Being a victim of a
crime can be a very difficult experience. Each person copes with the aftermath
of victimization in a unique way. Whether you or a family member has been
victimized, you may feel anger, guilt, shame, insecurity, fear, powerlessness,
and depression. You do not have to go through all of these emotions alone. Many
people can help you understand this experience and can support you through
This handbook has been
written specifically for crime victims. The more you know about the
criminal justice system, the more comfortable you will feel as various events
occur. We know this information will not solve all your problems or answer all
your questions, but we hope it will serve as a useful guide to explain how and
where to find help.
The United States has an
adversarial system of justice in which we consider a person innocent
until proven guilty. We demand a fair process for all people charged with
crimes, to reduce the possibility of an error that would convict an innocent
Following an arrest and
before trial, the court may hold several hearings. The number of hearings
often depends on the seriousness of the offense. These hearings may include:
After a warrant is
issued and a suspect is arrested or otherwise charged, the case officially
enters the criminal justice system. Ordinarily, the first appearance a defendant
makes before the court after an arrest is at arraignment. The court advises the
defendant of the nature of the charges, assures legal representation for him or
her, and sets bail.
constitution guarantees a defendant the right to bail if the court concludes the
will appear for
trial and will
not endanger the victim or the public. However, the constitution also
gives victims the right to be protected from further harm by the defendant and
to speak at the bail hearing. The judge will decide whether to impose bail and
conditions of release to protect the victim and the public. If
a defendant posts bail and then fails to appear for any scheduled hearing, the
cash or property may be forfeited to the state government and an arrest warrant
A Grand Jury may
consider the case. The Grand Jury is made up of citizens who hear and review
the prosecutor’s evidence against the accused person in a closed hearing. This
process may occur either before or after an arrest is made. If the Grand Jury
finds sufficient evidence to take a case to trial, it will issue an indictment.
Police officers, victims and witnesses appear by subpoena (court order). They
give testimony that usually does not become part of the public record, although
there are exceptions. No one is permitted to observe grand jury proceedings,
although if you receive a subpoena to testify, you must go.
The judge often holds
several court hearings before the actual trial. One of these may be a
suppression hearing in which the defense challenges part or all of the
prosecutor’s evidence. The purpose is to ensure that all evidence was gathered
properly and within legal limits.
Guilty or No
Following all the
pretrial hearings, the case is ready for trial. However, a defendant may choose
toenter a plea of guilty to a charge, which means there is no trial and no
presentation of evidence or witnesses. The
prosecutor reads a brief statement of facts into the court record, and a summary of
any agreements about the plea. A defendant can plead guilty or no contest. A no
contest plea means the defendant can be convicted and sentenced for the criminal
charges, but the plea cannot be used to prove the offense in a civil case.
Although Mississippi has
rules to assure that trials are held promptly, you should understand that the
pretrial process may take six to twelve months, or
more, to complete. The prosecutor
and the court cannot control all of the delays in
the process. Continuances are inevitable and may cause you great stress. Keep in
mind that court dates often change.
The police officer,
prosecutor, defense attorney, judge, jury, and probation officer play
important roles as the case moves through the court.
information explains the responsibilities of each person.
When a crime occurs,
usually the first person to respond is a law enforcement officer
who investigates the offense. The officer in charge may gather physical
evidence, question witnesses, photograph or video the scene, and collect as much
information as possible. If police find enough evidence to show that a specific
person committed the offense, they may file criminal charges against that person
or refer the case to the county or municipal prosecutor. Police officers may or
may not arrest a defendant when they file charges.
Once you report a crime
to the police, you should understand that the case can go forward even without
your consent or cooperation. In cases of domestic violence and child abuse in
particular, victims or parents of victims sometimes change their minds about
wanting to see the offender prosecuted. However, these are serious offenses, and
the prosecutor may take the case to trial anyway. A victim advocate can help you
sort through your feelings about this issue.
If the police question
you, you should talk as honestly and openly about your relationship with the
defendant as possible. If you are a survivor of a homicide victim, you also must
give open and honest answers about the victim. Withholding background
information can hinder the investigation. You may add information to your
statement as you remember things more clearly. Tell the police about any items
of evidence that may be helpful to the case.
The police officers
must remain objective in their investigation and look at all
possibilities. Often the police cannot give the victim much information until
after they question or arrest a suspect. The police may keep certain information
about the crime private, in order to confront a suspect who knows details of the
crime only the perpetrator could know.
You may want more
information from the police and the prosecutor than they can give. The
investigative phase of a crime can be very hard on victims and survivors. This
is a good time to call a victim support group for assistance.
In some cases, police
identify a suspect but do not have enough evidence to file criminal charges. In
other cases a suspect is not immediately identified. Police keep the case files
for serious crimes open for a long time. Crimes sometimes are solved long after
they occur. The police will not stay in constant contact with you, but you may
contact them regularly.
Homicides must be
reported to the medical examiner or coroner of the jurisdiction where the victim
is pronounced dead or where the body is found. Often it is the medical examiner
who decides that the person did not die from natural causes, and orders an
autopsy to be performed. The purpose of the autopsy is to determine the cause of
death and to independently document any trauma suffered by the victim. The
medical examiner may order an autopsy without getting a signed consent by the
next of kin. The medical examiner will keep control over the body of the victim
until it is released to the funeral home of your choice.
Victims of sexual
assault may be asked to submit to a medical exam at a nearby hospital. If the
sex offense has just occurred, an immediate medical exam may provide
evidence crucial to conviction of the offender, and your cooperation is
tremendously important. These exams may be traumatic both for adults and
children. Most larger communities have victims’
organizations that will send a trained advocate to the hospital with you. If no
such advocate can come, you can bring a close friend or family member with
you to the hospital.
Victims of domestic
violence, physical child abuse, assault, and drunk driving also may be asked to
submit to a medical exam. The sooner these exams take place after the offense,
the more evidence can be preserved. Although these exams generally are
less traumatic than exams for sex offenses, you still may want to bring an
advocate or a friend with you for support.
agency may have to hold your personal possessions as evidence. The police agency
or prosecutor handling the case will decide what can be released to you. But
you do have a right to these items as soon as is possible.
The prosecutor is an
attorney who is the legal representative of the government. The prosecutor
represents the interests of the people of a community against an individual
who has been charged with a crime. One or more
prosecutors take charge
of the case through all pretrial hearings, the
trial, and certain appeals. If the case goes to trial, the prosecutor must prove
"beyond a reasonable doubt" that the defendant committed the
offense. Prosecutors generally do this by having witnesses testify and by
presenting physical evidence.
Many cases do not go to
trial because the accused pleads guilty or no contest. Sometimes the defendant
agrees to plead guilty or no contest in exchange for the prosecutor’s promise
to dismiss or reduce some charges, or to make
favorable recommendations at sentencing. This
arrangement is called a plea bargain or plea agreement. In deciding whether or
not to offer a plea bargain, a prosecutor looks at the strength of the evidence,
the credibility of the witnesses, and the likely sentence. Although victims have
the right to confer with the prosecutor, the ultimate decision to offer a plea
bargain rests with the prosecutor. The prosecutor considers society’s best
interests, not just the individual interests of the victim or the victim’s
The prosecutor or a
victim-witness coordinator can give you case information and advice on dealing
with defense attorneys and reporters, help prepare you for trial and sentencing,
and give you information on applying for crime victim compensation. The district
attorney’s office has pamphlets on sexual
assault, domestic violence, victim’s rights, and safety planning.
guarantees a person charged in any state or federal court the assistance of
counsel before he or she can be validly convicted and punished. A person accused
of a crime who cannot afford a lawyer is
entitled under the constitution to have counsel provided
at trial and on appeal. The lawyer must zealously advocate whatever is in
the best interests of the client, not the interests of the prosecutor, judge,
society, or victims.
State and federal
courts have established rules of evidence, rules of procedure, and principles of
constitutional law. The defense attorney’s main duty is to make sure that the
prosecution and court follow the rules. The defense attorney need not prove that
the defendant is innocent. Instead, the defense attorney ensures that the
defendant’s legal rights are not violated.
You may feel shock and
anger at the strategies the defense attorney uses. You may hear unpleasant or
untrue things about you or about people close to you. Cross-examination by a
defense attorney can be unnerving and upsetting. Try to stay calm and answer
questions as simply and honestly as you can. The assistance of a victim support
group can be very helpful at trial.
It may sometimes seem
that the defendant has more rights than the victim or than society. However, it
is important to have a competent and thorough defense attorney representing the
defendant. A good defense attorney decreases the chance of judicial or trial
error and therefore decreases the chance that
the courts will overturn the conviction on appeal.
A defense attorney or a
defense investigator may want to speak with you before the trial. You are not
required to talk to them. They cannot tape record any interview with you without
your permission. It is advisable to speak with the prosecutor before providing
any information to the defense attorney or defense investigator.
The judge has many
functions in the criminal justice system. First, he or she must make impartial
decisions. A judge cannot take sides in a criminal case and must treat both
the defendant and the state fairly. The judge cannot have any personal contact
with the victim or members of the victim’s family while the case is pending. The
judge cannot have exparte (one-sided) contact with any of the attorneys,
witnesses, jurors or other people involved in the case.
A judge decides what
evidence can be admitted in the case, using case law, rules of evidence and
rules of procedure. Judges also must manage the timing of the case by setting
deadlines and requiring the prosecution and defense to meet these deadlines.
Victims and their
families want the case resolved as soon as possible so that they can go on with
their lives. However, they must remember that many things can slow down the
A judge or jury may try
a case and decide guilt. At a trial, the prosecution first presents evidence and
testimony. The defense then may, if it chooses, present testimony and evidence
on behalf of the defendant. The defendant is never required to testify, but
may do so if he or she chooses.
After hearing all the
evidence, the judge or jury deliberates and reaches a decision. A jury’s
decision in a criminal case must be unanimous. If a jury cannot reach a
decision, the judge may set a new trial before a different jury. After a felony
trial the judge schedules a later time for sentencing. In misdemeanor cases, the
judge may sentence the defendant immediately.
A jury is a panel of
citizens randomly selected from the community. Before seating jurors in a
criminal case, the judge or attorneys question potential jurors. The questioning
helps choose fair and impartial jury members. For example, a jury member should
not have special knowledge of the offense or be related to any party in the
The jury decides if the
prosecution has proven the defendant guilty, based on the evidence presented in
court. Jurors usually do not hear information about the character of the
defendant or the victim, to assure that they decide the case based on the
current offense and not on feelings about a person’s past behavior or character.
Sometimes you may feel frustrated about what
facts the judge will
and will not allow the jury to hear.
If you decide to watch
a trial, you need to understand that you cannot attempt to influence the jury in
any way. Some of the evidence and testimony may be very painful to hear,
but reacting in any way could be considered grounds for a mistrial. Jury members
may feel sympathy for victims, and an outward display of emotion could affect
their ability to remain fair and impartial.
Also be careful about
conversations in hallways, elevators, restrooms, or even restaurants near the
courthouse. Jurors could be present and overhear these comments.
Your Role as a
As a victim, your role
as a witness may be crucial in assuring prosecution. If you receive a subpoena
you should go to the designated place at the proper time. In major cases
the prosecutor may talk with you before trial to hear the facts as you know
Even if you do not wish
to testify, the prosecutor may continue to prosecute the case. This is because
crimes are offenses against society as well as crimes against the victim. The
prosecutor may subpoena you as a witness.
If you testify, try to
remember the following tips for effective testimony:
Always tell the truth.
Do not guess at answers or offer your opinion unless the judge asks you to do
so. If you don’t know the answer to a question, simply say that you do not
Think before you speak. Make sure you understand
the question. Answer only the question asked and then stop. Don’t memorize
Speak up loudly enough for everyone in the
courtroom to hear you. Answer questions out loud so that the tape recorder
picks them up instead of nodding your head.
Try to stay calm. Do not become angry or argue,
even if one of the attorneys is hostile or implies something that you think is
Stop talking if an attorney objects or if the
judge interrupts. Begin again when the judge tells you to continue. If you
have forgotten the question, ask for it again.
If you are asked whether you have discussed the
case with anyone, answer truthfully. It is perfectly permissible to have
talked with the police, prosecutor, defense investigator or attorney, family
If the defendant is
convicted of a felony, either by trial or by guilty plea, the case is
assigned to a probation officer. The probation officer is an employee of the
Department of Corrections. In most felony cases, the judge sets the sentencing
date several months after the conviction so the probation officer can prepare a
A pre-sentence report
or investigation is a study of the offender that includes prior criminal
history, education, jobs, drug/alcohol involvement, and mental health treatment.
The report also states the facts of the case briefly, and describes the effect
of the crime on the victims.
The victim impact
statement is an important part of the pre-sentence report. This statement
lets you tell the judge about the physical, mental, emotional and fiscal injury
you have suffered. You may ask for restitution and for conditions of probation
to help protect you and your family. You may give an oral statement to the
pre-sentence investigator, or send a written statement to the judge, the
prosecutor, and the defense attorney. You have the right to speak at sentencing
in addition to making these other statements.
After sentencing, a
probation officer is responsible for supervising the felony offender during any
term of probation. The probation officer monitors the offender to make sure that
the offender follows the orders of the court. The probation officer assists the
offender in finding work, training, housing, and treatment.
Sentencing is usually
the last action of the trial court. After conviction of an offender, the
judge imposes some sanction or punishment within the limits set by the
legislature. A judge will have some leeway, but the criminal code sets out the
minimum and maximum length of sentence.
The sentencing hearing
usually is fairly short. Evidence may or may not be presented during
the hearing. The defense attorney will make a statement on behalf of the
offender, noting factors that the judge could use to lower the penalty. The
prosecutor will give the government’s position, which may include reasons why
the judge should lengthen the sentence. The offender may speak on his or her own
behalf, and the victim may speak as well.
Sentences can have
several parts: jail time, suspended time, probation conditions, and fines. Jail
sentences may range from no time in jail to more than 99 years. At the time of
sentencing, offenders receive credit for any jail time served prior to trial and
sentencing. The judge may suspend part or all of a jail sentence and place the
offender on probation. The offender stays on probation for a specific time, with
restrictions on activities. Probation conditions may require an offender to keep
a job or stay in school, support a family, or get counseling or substance
abuse treatment. Probation conditions also may require the offender to stay away
from you or to pay you restitution. If the offender does not meet these
conditions, the judge may put the offender in jail, or impose other
If you have suffered
out-of-pocket expenses as the result of property damages, lost wages or medical
expenses, the judge may order the offender to pay restitution to you. It is
important to specify losses when requesting restitution and to keep receipts for
your expenses. The judge may hold a hearing to prove the amount of restitution.
Restitution payments can be collected while an inmate is in prison. Offenders
often make payments weekly or monthly and the payments are forwarded to the
victim. In some cases, a victim can get a civil judgment to enforce the order of
restitution. Restitution in criminal cases covers only your actual expenses. To
recover for pain and suffering or loss of companionship, you must file a
separate civil lawsuit against the defendant.
Appeal and Post
Offenders convicted at
trial may appeal their cases. This means the entire case, from investigation
through sentencing, can be reviewed by a higher (appellate) court. The
defense submits a written brief noting the areas where errors may have occurred.
Common reasons for appeal include an invalid arrest, improperly admitted
evidence, and incorrect jury instructions. Some offenders also may appeal the
length of their sentences. The prosecution submits a brief responding to the
offender’s arguments. These briefs, along with a transcript or tape of the
trial, go to the appellate court for review. The attorneys also may present oral
argument before the court.
The appellate court may
either affirm the conviction or overturn the trial court decision. If the court
overturns the conviction, the prosecutor sometimes retries the case.
A convicted offender
also may ask the trial court judge to modify the sentence or overturn the
conviction. The offender may argue that the defense attorney was ineffective,
new evidence has been discovered, or the judge misunderstood the law. Sometimes
new evidence and testimony is given to support a motion for this type of
The appellate and
post-conviction process may take quite some time and may add to your frustration
with delay. You have the right to be notified about these proceedings and to
attend them if you have registered with the prosecutor’s office for
notification. However, most appeals are won by the prosecution. Many victims
feel better if they allow the burden of the appeal to rest with the prosecutor,
and spend the waiting period working on their own recovery process. If you have
questions about appellate procedure, ask the prosecutor’s office or the local
victim assistance program for more information.
Parole lets an offender
serve the last part of a sentence in the community supervised by a parole
officer. Rather than releasing inmates without controls, parole provides for the
gradual reintegration of the offender in the community, subject to conditions
set by the Parole Board.
The Parole Board is
independent of the Department of Corrections. Laws decide eligibility
for parole, but the five citizens on the Parole Board decide whom to actually
release. The scheduling of a parole hearing does not necessarily lead to the
release of an offender. The parole board considers the seriousness of the
offense, the offender’s past criminal record, adjustment and treatment while in
the institution, and plans for the future. The parole board also considers the
victim impact statement and the future safety of the victim and society.
The parole board will
notify victims and survivors of scheduled hearings, if the victim
or representative has registered for notification. If you change addresses,
send your new address to the appropriate agency. After receiving notification of
a hearing, you may write to the board about your feelings, appear in person to
testify, or take no action. The parole board holds revocation hearings if the
offender does not comply with the conditions.
Legal Rights of
Victims and Survivors
It may appear to you
that the court system favors the accused. However, victims and survivors do have
rights. Mississippi has passed laws that address the rights of victims, and
Mississippi also has a constitutional amendment to complement and strengthen the
statutory law. These rights also apply to the parents and guardians of child
victims and the survivors of victims who have died.
To be notified of all charges filed against any person for the crime
committed against you.
To be notified of any criminal proceedings, other than the initial
appearance, as soon as practical, and of any changes that may occur.
To talk with the prosecutor prior to the final disposition of your case,
including giving your views on any nol pros (dismissal), reduction of charge,
sentence recommendation, and pretrial diversion programs.
To talk with the prosecutor prior to the beginning of the trial.
To receive a transcript of the trial, at your own cost.
· To have the trial held without unreasonable delay. (The trial judge,
in determining whether to grant any continuance, should make every reasonable
effort to consider what effect granting the continuance would have on the victim.)
To be present throughout all criminal proceedings, including any
hearings, arguments or other matters scheduled by and held in the presence of
To be provided a waiting area at trial separate from the defendant, his
relatives and his witnesses. (If a separate waiting room is not available or
its use is impractical, the judge is to do what is possible to minimize contact
of the victim with the defendant, his relatives or defense witnesses.)
To have the prosecutor petition the court that you or any other witness
not be compelled to testify at any pre-trial proceeding or at trial to any facts
concerning your identity, residence or place of employment that could put you in
danger if you have been threatened with physical violence or intimidated by the
defendant or anyone connected with him.
To be present at any proceeding where the defendant is going to enter a
guilty plea and be sentenced. (The judge cannot accept a guilty plea unless
you are present or the prosecutor can assure the judge that every reasonable
effort has been made to contact you and notify you of your right to be present.
At the hearing, the victim has the right to present to the judge an impact
statement or any information about the criminal offense or the sentence).
To be given the date of a conviction, acquittal or dismissal of the
To be given, after a conviction, information about the function of a
pre-sentence report and the name, address and telephone number of the probation
officer preparing this report for the judge and about the right of the defendant
to view the pre-sentence report.
To make an oral or written impact statement to the probation officer
preparing the pre-sentence report for the judge. (In making his report, the
probation officer will consider the economic, physical and psychological impact
of the crime on the victim and the victim’s family).
To be present at sentencing and to give the judge an impact statement or
any information that concerns the criminal offense or the sentence.
To be informed as soon as practicable of the sentence imposed on the
· To be given the names, addresses and telephone numbers of the appropriate
agencies and departments to whom further requests for notice should be provided.
· To be given by the Attorney General’s Office or the District Attorney,
information about the status of any appellate proceeding and any appellate
decisions within five (5) business days after the status is known or the
To be told when the defendant is released, if he or she is allowed to
post bond after conviction, pending an appeal.
To be notified of any escape and subsequent recapture of the defendant.
To have any property belonging to you that was taken during the
investigation returned as soon as possible. (If the property is necessary
evidence, the prosecuting attorney may ask to be allowed to substitute
photographs where possible).
To be notified within fifteen (15) days prior to the end of the sentence
of the date the prisoner is to be released and to be notified of any medical
release or of the death of the prisoner.
To be notified that you may submit a written statement, audio or video
recording to be placed with the prisoner’s records and considered at any review
for community status of the prisoner or prior to release of the prisoner.
To be notified and allowed to submit a written or recorded statement when
any parole or pardon is to be considered.
To testify at a criminal proceeding or participate in the preparation of
the trial without any loss of employment, intimidation or threat or fear of the
loss of employment.
The person who harmed
you may not always be in custody. Sometimes the offender cannot be arrested
immediately. Later the offender may be released on bail, probation, or parole.
As a victim, there are several things you can do to protect yourself and your
family from further harm.
You can work with a
victim advocate to create a personal safety plan, a plan of action to follow if
you are victimized again or if you feel you are in danger. If you are thinking
of leaving a violent relationship, you should be aware of the increased risk of
violence when you leave. Safety plans are also wise in cases of sexual assault,
sexual abuse of a minor, stalking, and harassment. A victim advocate can help
you increase your home security or move out of the house, travel safely between
home and work, and avoid dangerous situations.
Where domestic violence
has occurred, you can request a protective order from a judge even before
criminal charges are filed. The court can order the offender not to harm,
threaten, or contact you, not to enter your home or workplace, to move out of
the house, to surrender weapons, or to participate in batterers’ intervention
programs. The court can also grant you temporary custody of your children. Forms
for requesting a protective order are available at every courthouse and through
victim organizations, and no attorney is needed to apply. If the offender
violates the protective order, call the police immediately. Keep your protective
order and safety plan with you at all times.
If the offender is
convicted, you can speak at certain hearings where the offender’s release from
custody is being considered, including bail hearings, sentencing and parole
hearings. At these hearings, you can tell the judge or the parole board why you
are afraid of the offender and what could be done to protect you. If conditions
are imposed that the offender does not follow, the offender can be arrested.
Tell the prosecutor and the Department of Corrections if you would like to be
notified about future hearings, and give them your new address if you move.
If you feel threatened
or harassed by the offender or someone associated with the offender, you should
contact the police, the prosecutor, or a victim advocate immediately. You have
the right to be protected against threats and future harm.
Crime victims and
survivors may find dealing with newspaper and television reporters very
difficult. Graphic photographs or TV footage, release of your name and address,
and aggressive attempts to interview you may distress you. If the report leaves
out information or is inaccurate, you may feel more traumatized. As a victim,
you have a right to say no to any or all contact with the media.
You should talk to the
prosecutor before talking with reporters. The defendant may be able to use your
statements to request a change of trial location if there has been too much
pretrial publicity, or you may be cross-examined on your statements at trial.
You may wish to release only a written statement through a spokesperson, after
consulting with the prosecutor.
If you agree to an
interview, you may set conditions for it, such as the time and location, the
presence of a friend or advocate, request for a certain reporter, review of
direct quotations from you before they are printed, and the type of photographs
to be used. You have the right to shield your children or other vulnerable
family members from interviews. Try to do what is best for your own peace of
If you or a family member have been a victim of a
violent crime and have financial losses resulting from the injuries that are not
covered in full by insurance or any other source, the Mississippi Crime Victim
Compensation Program may be of some assistance to you.
Victim Compensation Program provides financial assistance to victims of criminal
acts who have suffered bodily injury or death. Compensation is awarded for
medical care, rehabilitation, counseling services for the victim and the
victim's family member(s), funeral expenses, loss of wages for the victim or
claimant, and loss of support for dependents of deceased victims. Awards
payments shall not exceed Fifteen Thousand Dollars ($15,000) in the aggregate.
Additional limitations apply.
The Division of Victim
Assistance of the Mississippi Crime Victim Compensation Program can assist crime
victims with other expenses not covered by the Mississippi Crime Victim
You can get application
forms from law enforcement, district attorney offices, service providers and
hospitals. You also may contact the Crime Victim Compensation Program directly
Office Box 267, Jackson, MS 39205 or call 1-800-829-6766 or visit their website
Many crime victims find
it difficult to understand court procedures and their role in them. Others are
overwhelmed by the emotions that often accompany victimization. Luckily,
programs in Mississippi serve crime victims and their families in many ways.
They exist to help you and support you, and you should not hesitate to call
them. Go to our web-page at www.mdoc.state.ms.us and click on victim services to view listings of
local service providers throughout the state.
Many areas in
Mississippi have services for people who are victims of sexual assault, child
abuse, elder abuse and domestic violence. These agencies often have crisis
lines, emotional support, temporary shelter, and emergency assistance.
Counselors there may go with you to medical exams and court proceedings, act as
your advocate in difficult situations, help you find out court dates and case
information, help you make plans to protect yourself and your children, and
refer you to counseling and social services. These organizations often lobby for
changes in laws and court procedures to better protect the interests of crime
victims. Many have rural outreach programs to work with victims in outlying
Many social services
programs meet specific needs. Ask your victim advocate for a referral if you
think you may need alcohol or drug treatment, legal advice, mental health
counseling, job counseling, suicide prevention, help with your children,
housing, or other problems. Many of these services are free or available on a
sliding scale geared to your family’s income.
Victims of crimes may
experience a great deal of anger, survivor’s guilt, hatred, self-blame, guilt
and confusion. Your sense of trust and order may be shattered. You may
experience a wide range of feelings and behaviors and have little ability to
control your emotions at any given time.
These emotions are very
personal and may continue for months or years. Victims may experience
nightmares, insomnia, periods of uncontrolled sobbing, occasional hysterical
laughter, nausea, headaches, fatigue or a general feeling of going crazy. Family
relationships may change as individuals react differently to the trauma.
Victimization may lead to financial stress, family discord, divorce, alcoholism,
and a variety of other problems. Everyone has a different reaction and a
different timetable for healing. It is important to grieve and acknowledge the
impact of your experience.
Begin by treating
yourself with kindness and recognizing that healing happens slowly. Do not set
unrealistic expectations and do not let others set timetables or pressure you
into "getting on with your life." Do things when you are ready, not because
others are telling you to do them. It is all right to be angry, to feel sad, or
to cry. Take time to lament.
Healing can be
facilitated by telling one’s story again and again. Build a network of support
for yourself and other family members to help you get through these difficult
times, and realize you are not alone. Many others have experienced the same
problems and can help you work through your experience. You can benefit greatly
from calling one of the victim assistance organizations listed on our website at
Victims and survivors
of serious crimes can help themselves and others by turning their victimization
into a force for positive change. Many victims volunteer their time to working
in shelters, answering crisis hotlines, talking to legislators, and speaking on
victim impact panels. Your time and commitment can help the community move
toward greater justice and healing for all victims of crime.