Losing a loved one to crime may be the most painful and confronting experience you can go through.
At the start, you might feel shocked, angry or confused. A common reaction is feeling numb, and not believing that this has happened to you. Some people describe having an ‘out of body’ experience, or trouble coping with the little things of day to day life.
Later, some people can experience depression or anxiety.
This page explains some of the processes that may happen when a sudden or unexpected death occurs, and has information about living with grief.
The first 24-48 hours
Police investigate cases of sudden and unexpected death. They may be the first people you talk to, and are a key contact and information source.
You have a right to be treated with respect by the police.
- give you clear information about the services available to help you
- connect you with support services if you would like to use them
- ask how you would like to be kept updated about the investigation.
The Coroners Court of Victoria (external link) investigates certain types of death. If this happens, the Coroner’s Court will give you information about what they do and what will happen next.
At first, local police may be involved as they will probably be the first at the scene. In a road traffic incident involving death or serious injury, the Major Collision Investigation Unit will investigate. In a suspected homicide, detectives from the homicide squad will conduct the investigation.
At first, family members will speak with several different police officers. Once a team is formed by police, a senior investigator will keep you updated on the progress of the investigation.
Keeping you informed
You have a right to be kept informed by the police about how the investigation is going. It’s important to understand that this doesn’t mean that police can give you all the details about suspects, witnesses or evidence.
Sometimes, police may not be able to provide family members with certain information because it could put the investigation at risk.
If you would prefer not to hear any information about the investigation at all, let the police know.
The senior investigator will contact you during the investigation. From time to time, team members may contact you or other family members to collect information and take witness statements.
Once enough evidence is collected to charge someone, the senior investigator will be your key contact to get information about the court case.
The coroner's investigation
The coroner must try to establish the physical cause and circumstances of death. If the death leads to a criminal investigation, the police will provide the coroner with their findings. This, together with the results of any inquest, will form the basis of the coroner's report. If the case goes to court, the coroner will usually wait for the court case to end before finishing their report.
Going to court
After the police have charged an offender, the Office of Public Prosecutions (OPP) is notified and the charges are filed in court.
The OPP will:
- organise a solicitor for the case
- give you contact details for the OPP
- put you in touch with their Witness Assistance Service (external link).
As the case progresses, the OPP solicitor will keep you updated.
See Going to court for more information about what to expect at court, or watch the video below to hear about the court experience from other people who have lost a loved one to crime.
Dealing with the media
The media are often interested in crime-related deaths. It’s your choice if you want to speak to the media about your loved one.
The Police will not release the name of your loved one without the consent of the next of kin, but the media may still be able to identify someone by:
- speaking to people who may have been at the scene
- searching on social media sites
- finding a death notice in a newspaper.
Media attention can add to your family’s distress by reducing your privacy and making your grief public.
You don’t have to share your grief or any information about your loved one with the media.
You can choose not to deal with the media at all, but this won’t stop the media talking to other people about your loved one. It may mean that you lose your say about what is published.
Agreeing to talk to the media can have benefits, such as:
- ensuring what is reported about your loved one is accurate
- helping the investigation by asking people to come forward with information
- raising public awareness and helping other victims by sharing your thoughts and feelings about the type of crime involved.
Developing a plan and deciding early on what you are comfortable with sharing will help you avoid upsetting or intrusive media situations. Police can help you develop this plan for dealing with the media.
Living with grief
Grief is a normal, natural and inevitable response to losing someone close to you.
It can affect your:
- thoughts and feelings
- physical health
- relationships with others.
Grief is a very personal experience. You may find that your family members or friends react to the situation differently to you. This is normal, everybody deals with grief in different ways.
Grief doesn’t have a set timeline. Most people feel grief over an extended period of time.
With the support of family and friends, most people find ways to learn to live with loss. For some people, it’s helpful to seek professional support.
Bereaved family members talk about loss and grief.
Each of these people in these films have lost a loved one to crime. We hope that what they've shared about their experience can help you through this difficult time.
Learn more about grief
The Victorian Government’s Better Health Channel has more detailed information about grief:
- Grief explained (external link)
- How to help a bereaved person in the first few days (external link)
- Talking to children about loss and grief (external link)
Services that can help
Victims of Crime Helpline
The Victorian Government’s Victims of Crime Helpline offers information, advice and support for you and your family.
Contacting the helpline is the first step to get a range of free services to help you manage the effects of crime.
Open 8am-11pm every day
Call 1800 819 817
Text 0427 767 891
Anonymous telephone counselling service providing support to people who are experiencing loss and grief.
Open 12pm-3am every day
Call 1300 845 745
The Compassionate Friends Victoria
Supporting parents, brothers, sisters and grandparents after the death of a child at any age.
Call 1800 641 091
www.compassionatefriendsvictoria.org.au (external link)