TROY alum, kidnapping survivor, leads fight for victims

March 5, 2018

Darlene Hutchinson Biehl was once a victim of violent crime. Today, she fights to help people facing the same fear and pain she faced that day.

Biehl, a 1989 Troy University graduate, serves as director of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime, a position she’s held since President Donald Trump appointed her last summer.

In November 1987, while she was a student at Troy, a man kidnapped her at gunpoint from a post office and held her captive for more than a day.

She managed to escape on the second day and helped police catch the offender, who pleaded guilty to kidnapping and rape.

That event sparked her passion for helping victims. She dedicated the rest of her life to volunteering for victim services agencies.

“That was an eye-opening experience for me,” Biehl said. “I saw that there were a lot of folks going through the criminal justice system that didn’t know what was going on.”

Biehl studied journalism at TROY, parlaying her degree into a publishing career that saw her work with law enforcement agencies across the country.

“As a journalist I thought I had learned so much about the criminal justice system, I wanted to share that with other people,” she said. “I realized there were laws that needed to be changed, so I volunteered to help with that. I helped at two different rape crisis centers. One thing led to another, and I saw there was a void that needed to be filled.”

Biehl became a champion of victims’ rights, and her notoriety put her on the radar of the Trump Administration.

The Office of Victims of Crime began in 1988 and is responsible for administering the Crime Victims Fund.

Biehl knew this position would give her the best chance to help the most people.

“We are funded through non-taxpayer money. Federal crime offenders pay into the Crime Victims Fund,” she said. “At the OVC, we administer those funds, and most years that covers around $2.5 billion that we put back in the field. We send it predominantly to the states — rape crisis centers, child abuse programs, victim services, helping take care of victims.”

Her multi-faceted career gave her a fresh perspective when she took the job.

A White House statement on her appointment lauded Biehl’s work “empowering survivors and protecting their rights, while enhancing public safety.”

“I’ve gained perspective on what the field needs and what victims need, to advocate for them and fill some gaps,” Biehl said. “I’m incredibly honored to have this opportunity to serve in the Department of Justice and serve in this administration, and to move the needle for crime victims. I hope it’s an inspiration for victims to see that, as dire as things may appear, there is life after and you can recover. Life will be different, but it can be very fulfilling.”

Biehl maintains strong ties to her alma mater, where she served as an advisor for her sorority, Chi Omega.

“I stay connected to a lot of the current students, and some tell me they’re changing their majors, and I say that’s OK,” said Biehl, who started her college career in math and physics before switching to journalism. “That’s what college is for: finding your passion and what you’re good at and what you want to do in your life. It’s such a great time to stretch yourself, find volunteer organizations and engaged with your professors.”

While at TROY, Biehl served as editor of the Tropolitan, the University’s student newspaper. She also interned at radio station WTBF.