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Self-Care for Victims

Every victim of crime will react differently to their situation but there are certain phases of recovery and some common reactions that it may be helpful to know about.

Moving From Victim to Survivor

To understand what victims go through, it can be helpful to see victimization and recovery as a process. Although every crime victim is unique, certain stages can be identified. Victims are people and, just like other people, they have certain strengths, weaknesses, support systems, financial pressures and the like. A crime victim may have experienced trauma in the past, either from another crime or other life event, and will have reacted in their own way to that trauma.

When they become a target of crime, a victim moves from being just a member of the general population to being a "victim." Some victims may initially minimize the crime and its impact. These victims may experience a delayed reaction to the crime that can take place weeks, months, or even years later.

With information and support, victims can start to take steps to put their life back together. It is during this initial coping period that victims will likely need the most help from family, friends and professionals.

With time, and often with the help of others, a victim will move on from this phase to a point where being a crime victim is simply part of their life experience. This does not mean that a victim will return to their pre-crime state. However, as victims make sense of what happened and adjust to its effects on their life, being a crime victim no longer defines who they are.

There is no set time frame for victims to go through these phases. Much will depend on the type of crime the victim has experienced. Much will also depend on the victim, their unique history and the kind of help they receive. What is important to remember is that many victims reach a point where they can move on with their lives.

Common Reactions

As a victim you may experience a wide range of reactions. Often there are emotional, social and physical reactions. You may also experience changes in your thinking and have disturbing memories. Each victim will react in their own way but all victims of crime experience distress. As a victim of crime you may feel...

  • afraid
  • shocked
  • numb
  • embarrassed
  • guilty
  • angry
  • apathetic
  • depressed
  • sad
  • anxious
  • ashamed
  • alone
  • powerless
  • violated
  • a loss of trust

You may also...

  • have trouble controlling your emotions
  • suffer from loss of self-esteem or sense of self-worth
  • have trouble concentrating
  • feel confused
  • have flashbacks or intrusive memories about the crime
  • find yourself constantly being on the alert
  • feel alienated from others
  • avoid social situations

Emotions around being a victim may cause nausea, stomach problems, muscle tension and trouble sleeping. Some of these same reactions can also be seen in the victim's family and friends.

What You Can Do

One thing victims can do is inform themselves about things like the common reactions victims have, the criminal justice system and their role in it, as well as the kind of help that is out there for victims. This will help you make informed decisions about what steps you want to take.

It is important to look after yourself and get the support you need. Family and friends can provide companionship, emotional or financial support, or a safe place to live. Talking to someone about your experience and feelings can be very helpful. This could be a family member, a friend, a counsellor, a victim services worker or anyone that you feel comfortable sharing your experience with. Talking can help you make sense of what happened and how you feel.

Often victims will be frightened. You may want to have someone stay with you or you may want to stay with a family member or a friend. You may want information about how to best secure your home and other ways to protect yourself.

While you are recovering from being victimized it is especially important to try to eat, sleep and exercise regularly. It is also a good idea to try and participate in activities that you find enjoyable and ones that relieve stress.

Interpersonal Violence Leave

If you have experienced interpersonal violence you may be entitled to up to 10 days of leave from work in a year to do things like see a doctor, counsellor or victim service agency for help or to attend court or relocate.

There are some ways of dealing with being a victim of crime that can help victims move on with their life. These ways of coping focus on dealing directly with the incident and the way you have reacted to it. Other ways of dealing with the incident can actually make you feel worse in the long run. These negative ways of coping focus on things other than the incident and your reaction.

For some victims, charges being laid and the matter going to court can help them feel more in control of their life. Some victims find healing in becoming advocates or activists for things like victims' rights.

It is important to know about some things that can help victims cope but it is also important for victims and especially those close to victims to be on the lookout for signs that a victim may not be coping well. In the immediate aftermath of a crime a victim may cope by avoiding the situation. You may stay in bed, not leave the house, not go to work or avoid the location of the crime. Some victims may escape the situation by drinking, using drugs or overusing prescription medications. It is best to stay away from drugs and alcohol during your recovery as these substances only intensify your reactions.

While avoiding challenging situations at first and taking small steps towards dealing with the incident may be helpful, a victim who continues to use avoidance can end up making matters worse. If drugs or alcohol are used to avoid the situation the victim's decision-making and problem-solving skills are impaired and this can also interfere with the healing process. Victims and those close to victims need to watch for signs that professional help is needed. If you feel overwhelmed or if your symptoms do not lessen over time you should see your doctor or a counsellor.

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