Nothing in life prepares us for the traumatic experience of violent crime such as homicide, rape, sexual assault, or domestic violence. Although violent crime rates have declined in recent years, the Federal Bureau of Investigation reports that in the United States in 2000, one violent crime occurred every 22.1 seconds, one aggravated assault occurred every 34.6 seconds, and someone was murdered every 33.9 minutes.
Victims of violence and their families and friends experience crisis reactions; the levels of extremes will differ from person to person based on their personal situation at the time of the crime, the impact of the crime, and resulting injuries. As each person is unique, so are victim reactions, responses, and recovery. It is impossible to compare one experience, response, or recovery to another.
How the victim of a crime and their loved ones are treated immediately following the crime impacts their ability to cope and recover. They will need to know what comes next by way of the crime investigation and the resulting criminal justice process.
In times of crisis, friends, acquaintances, and loved ones willingly provide support. But support wanes along with the months, and it is easy to lose patience as time passes. You can play a pivotal role in the recovery process by remaining a presence in their life—no matter how long it takes.
“A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.” – Walter Winchell
WHAT TO SAY AND DO
Express sympathy and sorrow for what has happened.
Anyone who has lost a loved one to a violent crime will need your caring patience. It takes a long time to heal, and they will need your support during the process.
Anger is a natural response to a violent crime. Listen with patience; the victim of crime is not looking for answers but an opportunity to vent their anger.
Recognize that they will grieve in their own way.
Do communicate your willingness to support the victim of crime in whatever ways you can. Individuals who have someone to lean on increase their chances of healing from the trauma.
Offer to help with the basic necessities—grocery shopping, cleaning, laundry, food preparation, child care, and carpooling—as they might find it impossible to resume their normal housekeeping and caregiver tasks.
Encourage them to participate in the judicial process to restore a sense of control.
Offer to listen. The individual will need to tell their story over and over again to process what has happened.
Allow them to grieve in their own way.
Encourage them to express their grief and sorrow for as long as they need.
Do continue to keep in touch with them and remember them during significant dates and difficult periods, such as the anniversary of the crime, a birthday, or holidays.
HOW TO SAY IT
I am here for you when you need me.
I care about you and will support you however you might need me.
I have never experienced this before; please let me know how I can help you.
I will always be your friend; nothing can change that.
I will miss him (her), too.
I’d like to help in any way I can.
It’s not your fault.
This was a terrible crime, and I am sorry it happened to you.
What you are feeling is normal.
You can talk to me at any time.
You did the best you could.
You were in no way to blame for what happened.
WHAT NOT TO SAY AND DO
Don’t disbelieve their account of the crime.
Don’t be alarmed with their anger or rage. It is a natural expression, and they must voice their anger and life’s unfairness if they are to heal.
Stay clear of questions that begin with the word why—these questions tend to put the blame on the victim rather than the assailant.
Don’t judge the victim of the crime in what has happened, their response, or how they are handling their grief.
Don’t try to hurry their grief along. They need the time to heal in their own way and at their own speed.
Avoid telling the victim of crime how you would have reacted in the same situation.
Don’t ask for details. The event might be too painful for them to share.
Don’t suggest they could have avoided the crime by doing something different.
HOW NOT TO SAY IT
How could you have let them into your house?
How could you have trusted him (her)?
It’s time to move on.
What was he doing here?
Why did you go there?
Why didn’t you fight back?
Why were you there in the first place?
You need to get over it.
To a friend who was badly injured in an assault.
You have constantly been in my thoughts and prayers these last few days, and I have been struggling to find some words to comfort you. I am at a loss at how this could have happened and how I can best help you.
There have been so many times when you sat and listened to me and lent me your shoulder to cry on. You didn’t offer advice or comment on my woes; you just let me talk endlessly until I either exhausted myself or somehow figured out a solution. Your very presence was the solace I needed, and that is what I would like to give you.
Mary told me you weren’t up to having visitors, and it might be a while before you will see anyone. I have patience, and when you are ready to see me, I will be available. I will help you in any way you wish, and I’m in this with you for the long haul.
In the meantime, I will continue to pray for your recovery and keep in touch by mail. I send love and comfort to you, Will. Get well soon.
Robbie Miller Kaplan is an author who writes from a unique perspective as a mother who has lost two children. She has written How to Say It When You Don't Know What to Say, a guide to help readers communicate effectively when those they care about experience loss, now available in three individual volumes: "Illness & Death," "Suicide" and "Miscarriage." Additional titles are available as e-books: "Death of a Child," "Death of a Stillborn or Newborn Baby," "Pet Loss," "Caregiver Responsibilities," "Divorce" and "Job Loss." All titles are in Amazon's Kindle Store. Click here to order.
Image: People embrace at a firehouse staging area for family near the scene of a shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. where a gunman opened fire, leaving 26 people dead, including 20 children, Friday, Dec. 14, 2012. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)