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VII. Survivors of Homicide Victims
Homicide is a crime with more than one victim. Nothing can ever prepare
survivors for the day they are suddenly told their loved one has been
murdered. Survivors suffer the shock of the sudden loss of their loved
one and anger that the loved one did not have to die. Murder crushes survivors
trust in the world and their belief in social order and justice.
Many survivors of homicide victims say that the most traumatic event
of their lives was when they were notified of the death. One of the most
difficult duties a law enforcement officer must perform is providing notification
to the family of murdered victims. An inappropriate notification can prolong
survivors grieving process and delay their recovery from the crime
for years. Proper notification by you can restore some of the survivors
trust and beliefs and help them to begin a new life.
Tips for Responding to Survivors of Homicide Victims
- Know the details surrounding the homicide victims death before
notification. Survivors often want to know the exact circumstances of
their loved ones death.
- Have confirming evidence of the homicide victims identity in
the event of denial by the survivors. Be sensitive to the possibility
that the victim may have been leading a life unknown to the survivors,
such as involvement in drugs, extramarital affairs, or homosexuality.
- Know as much as possible about the homicide victims survivors
before notification. Notify the appropriate closest survivor first.
- Make notifications in person.
- Conduct notifications in pairs. You can contact local volunteers who
are specially trained in death notification through your local clergy
or crisis intervention agency. Also, the National
Organization for Victim Assistance (8008796682) may
be able to refer you to volunteers in your area.
- Do not bring personal articles of the homicide victim with you to
- Conduct the notification in a private place after you and the survivors
- Avoid engaging in small talk upon your arrival. Do not build up slowly
to the reason for your visit or to the actual announcement of the death
of the survivors loved one. Finally, do not use any euphemisms
for the death of the loved one, such as She passed away,
We lost her, She expired, or She left
us. Be compassionately direct and unambiguous in giving notification
to survivors. For example: Weve come to tell you something
very terrible. Your daughter has been killed in a carjacking. Im
- Ask survivors whether they would like you to contact a family member
- Have one person take the lead in conducting the notification. The
other person should monitor survivors for reactions dangerous to themselves
- Accept survivors reactionsno matter how intense or stoicin
a nonjudgmental, empathetic manner. Survivors may cry hysterically,
scream, collapse, sit quietly, or go into shock.
- Be prepared for survivors possible hostility toward you as a
representative of law enforcement and avoid responding impolitely or
- Show empathy for survivors pain and suffering, but do not say
I understand when clearly no one can.
- Refer to the homicide victim by name out of respect to the victim
and survivors. Do not use terms like the deceased or the
- Listen to survivors and answer all of their questions.
- Make telephone calls to other survivors of the homicide victim at
the request of the immediate survivors. If possible, make arrangements
for someone to be with these survivors before they receive your telephone
notification. If this is not possible, ask the survivors to sit down
once youve contacted them before you make the notification. Ask
for permission to call a neighbor, a friend, or a crisis intervention
counselor to be with the survivors after the notification. Tell each
person you contact the names of others who have been notified.
- Show respect for survivors personal and religious or nonreligious
understandings of death. Do not impose your personal beliefs about death on survivors by saying
of the victim, for example, Shes in a better place now.
- Explain to survivors that everyone grieves differently. Encourage
them to be understanding and supportive of one another.
- Before leaving survivors, make sure that someone can stay with them
and that they have contacts for support services.
|First Response to Victims of Crime
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