Hopefully you’ll never experience being a victim of crime. Unfortunately, everyday, someone becomes a new statistic. Whether it is rape, domestic abuse, stalking or cybercrime, it hurts and damages everyone involved. But.. this doesn’t mean you can or should allow it to ruin your life. By being your own advocate, you empower yourself in ways that are integral to healing yourself and your family.
What are some of the common initial reactions experienced by victims of crime? Anger, a deep sense of violation, fear and grief. Why grief? Because from this day forward, you know on a deep level something has been forever changed. This is not necessarily a bad thing, it is just in those first few weeks, it all seems overpowering. Other shocks besides the crime itself may await you. Sudden weeping, feelings of hopelessness and despair are common in the early stages of a post crime scene.
Although the crime is intensely personal to you, it may not receive the reaction from law enforcement you’d sought or hoped for. This is particularly true in large cities and in cases involving automobile theft or even home robberies. You may have to wait hours for an officer to even arrive at the scene to take a report, or as is the case here, be told to file your report online. If possible, try and have a close friend or objective person there to wait with you, and assist you in filing the report.
Acting out your pain by being angry or insulting to law enforcement personnel is not going to help you get what you need. Try and understand that police officers see far worse things as a matter of routine, and appear to be indifferent to your feelings. Often this attitude is their way of coping with the horrible things they encounter in their jobs. Like it or not, angry, belligerent or insulting behavior will delay your getting justice. Police must prioritize calls-rapes, homicide or other violent crimes will take precedence over a car theft or burglary, if the perpetrator has already left the scene, and you’re in no danger.
Once you’ve filed a report and received your case number, you must continue to be your own advocate, in cases of serious crimes. This means gathering any important evidence or documentation required by your local agency, being absolutely truthful about all circumstances surrounding the crime itself, and especially not omitting or embellishing critical details. If a detective advises you to not talk about your case to certain people or anyone at all, listen to him/her, and keep quiet.
If you’ve been raped, despite the perfectly understandable urge to shower and change your clothing-don’t! As soon as you are able, go directly to your local emergency room, and report the rape. A specially trained officer will arrive with a rape kit and take valuable samples from you, including semen, blood and foreign fibers or pubic hairs. The officer will ask you to describe the crime, including location and details. Much of the questioning will feel demeaning and repetitive, but it must be done. A comprehensive and detailed report will go a long way in convincing a DA to prosecute a case. In most cases, a rape crisis counsellor will be made available to you, and a referral to victim’s assistance help.
Even though you may have been the direct victim of the crime, if you have a spouse and children, you need to remember they are suffering too. Many families disintegrate when confronted with the impact of it all. This is where good family communication and support is invaluable. If things are not working well, ask for and receive counselling to give everyone much needed support. This is particularly important in cases where there will be no immediate resolution of the crime-stalking, homicide or rape are three that cause tremendous long term stressors on families.
Make a family agreement to try and be civil with each other and to respect each others feelings. Be prepared for periodic verbal eruptions from different family members, and see them for what they are-expressions of frustration and hurt. Don’t try and hide or lie to your children about what has happened. All this will do is increase their fear and mistrust of their world-a place newly filled with unnamed threats. Keep all communications as open and honest as possible, keeping it age appropriate. Don’t give in to the urge to keep your children hidden inside the home out of fear. While it’s natural to want to protect them, it’s not healthy, and will increase resentment in your children.
If you are being stalked by an unknown individual, being proactive in protecting yourself will go a long way in helping keep you safe. Take a shooting or self-defense course, get a home security system installed, and read books that can help you learn to practice a relaxed awareness of your surroundings. Document and turn over any evidence that arrives from your stalker. Change your phone number, and get yourself a post office box. If you are renting, enlist if possible, your landlords help in hiding your identity, both in paperwork or in person. The same applies to your local utilities and if necessary Social Security. In many stalking cases, depending on where you live, they will change your name and number to keep your whereabouts hidden.
The most difficult part of the healing process comes when you make a choice to either keep on hugging the crime to your psyche, or deciding to let it go, and try and move on. John Walsh, who lost his young son Adam to a terrible homicide, is a real hero to many of us who are victims of crime. Instead of carrying the dead weight of this horrifying tragedy as an excuse to swim in self pity, he instead externalized his pain and grief by reaching out to others who suffered as he did, or worse. In other words, John Walsh decided he would give up being a victim and become a winner at this sometimes tough and merciless life.
It’s up to you. No one can make the choice for you. For me, being a winner means I’ve won and refuse to allow the unknown predator haunting our lives to ruin us. Instead of carrying the corpse of his cruelties upon my shoulders, I cast it off and walk free, wanting only to make a difference in the lives of others who suffer. In doing this, I’m no longer his victim, but a victor over crime, and it has changed us all for the better.