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Symptoms of a child or young person who has become a victim of a crime and how to recognise the signs

Children who are victims of a crime can suffer extreme, long-lasting trauma. Signs that a young person has become a victim can be difficult to recognise. Quite often the victim wants to protect his or her parents, especially when one of the parents has also been a victim. Signs that a young person has become victim of can easily be confused with normal, age-related changes in development. All sudden and drastic changes in a child’s or young person’s behaviour must be taken seriously. Some crime victims exhibit no symptoms at all, while others can only after a long time.

Being the victim of a crime is often traumatic and can evoke both psychological and physical reactions. The victim’s feelings of fear, insecurity or shame can make him or her try to hide the symptoms. It is also important to remember that children and young people express things in their own way, which is not always verbal.

The inability of the child or young crime victim to deal with the situation can lead to anxiety, restlessness or insomnia. The experience can weaken or even completely destroy the young victim’s ability to function and manage his or her life, thus leading to severe stress. As well, a young crime victim’s ability to process information can be impaired, leading to difficulties at school and learning disabilities. The symptoms can cause problematic behaviour and difficulties in social interaction.

At worst, the situation can lead to clinical depression and suicidal behaviour. One symptom in children and young people can be increased substance abuse. The victim’s self-image can suffer, which can also cause him/her to blame him/herself for the events. Sudden memories or flashbacks of the crime can also occur. The crime can lead to somatic symptoms such as stomach pains or headaches.

Crime experiences can also lead to long-term psychological trauma. A traumatic event can cause unusually intense reactions. On the other hand, psychological trauma can sometimes have no outward symptoms. When a young crime victim does not seem to be thinking about the incident at all, it is easy to assume that the event has had no effect on the victim or that the victim has somehow successfully dealt with it in just a short period of time. Children and young people can suppress emotions to actively protect themselves from distressing memories.

Traumatised children or young persons do not always understand their own reactions. They can isolate themselves from family and friends. The future can seem frightening to them, and they can feel they have lost control. In dealing with psychological trauma, it is important to know what the victim is feeling and thinking right now. The victim should be given a chance to discuss their feelings, to receive explanation for his or her reactions and given methods and confidence to help them overcome the situation. Long-term trauma should preferably be treated with proper therapy.

If a young crime victim exhibits symptoms, he/she should always be encouraged to talk about the experience. The emotional reaction can be so intense that the victim does not even want to think, let alone talk about it. Denial and suppression are normal coping methods with which the mind seeks to retain its ability to function.

A person may need a good deal of time to come to grips with the experience of being the victim of a crime. Telling a trusted adult about the experience is therefore very important to a young crime victim. Affection and support can help the child or young person to put the experience behind them.