Tips for family members
When someone you love is a victim of crime
The effects of crime and trauma are far reaching; they touch not only the life of the victim, but also those they love. When someone becomes a victim of crime, it is often a life changing event for the entire family. It is a new experience into uncharted territory. Everyone involved may find that they are challenged as relationships stretch and grow into a new way of being.
It is natural to want to “fix” things for someone you love or to want to make everything better. However, each person’s journey after a crime is a unique experience that in the end, only they can truly travel. They must walk down that road in their own way, at their own pace. It is not your responsibility to try to fix things or heal them. It is far more beneficial for you to be present with them through their journey, offering them empathy, patience, compassion, and support.
How to support a loved one who has been a victim of crime
Don’t take things personally. Ask what you can do to help, don’t assume that you know. Each person’s needs are different after a crime occurs. Be willing to be open to what they want, even if it doesn’t make sense to you.
Try to remember that your loved one has been through a very traumatic event and each person deals with things differently. They may not react in the same way that you would. They may want to be alone most of the time, or they may never want to be left alone. They may not want to talk about the crime or they may want to talk about it all the time. Each person reacts differently to trauma and there is no right or wrong.
Don’t be afraid of silence or feel that you always need to fill empty space with words. You don’t always have to say something to try and make them feel better. Sometimes they may not want to feel better; they may just need your presence.
Allow them to choose who they want to tell about the crime and when. Being a victim of a crime is a very personal event in one’s life, especially in the beginning, and is not necessarily something they may want others to know about. Over time, some survivors find it very empowering to share their story with others, while some people prefer not to. It is a very inpidual, private choice.
Create space for them to feel whatever emotions they are experiencing. Allow them to cry or to be full of rage. They may question their religious beliefs or be angry at God. They may want to forgive the offender or they may want the offender to spend the rest of their life in jail. Try to listen and be present while refraining from judging their feelings.
Remember that they are still a whole, complete person, not just a “crime victim.” The victimization is something that happened to them and is a part of their experience but it is not who they are.
Coping tips for family members
While trying to help someone you love through a difficult time, it can be easy to ignore your own needs. However, in order to be able to be there for them, you also need to take care of yourself as well. Make sure that you are getting enough rest, eating regular meals, and that you have people in your life to talk to when you need support.
It can be easy to feel guilty or blame yourself for not being able to protect your loved one from the crime. Try not to get too caught up in these thoughts, as it is impossible to predict events in life. Consider finding a counselor to talk to if you continue to struggle with these feelings.
Become familiar with the effects of trauma so that you can recognize symptoms of shock and learn to identify certain triggers, such as holidays and anniversaries, or other circumstances that may remind them of the crime.
While you cannot “fix” these things, it is helpful to understand them and be able to prepare for them. It would also be beneficial to become familiar with local resources in your area, such as counseling services and victim advocates that you can turn to for additional support, help with answering questions, or guidance through the criminal justice process.
If there is a criminal proceeding, be aware that not all of your loved one’s symptoms will go away when the legal process ends. For many victims of crime, the end of the court proceedings is only the beginning of the journey for them. Do not expect them to be “over it” or tell them to “move on.” Many times, there is a certain energy that carries them through the criminal justice process, and then once that is over, they are left with a feeling of not knowing what to do next. The criminal justice process is only one small part of the journey toward healing for victims of crime.