Ruma (name changed) an unmarried girl of 17 years, got admitted to the Emergency department of Tertiary care hospital for consuming pesticide. On enquiring and examination, she was found 28 weeks pregnant. She was completely heartbroken, distressed and disheveled she came to abort her fetus or wished to kill herself.
The emergency department decided to take a psychiatry opinion and from her emotional state psychosocial intervention was felt necessary. While doing a psychosocial intervention, I learned that she had unintended pregnancy and further postponed any gynecological opinion in last so many months, since she was a student of class XII and the boy refused to keep in touch with her. A few days back prior to the attempt parents came to know her pregnancy status and they completely disowned and threw her out of her house. She was accompanied by her elder sister and a cousin to the hospital but that too in sly. While the intervening social worker found her vulnerable and helpless, she narrated about her two-year-old relationship getting crashed and trust with any men has gone. The ones who promised to give her security of life be a boyfriend or her father left her in need. She had several flashbacks questioning the therapist “ How a boyfriend whom she trusted the most overnight became the perpetrator”. Ruma got victimized and the behavior of perpetrator (boyfriend) is unpredictable, largely unpreventable and often unexpected. Unlike normal life experiences, victimization was not sought out and never welcomed. It was debilitating and demoralizing. This event is going to affect long-term and often difficult to overcome.
To hypothesize the impact of abuse which can be accounted for by four traumatic dynamics.
4. Trauma sexualization.
Stigmatization refers to negative connotations for example badness, shame, and guilt that are communicated to the adolescent around the experiences and that becomes “self-image”. Betrayal refers to adolescents discover that someone on whom they virtually dependent and trusted has caused them harm.
Powerlessness refers to the process in which will desire and sense of adolescent efficacy are continually contravened. Traumatic sexualization refers to a process in which adolescent sexuality is shaped in developmentally inappropriate and interpersonally dysfunctional fashion results of sexual abuse.
During her debriefing session, Ruma seemed to be confused, fearful, frustrated and angry. She wanted to know why this happened. Victims often have no knowledge to whom or where to turn in the aftermath of crime. They feel insecure and do not know who to trust or rely on for support, understanding, and help. Not only do they suffer physically, emotionally, psychologically and financially from their victimization, they are also often burdened by the complexity of the justice system.
The Psychological Impact of Victimization
It is almost impossible to predict how an individual will respond to crime. Common reactions to Psychological injuries can be split into four stages:
The initial reaction may include shock, fear, anger, helplessness, disbelief, and guilt. As mentioned previously, some of these reactions may reoccur at a later stage as well, for example when attending a trial or going to the hospital for medical treatment.
A period of disorganization may follow these initial reactions that may present with distressing thoughts about the event, nightmares, depression, guilt, fear, and a loss of confidence and esteem. Life can seem to slow down and become meaningless. Previously held beliefs and faiths may no longer provide comfort. Behavioral responses might include increased alcohol or substance abuse, fragmentation of social relationships, avoidance of people and situations associated with the crime, and social withdrawal.
The third stage is reconstruction and acceptance, which leads to the fourth stage of normalization/adjustment. Victims often try to come to terms with the crime by longing for everything to be as it was before and to turn the clock back. In this crucial stage of recovery, victims begin to fully accept the reality of what has happened. Victims may try to reinterpret their experience and possibly find an explanation for what has happened or to decide that the crime has lead to personal growth.
The extent to which people (victims, witnesses, family members, community members) may be affected by crime that dwindles enormously among individuals; at one extreme people may shrug off very serious crimes with no noticeable effects, while at the other extreme people become “stuck” in a particular stage and never move on.
The Physical Impact of Victimization
Physical reactions to the experience of a victim include an increase in the adrenalin in the body, increased heart rate, hyperventilation, shaking, tears, numbness, a feeling of being frozen or experiencing events in slow motion, dryness of the mouth, enhancement of particular senses such as smell, and a “fight or flight” response. It is also common for people to lose control over their bowel movements. Some of these physical reactions may occur immediately and others may occur after the danger has passed. Physical reactions to crime can be so powerful that the victim’s memory may reoccur for months and years.
Victims may suffer a range of physical effects including insomnia, appetite disturbance, lethargy, headaches, muscle tension, nausea, and decreased libido. It is common for these reactions to persist for some time after the crime has occurred.
Some victims may experience long-term side effects as a result of the crime committed against them. Other victims may experience ongoing health-related problems such as headaches, stomachaches, and emotional outbursts. Even after the physical wounds have healed, some victims may experience pain or discomfort for a period of time or even for the rest of their lives.
In extreme cases, victims may suffer disfigurement or permanent disability as a result of the crime. A victim’s education, interest, culture, gender, and occupation may also influence their reaction to permanent scarring or disability. The reaction of others to the victim’s physical injuries may also be difficult to accept or become accustomed to.
Some victims may never be able to return to studies or work as a result of victimization. Priorities get altogether changed towards deviance and unable to return to work or lead a “normal” lifestyle following victimization. This can cause a great deal of mental anguish, not to mention social isolation and dependency upon social assistance or submission themselves to crimes.
Victims who have suffered physical injuries as a result of an assault or the negligence of another person may experience strong feelings of fear, anger, and bitterness. This sort of victimization is a life-altering experience that may leave victims questioning their personal safety for many years to come.
The Emotional Impact of Victimization
Shock, disbelief and denial – Initially, victims may find it difficult to believe they have become a victim of crime. They may even pretend that it did not happen at all. These reactions can last for a few moments or they may be present for months and even years. It is not uncommon for victims to assume a ‘childlike’ state and may even need to be cared for by others for some time. It is also common for victims to feel as though the crime occurred when they were in a dreamlike state.
Once the initial shock of the crime has worn off, victims may experience other emotions such as anger, fear, frustration, confusion, guilt, shame, and grief.
Anger or rage – Victims may be angry with God, the offender, service providers, family members, friends, the criminal justice system, or even themselves. Many victims experience strong desires for revenge or getting even. Hate may even felt by victims. These strong emotions are often disapproved of by the rest of society, which can leave the victim feeling like an outcast. It is certainly justified for victims to feel anger toward the person or people who harmed them.
Fear or Terror – It is common for victims to feel terror or fear following a crime that involved a threat to one’s safety or life, or to someone else a victim cares about. Fear can cause a person to have panic attacks if they are ever reminded of the crime. Fear can last for quite some time following the commission of a crime and under certain circumstances, it can become debilitating. Fear or terror that becomes overwhelming is unhealthy and victims should consult their family physician or mental health professionals about it as soon as possible.
Frustration – Many victims are frustrated by the feelings of helplessness or powerlessness that surface when the crime takes place. This can be especially true if victims were unable to fend off an offender, call for help or run away. After the crime, victims may continue to feel frustrated if they cannot access the support and information that is necessary for their healing.
Confusion – Victims of crime may become confused if they are unsure of what actually happened, as crimes often occur quickly and are chaotic. Victims might also become confused while searching for answers to questions like “why did this happen to me?” It may be impossible to find out why someone else intended to hurt them.
Guilt or self-blame – Blaming oneself is common. Many victims believe they were “in the wrong place at the wrong time.” If the victim does not have someone to blame, they will often blame themselves. Guilt is also common when no offender is found. Later on, when reflecting upon the crime, victims might feel guilty for not doing more to prevent what happened. Lastly, some victims will experience ‘survivor guilt’ – they feel guilty that they survived while someone else was injured or even killed. If a loved one is murdered, surviving family and friends may even blame the victim. Too often, society blames victims as well. This is the reason she was thrown out by her own parents (Ruma’s case).
Grief or Sorrow – Intense sadness is often the most powerful long-term reaction to crime. It is common for victims to become depressed after a crime occurs.
Shame and humiliation – Sadly, some victims blame themselves, particularly victims of sexual abuse/assault or domestic violence. In crimes involving sexual acts, offenders often degrade the victim by making them do humiliating things. Victims of rape, for example, have long-lasting feelings of “being dirty”, and those feelings cannot be “washed away.” Some victims even feel self-hatred because they believe that they can no longer be loved by those who are close to them.
Social Injuries & Secondary Victimization
Social injuries are those that may be caused by society in the aftermath of the crime. There are reports of victims treated insensitively or not receiving the services and/or information that a victim requires. Anyone can cause a social injury: a family member, a friend, a law enforcement officer, a prosecutor, enraged mob/public, a member of the clergy, a crisis counselor or a victim services worker.
Secondary victimization refers to the victimization which occurs, not as a direct result of the criminal act, but through the response of institutions and individuals to the victim. The following are a few examples of secondary victimization:
Currently, there are high incidences of criminal victimization i.e refusal to recognize their experience. Intrusive or inappropriate conduct by police or lawmakers adds on to the negative coping of the victim. The whole process of criminal investigation and trial. The victim perceives difficulties in balancing their rights with those of the accused or the offender. – Criminal justice processes and procedures do not take the perspective of the victim into account.
Relatives may have restricted access to the body of a loved one due to hospital policies and procedures. The hurried schedule of the emergency room may affect a sexual assault victim’s privacy or sense of dignity. – School personnel may discount child disclosure of abuse. Doctors may not acknowledge signs of pain that are narrated. – Spiritual leaders may attempt to guide victims into paths of forgiveness or accommodation before they are ready or against their wishes. – Intrusive or inappropriate investigation and filming, photographing and reporting by the media.
Even agencies set up to help the victims of crime, such as victim services, victim compensation systems, refugee services, and mental health institutions may have some policies and procedures that lead to secondary victimization because of all functions in fragments.
The attitude of individuals is also important. Some people with whom the victim has contact (e.g. family, friends and colleagues) may wish to distance themselves from the distress of the crime by blaming the victim for what has occurred. They may view the victim’s behavior as having contributed to, or even having caused, the victimization. They may deny the impact of the crime on the victim by urging them to forget about the crime and “get on with their lives.” Families can be a particularly powerful influence in this respect.
Victims of abuse of power have particular difficulty in gaining recognition of the fact that they have been victimized. The essence of abuse of power is that it is committed by those who should be expected to protect the population. The shock and loneliness of victimization can be much greater for these victims.
The Financial Impact of Victimization
In some cases, such as stalking, victims may feel a need to move, a process likely to incur financial costs. The aftermath of crime property value may diminish as a result of a violent crime occurring in the house.
In the long-term, crime can adversely impact the victim’s employment. The victim may find it impossible to return to work, there is constant fear which affects work performance, resulting in demotion, loss of pay, and possibly dismissal. This is particularly likely where the crime occurred at work, as it may be difficult for the victim to avoid people or situations which led to the initial victimization.
Marital and other relationships are also likely to be affected by crime and this may have a significant effect on the family’s financial position.
In another case Shiva (name changed) she was molested by a colony boy, the boy was a neighbor for many years. Their parents worked in the same institution who was a son of her father’s colleague. Father was deeply hurt, shocked and enraged but felt helpless to maneuver an enquiry against the perpetrator. Since neighborhood support split into two halves towards victim and perpetrator. At times perpetrator support overshadows the victim’s support pulling down the morale of the victim further. Research shows that the shock waves from victimization touch not only the victim but also the victim’s immediate family and next of kin, neighbors, and acquaintances. This holds true for the emotional and financial consequences, and the effects can endure for years or even for a lifetime. In the case of child abuse, exposure to violence, and abuse of power, the effects can be passed on from one generation to the next. While this is to be expected in connection with offenses such as murder, torture, and rape, the crimes of assault, robbery, and burglary can also leave enduring feelings of powerlessness, insecurity, anger, and fear. Communities and organizations can also be victimized leading to their deterioration over time.
The effects of victimization hit particularly hard on the poor, the young, the powerless, the disabled, and the socially isolated. Research shows that those already touched by prior victimization are particularly susceptible to subsequent victimization by the same or other forms of crime. These repeat victims are often found to reside in high-crime communities in many countries.
Post victimization – in Path of recovery
Victims need to feel safe as crime often leaves them feeling helpless, vulnerable, and frightened. In addition to fear, victims often have feelings of self-blame, anger, shame, sadness, or denial. Their most common response is: “I don’t believe this happened to me.” Emotional distress may surface in seemingly peculiar ways, such as laughter. Sometimes victims feel rage at the sudden, unpredictable, and uncontrollable threat to their safety or lives. This rage can even be directed at the people who are trying to help them. – Victims should be able to express their emotions. Victims often need to air their emotions and tell their stories after the trauma of the crime. They may also need to have their feelings accepted and have their story heard by a nonjudgmental listener. – Victims may need to know “what comes next”. Following victimization, victims often have concerns about their role in the investigation of the crime and in the legal proceedings. They may also be concerned about issues such as media attention or payment for health care or property damage. Victimization is stressful and knowing what to expect in the aftermath of crime can help relieve anxiety.
The healing process is often slow and can be complicated by family, friends and service providers who may not show understanding. Asking why the victim has not “gotten over it yet” or when he/she is going to “put it behind her and get on with the rest of her life,” are some examples of insensitive remarks that are often made to victims in the aftermath of crime.
It is possible for the recovery process to involve the following long-term crisis reactions:
Health problems related to the stress of the victimization (i.e., headaches, high blood pressure); – Eating problems (not having an appetite, eating too much, feeling nauseated); Sleeping problems (insomnia, nightmares); and Relationship problems (being cranky and irritable, not being able to trust others).
These reactions can last for years following a crime. They are all normal responses for people who have survived a traumatic event. The intensity and frequency of these crisis reactions usually decrease over time. Patience and time are important factors in the healing process. A victim’s cognitive state and the familial and social supports available to them can also greatly influence their recovery.
To work on the positive note victims can choose to speak out and help others who may become victims of crime by advocating for changes to laws, joining support groups as counselors or storytellers or working within the victim services sector. Doing so, many victims feel empowered as though they are contributing to society following their victimization. For many victims, destructive, unwanted victimization has given rise to highly motivated efforts to make our communities safer and more secure.
Becoming a victim of crime is an unpleasant and unwanted life experience. The impact of criminal victimization is serious, throwing victims into a state of shock, fear, anxiety, and anger. The emotional, physical, psychological, emotional, social injuries and financial ramifications of crime can be devastating to victims. Coping with and recovering from victimization constant and complex processes. There is a need to ponder on this issue in a holistic manner.