Victimization: Orderly lives made disorderly
If you are the victim of a crime, even one that most would deem minor, you are probably feeling a host of emotions and have many questions.
Why did it happen to me?
Why did I act as I did at the time?
Why have I acted as I have since that time?
What if it happens again?
What does this mean for me and for my outlook (my faith, my vision of the world, my future)?
An experience with crime upsets two major or fundamental life assumptions that we hold: one, that the world is an orderly place and secondly that we have control over what happens to us—our own personal autonomy. And added to the initial trauma of the crime is the reaction of family, friends and the necessity to interact with law enforcement and the criminal justice system. This experience can sometimes create a secondary victimization. It is a confusing, terrifying time.
Many victims second-guess themselves and begin to wonder if they are responsible for what happened to them. Maybe they did not resist or even complied with the demands of the perpetrator. Psychologists call this phenomena “frozen-fear compliance.” It is common for victims of a crime to cooperate with the perpetrator but it is important to remember that this compliance is rooted in fear. The reality is, your compliance may have saved your life.
So, where do you go from here?
First, it is important to remember that all victims of trauma (either through crime, catastrophic acts of nature, illness or war, etc.)experience common reactions. In the initial hours or days after the event, it is common to feel disoriented, terrified, angry, vulnerable, numb and overwhelmed. Trauma victims also need to rehearse the event and to grieve the lost object (lost innocence, control over life, loved one, etc.) Guilt is also a common emotion during this phase of recovery.
The next phase that is common to all victims of trauma occurs in the days to weeks after the event and is characterized by emotional turmoil and mood swings. Intense feelings of anger, sadness, fear, anxiety, vulnerability, confusion, helplessness and depression are common. Frightening dreams may also haunt your nights.
Eventually, you will move from emotional turmoil to a period of adjustment or reorganization; from being a victim to being a survivor. Your emotions will stabilize and your thoughts become more organized. You will be able to problem-solve once again and stay focused and learn from your experience.
The final stage of recovery from a traumatic event occurs months later but maybe longer for some. It is signaled by a return of hope and self-confidence. While you will never forget what happened to you, you are no longer consumed by the offense and the offender.
What kind of support do you need during the initial hours after the crime through the long recovery?
- Safety—you want to be reassured that this will not happen to you again; that the offender has been caught; that you can be safe in your home environment once again.
- Support network—people you trust who will allow you to express your feelings without judgment
- Information—about the perpetrator, the investigation, your rights, etc. You may not get the information you need during the investigation, which will compound your frustration. In many cases, the victim is sidelined during the criminal justice process.
- Justice—you want to know that the offender will pay for his crime; that what was done was wrong; that you did not deserve it.
- Restitution—repayment for what was taken from you. Sometimes this may be material, at other times it is knowing that justice was served.
(Adapted from Changing Lenses A New Focus for Crime and Justice by Howard Zehr and Crisis Trauma Counseling by Dr. H. Norman Wright)
Victim-Offender Reconciliation Program (VORP)
Victim-Offender Mediation Programs (VOMP), also known as Victim-Offender Reconciliation Programs (VORP) is a restorative justice approach that bring offenders face-to-face with the victims of their crimes with the assistance of a trained mediator, usually a community volunteer. Crime is personalized as offenders learn the human consequences of their actions, and victims (who may be ignored by the criminal justice system) have the opportunity to speak their minds and their feelings to the one who most ought to hear them, contributing to the healing process of the victim.
The VORP website offers information and resources. The mission of VORP is to bring restorative justice reform to our criminal and juvenile justice systems, to empower victims, offenders and communities to heal the effects of crime, to curb recidivism and to offer our society a more effective and humanistic alternative to the growing outcry for more prisons and more punishment.
For more information, visit VORP at http://www.vorp.com/
Office for Victims of Crime (OVC)
The OVC is a division of the US Dept. of Justice which oversees diverse programs that benefit victims of crime. www.ojp.usdoj.gov/ovc
For information on victim needs from a faith-based perspective:
Crisis & Trauma Counseling Dr. H. Norman Wright, Regel Books, 2003
God and the Victim Lampman & Shattuck, Eerdmans, 1999
Transcending Reflections of Crime Victims Howard Zehr, Good Books, 2001
Inspirational message of hope and healing
Pastor Mark Swanson (husband of IPM Director Dr. Karen Swanson) battled cancer for seven years before his death in 1999. "My Seven Year Testimony of God's Grace" is Mark's final sermon delivered just weeks before his death. This inspirational message is one of hope, courage and ultimately the grace that God gives to enable us to survive very difficult days.