Coping with Crime Victimization

Anyone can become a victim of a crime. If it happens to you or someone you love, here are some important points to remember:

Being a victim of a crime can be a very difficult and stressful experience. While most people are naturally resilient and over time will find ways to cope and adjust, there can be a wide range of after effects to a trauma. One person may experience many of the effects, a few, or none at all. Not everyone has the same reaction. In some people the reaction may be delayed days, weeks, or even months. Some victims may think they are “going crazy,” when they are having a normal reaction to an abnormal event.

Getting back to normal can be a difficult process after a personal experience of this kind, especially for victims of violent crime and families of murder victims. Learning to understand and feel more at ease with the intense feelings can help victims better cope with what happened.

Victims may need to seek help from friends, family, a member of the clergy, a counselor, or a victim assistance professional.

Potential Effects of Trauma 

Some people who have been victims of crime may experience some of these symptoms. Seek medical advice if the symptoms persist. 

Chills or sweating
Lack of coordination
Heart palpitations or chest pains
High blood pressure
Sleep disturbances
Stomach upset
Loss of appetite
Startled responses

Feeling lost, abandoned, and isolated
Wanting to withdraw or hide

Slowed thinking
Memory problems
Intrusive memories or flashbacks
Inability to concentrate
Difficulty in making decisions

Tips for Coping 

These are some ideas that may help you cope with the trauma or loss:

  • Find someone to talk with about how you feel and what you are going through. Keep the phone number of a good friend nearby to call when you feel overwhelmed or feel panicked.
  • Allow yourself to feel the pain. It will not last forever.
  • Keep a journal.
  • Spend time with others, but make time to spend time alone.
  • Take care of your mind and body. Rest, sleep, and eat regular, healthy meals.
  • Re-establish a normal routine as soon as possible, but don’t over-do.
  • Make daily decisions, which will help to bring back a feeling of control over your life.
  • Exercise, though not excessively and alternate with periods of relaxation.
  • Undertake daily tasks with care. Accidents are more likely to happen after severe stress.
  • Recall the things that helped you cope during trying times and loss in the past and think about the
    things that give you hope. Turn to them on bad days.

These are things to avoid:

  • Be careful about using alcohol or drugs to relieve emotional pain. Becoming addicted not only postpones healing, but also creates new problems.
  • Make daily decisions, but avoid making life changing decisions in the immediate aftermath, since judgment may be temporarily impaired.
  • Don’t blame yourself—it wasn’t your fault.
  • Your emotions need to be expressed. Try not to bottle them up.

For some victims and families of victims, life is forever changed. Life may feel empty and hollow. Life doesn’t “mean” what it used to. Part of coping and adjusting is redefining the future. What seemed important before may not be important now. Many victims find new meaning in their lives as a result of their experience. It is important to remember that emotional pain is not endless and that it will eventually ease. It is impossible to undo what has happened but life can be good again in time.

For Family and Friends of a Victim of Crime 

  • Listen carefully.
  • Spend time with the victim.
  • Offer your assistance, even if they haven’t asked for help.
  • Help with everyday tasks like cleaning, cooking, caring for the family, minding the children.
  • Give them private time.
  • Don’t take their anger or other feelings personally.
  • Don’t tell them they are “lucky it wasn’t worse”—traumatized people are not consoled by such statements.
  • Tell them that you are sorry such an event has occurred to them and you want to understand and help them.

Additional Resources 

The FBI has a number of brochures and pamphlets for victims of crime.

National Resources and Hotlines for Crime Victims 

  • The website for the Office for Victims of Crime in the Department of Justice includes an online directory of victim assistance programs.

Anti-Defamation League

Battered Women’s Justice Project
(800) 903-0111

Bureau of Indian Affairs
Indian Country Child Abuse Hotline
(800) 633-5155

Childhelp USA/Forrester National Child Abuse Hotline
(800) 422-4453 | (800) 222-4453, TDD

Futures Without Violence
(415) 678-5500

Mothers Against Drunk Driving
(800) 438-6233

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
(800) 843-5678
(800) 826-7653, TDD

National Center for Victims of Crime
(800) 394-2255

National Children’s Alliance
(800) 239-9950

National Fraud Information Hotline
(800) 876-7060

National Organization for Victim Assistance
(800) 879-6682

National Resource Center on Domestic Violence
(800) 537-2238
(800) 553-2508, TDD

National Organization of Parents of Murdered Children
(888) 818-7662

Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network
(800) 656-4673

Stalking Resource Center