Crime Victim Support
Victims of crime are often left with many questions: “Why did this happen? What do I do now? Who can I turn to for help?” With all of the questions, emotions, and confusion, it is possible to forget that there are programs in place to offer support. Crimes can include rape, drunk driving, domestic violence, abuse or neglect of children, human trafficking, and more. Often, the crime has effects that are felt far beyond the individuals involved. Support can take the form of financial, physical, emotional, or legal.
In 1984, the Victims of Crime Act was amended. This act, in combination with the hard work of many advocates, has helped to make sure that victims of crime can receive help, and can continue to work toward positive change in the community. Like every citizen, victims have rights. In many states, the state constitution guarantees certain rights, including:
- The right to be notified of court proceedings related to the offense
- Right to reasonable protection from the accused offender
- Right to have input at sentencing
- Right to know about the conviction, sentencing, imprisonment, and release of the offender
- The right to order restitution from the convicted offender
- Right to be notified of these rights, and any other relevant rights
What to Expect
Since each experience and person is different, recovering from being a victim of crime can be difficult and takes time. It is important that victims are provided support right after the incident, and ongoing support to help with healing and working through any other processes that arise. Beneficial support to offer includes assuring physical safety, helping with emotional responses, and understanding financial and legal implications.
Being a victim of a crime is not a normal experience. It can happen to anyone and there is no “normal” way to respond. Emotional reactions to crime can include: shock or feeling numb, denial or disbelief, anger, depression, anxiety, or stress. In addition to these emotional states, it is possible that there are other mental or physical symptoms, often associated with the trauma of the crime.
Physical symptoms might include:
- Disruptions in sleep pattern
- Chest pain
- Heightened startle responses
Mental symptoms might include:
- Problems with memory
- Inability to concentrate
- Flashbacks of the traumatic incident
Most people will experience some of these. If these symptoms last longer than a month and cause significant problems in your daily life, it is possible that may you have Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. Some people who are victims of crime will develop PTSD, and others will have other long-term effects of a crisis.
Tips for Coping
If you or a loved one has been a victim of a crime, the following tips can help to provide a direction for coping in a healthy way.
- Take care of your body. Initially, this means getting proper medical attention after the incident. This also means continuing to eat healthy, participating in healthy physical activity, staying hydrated, and getting enough sleep. It is not uncommon to need help with these tasks, as they often are disrupted after a significant event; ask for help and be patient as you adjust.
- Ease back into your normal routine. Making decisions based on how you are feeling that day can help you to be smart and not overload yourself. Work, social events, household chores, and other commitments are important, but so is your safety and wellbeing. The chance of having an accident increases during periods of stress and adjustment, so allow yourself to follow through with commitments, but adapt your schedule if necessary.
- Talk with others. Spending time with loved ones can help you find support and encouragement. Speaking with a professional can provide you with valuable skills and information to heal and move forward. Working on any legal or financial issues can be achieved much easier by having others help. The rights of victims of crime are also continually evolving, and joining an advocacy group can help to continue to make a positive change in your life, and the lives of others.
- Avoid using drugs or alcohol to excess, especially as a method to relieve any pain you are experiencing. Substances only temporarily mask the pain and can add more problems.
Remind yourself that this is just a part of your life. Much like a roller coaster or the changing of the seasons, this period of your life will not last forever. While you may have memories or symptoms from the event that last, you can and will move forward from this event if you find healthy and helpful ways to cope.
Programs are available to help offer support and to help cover expenses incurred from the after effects of crime. These programs are often either state-funded, or non-profit organizations. Expenses might include hospital bills, therapy, funeral costs, or lost wages. It is also common for programs to provide support services such as crisis intervention, emergency shelter, transportation, advocacy for criminal justice, or counseling. The Office for Victims of Crime is run by the U.S. Office of Justice. On its website are resources for victims, headlines, and other valuable information. It also has a national listing of service providers that is regularly evaluated and updated. This can be found at: http://ovc.ncjrs.gov/findvictimservices.
Remember you can find help with crime victim support by talking to a counselor.