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Common Q&As After Violence

If I experience a violent crime, what’s the first thing I should do?

First, make sure any physical injuries are addressed and get to a safe place. Then phone 911 (or ask someone else to do it) and, while you’re waiting for the police to arrive, try to write down as many details of the crime and your attacker as possible — especially details of his or her physical characteristics and face, clothing, voice, and any unique physical markings or tattoos. Although this can be upsetting, it is during the time immediately following the incident when details can be recalled with the greatest degree of clarity. These details will be helpful when providing a statement to the police and could be essential in apprehending and successfully prosecuting the assailant.

When the police arrive, they will investigate, collect evidence, and obtain your statement. If the police are meeting you at the scene of the crime, try not to touch or move anything, because doing so may compromise the integrity of the crime scene. When giving a statement, consider having a family member or friend present – not only for emotional support, but also to help validate or corroborate statements that are shared. Following a violent experience, it’s common to feel like the mind is racing, while emotions run high, and having someone trusted there can help .

There aftermath of a violent encounter can be extremely difficult. This is the initial stage of what may be a life-altering experience that can affect a person in fundamental and unforeseen ways. It can be overwhelming. It can take a while for the full extent of the physical and emotional impacts to set in, so consider getting support mechanisms in place (friends, family, counselors, doctors, etc.) as soon as possible.

I was victimized a long time ago and still don’t feel normal. I want to get back to my old self, but can’t. What’s wrong with me?

Remember that any violent trauma — from a 5-second physical assault to a 25-year span of domestic violence — can shake you to your core. You may never be “your old self.” Even years after trauma, many survivors feel “stuck”, perhaps as a result of not fully facing what has happened or because they do not understand the profound impact that violent trauma can have. There are some things that can help — like talking or writing about the experience, connecting with other survivors, joining support groups, or working with a therapist or counselor. While the steps to healing are unique to every survivor, this is by no means cause for despair. To the contrary, many survivors learn, grow, appreciate, and understand life in a new and deeper way as they confront their traumatic experience and move through the healing process.

What is Acute Stress Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Acute Stress Disorder (ASD) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are mental health conditions that can be induced by a wide range of traumatic experiences, including violent crime. In general, they are natural physiological responses to an overwhelming emotional or physical trauma. While the symptoms of ASD and PTSD can vary depending on an individual’s personality, the nature of the trauma and other factors, common symptoms of ASD and PTSD include emotional numbness, depression, disrupted sleep, a sense of alienation, and a lack of interest in social activities or sexual intimacy.

The main differences between ASD and PTSD are that ASD is typically diagnosed only within the first month or so following trauma and is sometimes characterized by a greater degree of disassociation. In many cases, experts agree that ASD can lead to the longer-term PTSD if not addressed effectively.

I know someone who has been the victim of a violent crime and she seems like a different person. I want to help and be supportive, but nothing seems to make a difference. What should I do?

What your friend or loved one may need more than anything is for you to listen — not to necessarily to offer solutions, observations, or advice right away. Violence has a traumatic impact on survivors, even if it does not appear so on the surface. Some survivors experience symptoms of Acute Stress Disorder or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which can be more easily noticed. Recognize that your friend or loved one may have been rattled to their foundation and needs support, along with time and space to heal. As much and as quickly as you may want to your friend or loved one to heal, try to avoid saying things like “Try to forget about it” or “You’ve got to put it behind you.” This could intensify a survivor’s feelings of isolation and withdrawal.

The police want me to help with their search for and prosecution of the offender(s), but I’m very reluctant. I’ve heard stories of criminals freed on loopholes or technicalities, and I’m afraid of going through all that for nothing. Should I risk it?

While it is true that some perpetrators elude justice through legal loopholes, a lack of evidence to successfully prosecute, or other barriers, there are at least three major reasons to pursue justice through the court system:

  • Doing so is the only way to get violent criminals off the streets and away from other potential victims.
  • Reporting a crime will afford a victim support and victim compensation.
  • Seeing perpetrators prosecuted and convicted will likely provide a greater sense of justice for the victim, which can be helpful in the the healing process.

Ultimately, deciding whether and when to report a crime is a personal decision. It’s more likely that a survivor would regret not pursuing justice than trying to find justice through the court system – but it’s a long-term commitment that carries considerable stress with it.

Why do most victims of violence choose not to report the crimes to the police?

Many people are astonished to learn that more than half of violent crime victims do not report the crimes committed against them. There are many reasons why victims do not go to the police. They may feel ashamed or frightened, as is often the case with domestic violence and sexual assault. A person might believe that going to the police is futile. He or she may simply want to try to forget the event because it is too painful. For others, there are cultural or language barriers that make reporting and seeking help difficult.

What is clear, though, is that refusing to report crime does not help victims or potential victims; rather, only those perpetrating violence and crime benefit from non-reporting. There are some key steps to consider when reporting a crime.

What is survivor’s guilt?

Survivor’s guilt is a term used to describe a sense of self-blame, comparison, or remorse felt by a person who has experienced or witnessed a life-threatening event, during which others did not survive or were more badly injured. They begin to question, “Why them and not me?.” Survivor’s guilt can be particularly anguishing in certain situations — for example, for a mother who has seen her child harmed, or for someone who witnessed the murder of a friend.

Another aspect of survivor’s guilt relates to the actions (or inactions) taken to survive an event. It is common for survivors to focus on what they did or did not do to perhaps prevent violence against a family member or friend instead of what they did to protect themselves.

It’s also important to understand that survivor’s guilt can occur even for those who were not present during a violent event. Survivor’s guilt can be experienced by friends, family members, law enforcement officials, or anyone feeling a sense of responsibility or who might be haunted by nagging questions like “Why them and not me?” and “What more could I have done that could have prevented this?.”

What is hypervigilance?

For many, hypervigilance is a natural response following violent trauma and a symptom of PTSD, whereby your mind and body instinctively remain alert to any additional potential threats — real or imagined. Feelings of hypervigilance can come and go at different times, often trigged by certain people or situations. During a time of hypervigilance, survivors may experience strong bursts of nervous energy — a drive to keep “doing something.” Often this energy is subconsciously aimed at managing the anguish, pain, and anger resulting from their violent experience.

Symptoms of hypervigilence can cause or include sleeplessness, anxiety, panic attacks, and obsessive or obsessive-compulsive behavior. It is important to recognize hypervigilence and to try to channel that energy into constructive activities, while looking for healthy ways to rest and relax both mind and body.

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