it turned out not to be the next night after that. When I finally got back to him, his complaint was that obviously I wasn’t taking his burglary seriously if I couldn’t get back to him as quickly as I wanted to. This was before the days of cell phones.

Roberta Roper: Well, then that’s why today law enforcement agency – many seek to have a victim assistance unit, so that the police officer can focus on the apprehension, the arrest and all of that of the person who should be charged with the crime, and in fact, the victim can have the communication and referrals, perhaps, to other support services in their community through a non-enforcement person (a law enforcement person) but someone who is in the victim assistance unit. And that’s one of the things we’re encouraging in every law enforcement community to do today.

Leonard Sipes: All three of us have been discussing this concept of victimology for three decades now and in some cases it’s longer than three decades. Are we ever going to get to the point where a program like this becomes a moot point? Again, I emphasize that if we violate the rights of a perpetrator, we are immediately – that case is dismissed. We are held to disciplinary review. Are we are ever going to get to the day where this conversation is not necessary?

Roberta Roper: That’s my vision. That’s my dream. And I would encourage any of your listeners to call us on the toll free number. If we can’t provide the direct assistance, we could certainly make the proper and appropriate referral. But most people don’t know that they have that right to seek a remedy and that’s where we have to fill that gap.

Bill Sondervan: That’s my goal as well, Len. I’ve promoted the victims’ rights and victims’ issues as a Chief of Police, as a Corrections’ Commissioner. Now I have the opportunity to do it in academia and UMUC has given me the tools to do this worldwide. So, all I can say then is I’m going to do everything in my power to do it and people like Roberta Roper are just an absolute inspiration to me and if we keep doing this, I think we will get there one day.

Leonard Sipes: We’re going to follow up with the contact numbers one more time and these contact numbers will be in the show notes. Bill Sondervan is Executive Director for the Center for Criminal Justice Administration. He’s email is, University of Maryland, University College, is what Bill is in charge of in terms of the criminal justice program. Roberta Roper is Chair of the Maryland Crime Victims Resource Center and Roberta is shy. She is a national figure in terms of this concept of victims’ rights. So it’s just not Maryland, it is throughout the country and Roberta’s had an impact throughout the world, I do believe, on criminal justice issues – is the email address, Again, I emphasize that they are willing to help anybody; it’s just not Maryland, 1877-VICTIM-1.

It goes beyond Maryland, you can always try the National Organization for Victim Assistance which is, and I remember that from my programs with the National Organization for Victim Assistance. I want to remind everybody the National Day of Remembrance, September 25th 2009. I know these programs live way beyond 2009 but for this case it’s September 25th 2009 in Washington D.C. The 800 number is 1-800-4386-233. Again, we’ll have this information within the show notes. Any final words Roberta or Bill? Did we cover everything?

Roberta Roper: Well, we never cover everything. I just wanted to remind your listeners that this Day of Remembrance is an annual event, always on September 25th. You gave the information for 2009 event, it will occur every year.

Leonard Sipes: Excellent point. Bill, wrap up.

Bill Sondervan: I think that this show is an excellent idea to do just like we talked about, to keep victims’ rights and victims’ issues in the forefront of everybody’s mind and have people think about them and not just let it be an afterthought.

Leonard Sipes: Amen. Amen to both. And ladies and gentlemen, we really appreciate you listening in to this program. This is DC Public Safety; we are on 177,000 times a month, according to statistics for the month of July. You can reach me at I work for the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency in Washington DC. You can follow me on twitter at or comment in the comment box on any of the 4 websites that we have for D. C. Public Safety and I want everyone to have themselves a very pleasant day.

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