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Instructions for the loved ones of a victim of crime

What kind of psychological and social consequences can the crime cause the victim of crime?

A crime is usually always a surprise, and all its consequences cannot be prepared for. In addition to physical and economic consequences, the victim often experiences psychological and social consequences – especially in case of a violent crime.

It is normal to react to an abnormal situation. The person’s own history, life situation, energy resources and method of dealing with the events influence the reaction. Strong emotions are also brought on by the idea of what could have happened. For some people, an experience of crime may cause slight harm, for others it can be a very tragic experience that leads to a traumatic crisis.

Feelings of insecurity, fear and anxiety are common. A person suddenly end up in a situation they did not believe would happen to them. An experience of crime may feel unreal and like a nightmare. Anxiety takes over an unnecessary amount of the mind, causes pain and the sense of worthlessness. Guilt and shame are intertwined.

It is very common that the victim feels guilty about what has happened and believes to have caused or enabled the crime. Usual thoughts might be: “If I hadn’t annoyed him/her…”, “If I hadn’t gone there…”. The sense of shame may prevent the victim from telling anyone about his/her situation. The sense of shame is difficult to control. Although your mind says that what has happened is not your fault, the shame does not go away. The sense of guilt often involves the doubt that the environment will consider you guilty. In a sensitive state, questions asked by, for example, the police or other helpers, may be experienced as accusing. To protect oneself from these emotions, the victim may use defence mechanisms. Denying the experience is one example of the psyche’s methods to ease pain.

The victim may also fear the offender. The fear may involve the crime happening again or the thought of revenge. Encountering the offender may feel overwhelming. Despite his/her fears, the victim usually has to encounter the offender at trial at the latest.

The victim of crime may suffer from depression, eating disorders or self-destructive behaviour. Suicidal thoughts and attempts may be possible, in the same way as the use of alcohol and/or drugs. The thought of the pain easing over time does not always bring comfort, because after a traumatic experience the person may not always have the ability to shape the future. The victim may feel powerless and isolated, in which case normal, everyday discussions are not of any interest. Emotions of anger, aggression, depression and anguish may vary and resentment or revenge may “poison the mind”.

Due to the traumatic experience, the victim’s ability to think and act rationally may weaken, in which case understanding any information provided may prove more difficult. Procedures may be forgotten or they are remembered wrong. Behaviour may also not always be in their own interest. For example, a victim of sexual violence may take a shower immediately, even though he/she has heard that washing should be avoided before seeing a doctor.

Memories related to the crime may also be confusing or the victim does not remember nearly anything about what has happened. A shocking event may paralyse performance partially or completely. The ability to concentrate and the interest in normal everyday tasks can weaken, let alone demanding study or work activities.

How can you help a loved one, who has become a victim of crime?

  • If you only suspect that your loved one has become a victim of crime, you can subtly ask, is everything alright? You can also tell him/her about your observations in his/her behaviour.
  • If your loved one tells you about his/her experience of crime, give him/her encouraging feedback on the fact that he/she has dared to talk about it.
  • If it is a case of domestic violence, tell him/her about the possibility of a restraining order, if necessary, and prepare a safety plan together.
  • Do not be fooled by the victim’s normal and quite efficient behaviours. It is common that during the first few days after the crime, the experience does not feel like much. Shock protects the human mind from stressful emotions. Usually after a few days, or within a few weeks, the victim begins to react to what has happened.
  • Do not wait for a certain reaction. The way people react varies a lot.
  • Be present and ready to help and refer the victim, if necessary, to professional help.
  • Tell the victim that it is a case of a crime and that it would be in his/her best interest to report the crime. The quicker the police are informed, the easier the crime is to be investigated and the victim’s safety can be secured in the future.
  • If the victim does not want to report the crime, motivate him/her to contact crisis support or other services for victims of crime. After getting over the initial shock, he/she may be motivated to also report the crime.
  • Give the victim the opportunity to talk about his/her experience and believe in his/her story. The first contact has the most significant effect on how the victim deals and speaks about the experience in the future.
  • If the victim does not want to talk – do not force. Tell him/her that you are available, when he/she is ready to talk.
  • Do not blame or undermine the victim’s experience. If he/she is moralised and criticised, he/she may close up completely and refuse all help.
  • You can still discuss his/her choices and ensure that the victim is aware of different perspectives. The discussion’s reliable and respectful tone counts.
  • Emphasise that the offender is responsible for the crime – not the victim.
  • Agree to also talk about fear. Denying or underestimating it, nullifies the victim’s experience and offends him/her. Fear cannot be justified with reasoning. It is important to tell about the realities, but for example generalising the rarity of an offender revenging will not comfort the victim – it is also rare to become a victim of crime. Talking about fear also helps to reduce anxiety and control it.
  • Note that reading, spending time outdoors, exercise and listening to music or other hobbies may help.
  • Provide the victim written information on support sources and help him/her find them. The victim’s ability to concentrate and memory may be weak in this situation.
  • Understand that the threshold for accepting help may be high. Don’t be discouraged, even if the victim does not accept help straight away.
  • Do not condemn the victim for his/her choices in life, even if you do not think they have always been in his/her best interests. For example, a person in a relationship who has been subject to violence, may not always leave the violent partner. Try and understand that the victim makes his/her decisions in the best possible way according to his/her perspective.
  • Try and be tolerant. Sometimes the victim will want to speak about what has happened over and over again. You may find it confusing and even boring – “haven’t these things already been discussed”. Talking about it help to analyse the experience and cope with it.
  • Do not rush recovery. Let the victim recover at his/her own pace. The time needed to recover varies between different people.
  • Be a warm and space providing supporter. Try and keep your curiosity under control, and do not be over-worrying. Ask the victim directly, what kind of support he/she wants from you.
  • Do not leave the victim alone. Stay at his/her side, even if moving away could sometimes be easier.
  • If necessary, limit your own involvement. Share the role of supporter with other relatives.
  • Daily routines and giving support in them are also important ways of helping. It is common that a victim has not had enough energy to manage these matters.
  • Remember that a victim of crime is also a normal person, parent, friend, sibling, work colleague or school friend, etc. He/she may not necessarily want to continuously be treated as a victim of crime. Treat him/her normally in everyday situations.
  • Do nice things together. It is important that you have other things to do and think about.
  • Recognise your own limits too and take care of your own copying. A shocking event affects relatives as well and reactions are often similar to the victim’s own.
  • Note that relatives often experience guilt that they haven’t been able to prevent what has happened, and helplessness about how to help, or anger about why this happened. They are normal emotions. Sharing emotions with other relatives or someone else may also help.
  • Relatives can also get help and advice, as well as their own support person, from Victim Support Finland.
  • Support persons can be asked for from Victim Support Finland’s service points or by filling in the contact request for our service.

Read more

Naisten Linja ry guide aimed for the relatives of a woman who has become victim of domestic violence.