Family and friends can suddenly be called upon to provide support for people affected by crime.
It can be hard to know how to act or what to say during such a traumatic time. You may also be feeling upset, knowing what has happened to someone you care about.
Understanding reactions to traumatic events like crime
When someone experiences a crime, it can be very traumatic. Understanding common emotions and physical reactions that people often go through can be helpful when you are supporting someone – you can read more about the effects of crime.
It is important to remember that everyone’s reaction is different and that some people will be affected more seriously than others.
After a crime, victims can have trouble taking in new information and may be easily overwhelmed. They may need to ask the same question more than once and some information or decisions may need to wait until things are more settled. With their permission, you may be able to help by taking note of important contact details for services and gathering information or documents they may need later.
In some cases, particularly for serious crimes, the justice process can last for many years. For some victims, each new stage such as an offender being charged, having to go to court or the offender being released from prison, can bring up old memories. The victim may need extra support at these times.
What you can do to provide support
- Believe them.
- Spend time with them.
- Listen attentively.
- Tell them you’re sorry to hear about what happened, and that you want to help them.
- Help them feel safe.
- Help them with everyday tasks, like cleaning, cooking, caring for family and childcare, to give them some private time.
What to avoid when offering support
- Do not be afraid to ask questions and to explore the issues.
- Do not take angry outbursts personally.
- Do not say things like “lucky it wasn’t worse” or “just get on with your life”.
- Do not say things that imply it was their fault, for example “What were you doing there at that time anyway?” or “You will know not to do that again!”.
- Do not be impatient – different people recover at different rates.
Like adults, children have physical and emotional reactions that they’re not always able to express.
Children often experience feelings of guilt and find it difficult to tell anyone about the crime. They might have witnessed family violence and are too scared to tell anyone about what’s going on at home.
If they do tell an adult and are not believed or supported, they may carry the hurt through to adult life.
Children who suffer trauma may:
- have nightmares or problems sleeping
- wet the bed
- behave like they did at an earlier age
- eat too much or too little
- cling to adults
- become withdrawn or fear being alone
- have headaches
- fight with friends
- lose concentration.
Children often need professional help to recover after a crime.
There are specialist services available for children including:
- Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Units within Victoria Police (contact your local police station to find one in your area)
- Child Witness Service for children and young people who need to give evidence at court.
- Supporting someone experiencing domestic and family violence – 1800RESPECT
- Guide for families, friends and neighbours – Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria
- Sexual violence and offering support – 1800RESPECT
- Family & friends – Victorian Centres Against Sexual Assault
- Living with grief when you have lost someone to crime – Victims of Crime
- Grief – how to support the bereaved – Better Health Channel
Dealing with the justice system
Dealing with criminal justice services like the police and courts can be stressful, particularly at a time when victims are already upset.
In most circumstances, victims can have a support person to help them when they report crime, go to court or have other contact with services. This is always a decision for the victim, but you may be able to help by asking them what kind of support they want.
You can use this website to learn more about:
- how the justice system works in Victoria and what to expect
- how to get help after experiencing different crimes.
Reporting a crime
If anyone is in immediate danger or a crime is currently occurring, please call police on Triple Zero (000).
You can find out more about:
What if the victim does not want to report the crime?
Some victims may choose not to report a crime. It is important to understand that, particularly with crimes such as family violence or sexual assault, the decision to report some crimes can be a very difficult one.
Sometimes, it is not always clear if the behaviour that is going on is a crime. For example, with some situations of family violence or stalking, there may not be any direct physical violence, but rather a pattern of behaviours that makes a person feel unsafe. A victim may need to document what is going on and may ask family and friends to record any examples of behaviour that may be part of the problem.
Even if someone does not want or is not ready to report a crime, they can still get help. Victims services can help by:
- providing information about options for reporting a crime
- explaining steps victims can take to improve their personal safety
- connecting the victim to appropriate counselling or medical services
- providing advice on eligibility for financial or other types of assistance.
Where possible, it is best to encourage a victim to contact services themselves. This way advice and support can be provided to meet their needs and protect their privacy.
Looking after yourself
If you have a close friend or loved one that you are supporting following a serious crime, it can be very challenging – particularly if the effects of the crime go on for a long time.
It is important, while offering support, to remember to look after yourself. If you need counselling or other support services you can get help.
Victims of Crime Helpline
The national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service offering a phone and an online chat service including for people supporting loved ones:
Mental health care plan – see your General Practitioner
If you need assistance, you can see a General Practitioner and discuss your situation. You may be eligible for a mental health care plan that will assist with the cost of counselling.
Applying for financial assistance from VOCAT
In some cases, people who have been seriously affected by a violent crime committed against a family member or loved one may be eligible as a secondary or related victim to apply for financial assistance from the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal (VOCAT).
Information about an offender’s sentence
Family members of someone who has been hurt or died as the result of a violent crime can apply to go on to the Victims Register if the offender is sentenced to prison in Victoria.
The register can give you some information about the offender’s sentence, such as when they are due to be released from prison.