Children as victims of crime
A child, who has been the victim of crime, and his/her parents always need help.
A child who is a victim of crime at his/her early stages of life is most vulnerable. He/she is dependent on others and physically weaker than adults. At a sensitive phase of development, he/she is more open for both the better and the worse. Experience of crime during childhood or youth can have an effect well into the future.
A child can experience similar crimes as adults. The age of the child, low level of development and lack of life experience expose him/her to sexual assaults and violence. According to research, a child is more likely to encounter physical violence than an adult.
A minor always needs the help and encouragement of an adult. Without help, he/she may be traumatised and his/her development may fall back. Children do not realise their need for help, and may not be able to ask for it. A child may seem as though the matter does not affect him/her at all or then he/she may express him-/herself with various symptoms.
Children rarely know how to speak about their emotions. Even if the child is already a teenager, he/she may not necessarily want to talk about the situation. He/she may experience such guilt, shame and anxiety that talking seems impossible. The child may also want to protect his/her parents from his/her distressing experiences. The crime may have involved unauthorised action on behalf of the child as well, which may prevent talking about the situation. It is important to tell the child that he/she will not be punished for things he/she tells.
If the child’s everyday life becomes more difficult due to crime, help should be sought. A child needs help, if he/she is unable to go to school or be in childcare, if he/she is constantly scared, irritated and angry or experiences strong guilt about what has happened. Pulling away from the company of others, aggression, sleeping problems and strong anxiety are concerns that need to be addressed.
If a child becomes a victim of crime, it always affects the parents and other loved ones as well. The parents play the key role in supporting the child. The child’s wellbeing depends a lot on his/her parents’ ability to deal with the shocking event. Even in such crimes, which affect the entire family (e.g. burglary), the child’s situation must be considered separately.
Even a small child understands a lot. He/she may not understand everything that has actually happened, but he/she can sense his/her parents fear and anxiety. The child should be explained what has happened in a way suitable for their age. He/she must also be told that he/she is now safe and that the adults will take care of him/her. If one of the child’s parents has committed a crime, the child must also be told, what will happen to this parent in the future and that the crime was not the child’s fault. The child may also be scared that he/she will end up in prison. It is also important to pay attention to the other siblings.
A crime that involves a child is a crisis situation, which is normal to react to. It can also traumatise the parents. Therefore, parents should also seek help for themselves. Professional help is also often necessary. When a child, siblings and close adults receive professional help and a sufficient amount of support from their loved ones, they are in a good position to overcome what they have experienced.
It is usually helpful for the child, if the parents acquire information and support for themselves. Information and support for every stage of the way is available from Victim Support Finland. A victim of crime, his/her loved one and witnesses of the case can acquire a support person free of charge. The support person will help and support in practical matters related to the criminal procedure. The support person can be asked to fill in the contact request form. It is also worth asking for support for the whole family from child protection.