If you or someone you know has just been victimized, there are some important steps you should consider to help protect yourself, treat any injuries and set the stage for more effective prosecution of your offender(s), in the event that you decide to pursue justice through the justice system. Following are some key considerations, compiled from victims’ first-hand experiences and input from law enforcement and mental health experts.
Establish Safety for Yourself
Most importantly, get to a safe place, away from danger. If you need help determining a safe place or in getting there, ask someone to help you.
Care for Your Injuries
Go to a hospital or physician to have physical injuries treated and documented. It is important to tell medical personnel that your injuries are the result of a crime before you are treated so that forensic evidence can be collected and photographs taken. Do not shower, change clothes or do anything else that might compromise physical evidence which could be crucial in apprehending and convicting the perpetrator(s), unless such action is necessary to preserve your immediate safety or well-being.
Call the police (or ask medical personnel phone the police) as soon as possible, so that they can provide assistance. Try to preserve a crime scene to the extent possible. Avoid cleaning or moving anything so that detectives can collect evidence. Then call a trusted friend or family member to be with you as you interact with the police, physicians and investigators. In the days following, consider consulting a counselor to help you cope with the mental health concerns that so often accompany trauma, such as Acute Stress Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and substance abuse.
Document the Crime
Though it may be the last thing you feel like doing, it is very important to write down exactly what happened as soon as possible following the crime, while the details are still fresh in your mind. Writing down what took place is perhaps the best way to “preserve” your memory and to avoid potential inconsistencies that a criminal defense attorney might exploit to diminish your credibility in a court of law.
Do not be discouraged if you omit something or cannot remember all of the details in your initial written account. Even under the best of circumstances, it is difficult to remember all of the details of any given event. However, writing down what has taken place can help serve as a catalyst for remembering additional details later. In the event that you need to testify in court against the perpetrator(s), having a full, accurate and consistent account of the crime will be very important. A written account also can help to validate your feelings as you work through the healing process, and perhaps even assist a counselor in working with you, should you seek one and choose to share the information with him or her. Following are some examples of details to include in your written account.
- The nature of the incident – Step by step, record what happened, whether you were assaulted, how you were assaulted, and what was said by whom and when, as well as how it was said. Include how you arrived at a place of safety and which direction the perpetrator(s) may have escaped.
- Stolen or missing items – A detailed list of any items that were stolen from you or are missing will help the police in their investigation and may be needed for insurance purposes.
- The location and context of the crime – Document where the crime occurred, as well as important landmarks or other notable information, such as the presence of any potential witnesses.
- The time of the crime – As accurately as possible, record exactly when the crime took place, as well as any warning signs you may recall. If you have difficulty remembering the time, try to think of clues that might shed light on the time of the incident. For example, was a particular television show on at the time? Did you notice stores or night clubs opening or closing at or around the time of the incident? Do you recall a city transit bus making a stop at a certain location at or around the time of the crime?
- A description of your assailant(s) – Describe hair color and style, eye color, shape of face, height, weight, voice, clothing, tattoos or other identifying marks, or anything else that may help identity of the perpetrator(s).
- Description of other items – Try to recall the details of any items that were used or present during the crime, such as a handgun or car.
Protect Yourself Against Further Harm
If your home was robbed or if you had your wallet or purse stolen, it is common to feel the need to have your home checked before returning to it. Consider asking the police to check your home for you and to make sure that you arrive there safely. Many survivors also feel a need to have someone with them for a while after returning home, especially if the perpetrator(s) have not been apprehended.
It is important for survivors to reestablish a sense of safety in their lives again and to understand that doing so likely will not come quickly or easily. Establishing a renewed sense of safety is unique to each person. Some survivors feel the need to acquire security devices or weapons. Others need to relocate to another city or state for a period of time or permanently. Generally, experts agree that the being aware of your surroundings at all times is the single best action you can take to protect yourself.
You may feel bombarded with countless details, decisions and tasks following a violent encounter. It is important to recognize that in all likelihood you simply will not be able to continue with your normal activities without “skipping a beat.” In addition to what was probably a very busy schedule for you prior to your violent encounter, you are now faced with the added tasks of working through the healing process and, if you so choose, the criminal justice process, both of which require time and effort. Following are some practical suggestions to consider for the short term to begin the processes on solid footing.
- Contact your employer or have a friend call if you are unable to return to work right away. Remember that you just survived a serious trauma, and even if you weren’t physically injured, you may need some time away from work to cope.
- Notify your health insurance company or primary care provider so that you will be covered for your medical care and counseling needs. If you have lost a loved one, you or a friend or family member should notify the life insurance company.
- Cancel your credit and debit cards if they were stolen or are missing. This will help prevent added headaches with regard to your finances and might also help lead to the apprehension of someone trying to use them.
- Learn about the investigation of your case from law enforcement officials. Ask them what they will be doing, what the process is, how you will be notified of developments, and what your expected role will be.
- Inform family and friends that you have experienced a violent encounter so that they can offer their support. It is often difficult for family and friends to know how to assist victimized loved ones, but providing them with an idea of what you have experienced can open conversation to consider what might help in the aftermath.