Supporting a victim of crime
Advice for Family and Friends
Often family and friends are called in suddenly to support someone who is a victim of crime or has witnessed a crime. Under these circumstances, it is often difficult to know what to do and, what not to do. The list given here is brief but will give you some ideas about how you go about giving support. Many of the agencies listed on our Links Page will support you too and can give referral advice. You don’t have to carry the whole burden.
- Try to stay calm when someone tells you about a crime they experience. Try not to judge the person or challenge them about how/why the crime occurred. Reassure him/her that they are not to blame for what happened.
- Be patient, listen carefully and allow emotional responses to happen. The most important thing you need to do is just be there. You friend or loved one may express grief, anger or other emotions. These strong emotions are not directed at you (though at times they may feel like they are).
- Help the person to feel safe. Reassure them, if possible, that there is no further danger. Where there is still a need for protection ensure that police are aware of this and that the person is in a safe place.
- Your support may be needed over quite long periods of time. Manage your own needs and be clear about what you can offer. Ask the person what they need, don’t make assumptions about what they need. Give them space to be alone too.
- However distraught the person is, they still need to be consulted on any decisions which are being made that may affect them. Try not to ‘take over’ decision making (unless the person is in danger or very unwell). However, you may have to act as the ‘go-between’ with police, medical staff and others – if this happens keep the person informed and involved.
- Ask if you can help with children in any way. They may need comfort too.
- Help with practical tasks eg, cleaning, cooking, etc. - but be careful as these things can actually keep the person sane and anchored to daily life.
- Don’t tell them they are “lucky it wasn’t worse” or “you’ll get over it”. These kinds of statements are rarely consoling to someone who is highly distressed. Instead let them know you are sorry the event occurred and you want to understand and assist them. Remember that anniversaries of the crime or major court related events can be very difficult for the person who experienced them.
- Ask them if they would like you to act as a ‘go between’ with the media. The media should respect the victim’s privacy if they do not wish to talk, and go away when asked.
Every individual is unique and, although there are many common reactions to crime, everyone’s experience will differ. It is always important to ask people what they need and not make assumptions based upon generalisations. Everyone has the same rights to proper treatment. However, there are some special issues that need consideration.
- Elderly victims of crime may see the event as an affirmation of their fear of crime and their vulnerability to physical harm and loss of control. They may also be disoriented and need some medical assistance. Be especially patient, caring and treat them with dignity and respect - all the opposites of the treatment they have just received when experiencing the crime.
- People with disabilities need to be spoken to directly, not just to the parent or care-givers. Be sensitive to any special needs which they may have, for example, transportation or medication. Focus on what they can do, and speak simply and clearly.
- Children and young people are victimised by crime more often than is realised. Sometimes, we think we are ‘protecting’ them but many children also need to talk about the experience and should be given truthful explanations of what has happened. Always make sure your communication with the child is simple and non-threatening. It is very important that the staff in charge at the child’s kindergarten, child care centre or school be informed about what has happened so they can be a real, every day, on-going support for the child.
- If a child tells you that they have been physically or sexually abused it is very important to take what they say seriously and to prioritise their safety as they may fear further abuse or retribution. Try to focus on their immediate emotional and practical needs. The child may feel damaged, hurt and betrayed. Many children (and adults) who experience abuse feel guilty or responsible in some way, if not for what happened, then for the disruption to the lives of those involved and their families.
- Culture and language can impact on how a victim of a crime is dealt with and how they understand the crime. Understandably some people may prefer to contact someone trusted their own community for support. Others may be reluctant to tell someone from their own community for fear of causing embarrassment or gossip. Respect their decisions about who a crime is disclosed to.
- If a crime was racially motivated, this may be deeply distressing to a person’s safety, sense of identity and self esteem. Many migrants and refugees may not understand or trust the Australian legal system or the police. They may need a familiar person to talk this through.
- Lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people may be reluctant to contact support services for fear of negative comment or being misunderstood. Some will want to be open about their sexuality and others will not. Respect their decision.