The Impact of Crime

Crime victims often suffer a broad range of psychological and social injuries that persist long after their physical wounds have healed. Intense feelings of anger, fear, isolation, low self-esteem, helpless- ness, and depression are common reactions.4 Like combat veterans, crime victims may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, includ- ing recurrent memories of the incident, sleep disturbances, feelings of alienation, emotional numbing, and other anxiety-related symptoms. Janoff-Bulman suggests that victimization can shatter basic assump- tions about the self and the world which individuals need in order to function normally in their daily lives-that they are safe from harm, that the world is meaningful and just, and that they are good, decent people.5 This happens not only to victims of violent assaults but also to victims of robbery and burglary6 and to their friends and family.7 Herman has suggested that "survivors of prolonged, repeated trauma," such as battered women and abused children, often suffer what she calls "complex post-traumatic stress disorder," which can manifest as severe "personality changes, including deformations of relatedness and identity [which make them] particularly vulnerable to repeated harm, both self-inflicted and at the hands of others."8

The emotional damage and social isolation caused by victimization also may be compounded by a lack of support, and even stigmatiza- tion, from friends, family and social institutions, that can become a "second wound" for the victim. Those closest to the victim may be traumatized by the crime in ways that make them unsupportive of the victim's needs. Davis, Taylor and Bench found that close friends and family members, particularly of a victim of sexual assault, sometimes withdraw from and blame the victim.9

Crime victims must also contend with society's tendency to blame them for the crime, which compounds the trauma of the event. To protect their belief in a just world where people get what they deserve, and to distance themselves from the possibility of random or uncontrollable injury, many prefer to see victims as somehow responsible for their fate.10 The lack of support for victims trying to recover from a crime can exacerbate the psychological harm caused by victimization and make recovery even more difficult.

When victims do seek help, they may be treated with insensitivity. They may feel ignored or even revictimized by the criminal justice process, which has traditionally been more concerned with the rights of the accused than with the rights and needs of the victim. Family members of homicide victims in particular may feel left out of the justice process. When one woman whose child had been murdered asked to be informed as the case progressed, she was asked, "Why do you want to know? You're not involved in the case."

Back to From Pain To Power Table of Contents

Archive iconThe information on this page is archived and provided for reference purposes only.