CRIME VICTIMS

"No! There's no such thing as a safe area. Crime is everywhere. It doesn't matter that I live away from New York City-- I still don't trust anybody!"
<?xml:namespace prefix = o /> Michele Is quite open about her need to remain closed. Isolated from people, afraid of more people and situations than she can count, last year, while boarding a train to work, she was accosted by two men. One tore her clothing and attempted intimate contact while the other stole her purse. Witnesses, startled by the event which required only seconds to occur, gasped in horror, waiting for it to end, so they could exhale.
 In the months that followed, she was unable to reclaim her purse-- or her dignity. A single mother, she now lives in the shadows of fear, helplessness, guilt, shame and anger. Michele experiences a lonely existence, but she is not alone. Almost every crime victim is familiar with these conflicting, painful feelings.
 The emotional trauma resulting from having experienced a crime-- from rape to burglary-- is frequently more severe than any potential physical damage. Crime victims are much more likely than others to experience severe depression-- even after a decade or more! These individuals repeatedly experience painful feelings as they continuously recreate the pictures and dialogue of the unfortunate events as if they are occurring in the present. Moreover, as this painful recycling continues during other ongoing events and situations in one's life, those previously "neutral" experiences acquire, through this association, the power to also elicit pain.
 Victims' skill at reproducing misery is further honed inadvertently, as they attempt to flee the memory of their trauma by "trying" to avoid repeating the associated thoughts, feelings--even situations. But, as you may recall from other discussions, the more you try to not do something, the more likely that thing will occur. Negation exists only in language, not experience! (Try to not think about blinking as you read the next sentence).
 Thus, the quality of a crime victim's life begins to diminish as other people, places and things become occasions for regenerating the painful memories associated with having been violated. The walls close in creating barriers against opportun-ities to reach out and successfully combat their negative experiences. As the fortress around them becomes more firmly entrenched, they frequently restrict their lives in a number of ways:


  • 1- Rape victims, feeling a sense of having been permanently damaged, may believe they will never enjoy intimate relations with another;
  • (2) Many other people develop intrusive, distressing recollections, dreams and flashback;
  • (3) It is quite common to feel they cannot trust other people in a variety of contexts that limit their ability to function;
  • (4) In attempting to not think about it, victims may find it hard to concen- trate on much else including work, reading, or simple conversation with friends or peers;
  • (5) Feeling out of control, some attempt to regain what they lost in self-defeating ways through drugs and alcohol, and
  • (6) Others report difficulty sleeping and eating properly.

 Although the door through the fortress, you might expect, is the support network created by family and friends of a victim, they often unwittingly exacerbate the situation. Many well-meaning people in the crime victim's life are really unaware of what specifically is going on inside that person and provide a variety of messages that only add to the victim's feelings of helplessness. At times, family and friends of the unfortunate individual, having listened to the tale for a few weeks, begin to identify with the fearful event, feel threatened themselves, and tune it out. Additionally, in attempting to provide solace and solutions to the victim's stress, people may at times inadvertently imply that he or she was foolish to have been victimized.
 "Gee. Why didn't you carry mace in your purse?" Or, "You should have had a security alarm installed in your apartment", are comments that elicit further shame, anger and resentment from the crime victim.
 Trapped behind the walls of emotional trauma and feeling incapable of being released, these individuals need to be rescued. To help a loved one or friend, listen and keep listening! If you must say something, be supportive and reassuring. Help the victim believe he made the best response available to him at that moment. "Did you rob your own home? If you were in a position to have acted differently you would have." In contrast, it is not useful to simply tell the person to try and forget about it and go on. Better yet, it is prudent to encourage that individual to seek assistance from a professional who has training in resolving emotional trauma-- particularly, "Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)."