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National Crime Victim Law Institute

Advisory Council Profile: Jennifer Brobst

June 21, 2017

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Jennifer A. Brobst is an Assistant Professor at Southern Illinois University’s School of Law. Jenny joined NCVLI’s Advisory Council when it was formed in 2015. Read more about Jenny in her own words. 

Why did you first get interested in working with NCVLI and victims’ rights?

In 2001, I was hired to run the new Training Institute at the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault.  It was the same year NCVLI held its first national conference for crime victim lawyers.  At this time, there were quite a few new crime victim attorneys and prosecutors being funded with expanded VAWA/VOCA dollars.  Before I worked at the coalition, I had been a prosecutor and a child forensic interviewer in Indiana and I was particularly interested in how these attorneys would work well with others as the MDT (multidisciplinary team) model gained traction.  NCVLI emerged at just the right time for many of us to brainstorm issues like this.  I wasn’t able to go to the NCVLI conference until years later, but back in 2001 I immediately connected with the organization to take advantage of their legal resource sharing to improve my work as a statewide trainer for victim services, attorneys, judges, law enforcement, and others. 

What attracted you to Board service generally?

As a member of the NCVLI Advisory Council, I appreciate the opportunity to weigh in as needed, giving a perspective from my own region.  I’m a law professor at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale now and serve as an advocate in different ways than I used to.  Although I grew up in Southern California, I have spent the vast majority of my career in the South and Midwest, and feel strongly that the needs of these regions where I now live need to be better understood by the coastal states and big cities.  For example, I have been promoting attention to poverty and financial crime victimization to the Advisory Council in recent years, including identity theft and Medicaid and Medicare fraud.  Of course needs and opportunities change every year for everyone, including crime victims, and I commend NCVLI for having the vision to have a fairly large Advisory Council to ensure a diversity of voices.

When someone asks you what NCVLI does or why victims’ rights are important, what do you tell them?

I believe advocacy works best when you appeal to people’s self-interest.  This may sound jaded, but I want my advocacy to work, as well as appeal to what is good and right.   Recently I spoke at a Cybersecurity/Cybercrime conference at University of Nebraska Law School where I was one of the few to speak from a crime victims’ rights perspective.  I teach Criminal Law and Evidence and have a longstanding interest in litigation.  I knew the majority of speakers would focus on the interests of state and local government bodies on issues like database protection, or law enforcement on issues of online discovery, so I had to appeal to this particular audience.  I expressed that if the cybersecurity of crime victims in court and thereafter is not secure, then there will be no databases to protect or discovery to find because there will be no prosecutions.  The system has to treat its crime victim witnesses with respect, including rigorous public records protections and a prohibition of smartphones and livestreaming during trials, or those witnesses will simply not report or cooperate.  I believe that message hit home. My related article is available on SSRN and is entitled The Modern Penny Dreadful:  Public Prosecution and Cybercrime Victims in a Digital Age, 96(2) Neb. L. Rev. _____ (2017) (forthcoming).  I also try to spread the word about NCVLI and its role in improving the system and the profession in my classes and wherever I speak.  I usually first suggest checking out the NCVLI and NAVRA websites to get a sense of the impressive extent of the network and high level of professionalism. 

If you could change one thing about the current victims’ rights environment, what would it be?

I think the victim rights’ movement has matured enough and established itself enough that it should move away from pitches and move to more evidence-based empirical arguments.  I still think that a grassroots advocacy approach is vital, but the movement has made so many inroads now that there will be little forgiveness politically if we make mistakes.  For example, I have seen state victim rights’ groups and coalitions lobby for bills that look good on paper, but are duplicative of what already exists in law.  I have seen widespread advocacy for offender treatment programs that have no substantial research basis to support their use as court ordered programs.  This overreaching will only harm the interests and reputation of the movement in the end.  I think NCVLI remains strong and vital as a professional institute in part because it continues to acknowledge the need for debate and critique within the movement.

Who or what inspires you?

Victims of crime.  Victims of crime often demonstrate humanity’s best in the face of humanity’s worst.  I am most touched not by the bravery in the moment of the criminal act, but by the bravery in the days that follow.