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Consequences for victims of crime

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

Reacting to a crime is normal. 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 only some concern, 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 might 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 allowed 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 accuse. 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 might also be afraid of 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 might 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.

It is important that the victim of crime gets help as soon as possible. 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. The coping process progresses better and quicker, if the victim has an opportunity to talk about his/her experiences and the emotions it has caused. For others, addressing the topic by reading, being outside or listening to music may also offer help. The help of loved ones and a possible support person may also be beneficial – both psychosocially as well as in handling practical matters. You can ask for support persons from Victim Support Finland’s service points.