With over 1.2 million violent crimes committed in America during 2010 (FBI’s Uniform Crime Report) chances are that you will meet or know someone that was a victim of a violent crime. For those of you that like numbers, that is about 1 in every 250 Americans was a victim of a violent crime last year! So if you don’t know someone this year, it will be soon. So what to do? And how can you help someone else?
When you get around a crime victim, you will be more afraid then they are. You are going to be petrified that you will say the wrong thing, at the wrong time, and hurt this person again. Feel a little at ease, you just being there physically is an amazing help. The other help is listening to their story. The more hurt that person is, the more they will relive the crime over and over again. Talking about it almost always helps, but only when ready. Everyone will be ready at different times, so don’t push it. Just be there.
I did find out what not to do when I worked as an armored car guard in California. It was years ago when K-mart was huge. There was a crew of two men robbing K-marts before the store opened. The day after the store was robbed, I talked to the store manager. She was in her 40s, about 5’5” and maybe 100 pounds. I had talked to her a couple of times and knew her name and who she was. Over the next couple of days of normal work, she gave me the entire story.
It was before the store was open and the front door was locked. A guy with a K-mart uniform on came to the front door knocking. One of the employees opened the door. The guy said he was from another store and was sent to help. The employee let the guy in and locked the door behind him. The store manager knew that there was no one coming. She walked over there just in time to have the guy pull a gun. He told her to open the door and let his friend in. She opened the door for him, and when the guy stuck his head out to call to his friend, she pushed him outside and locked the door behind him. The guy was yelling at her to open the door, but she said “No. If you want in, you will have to shoot me.” And she turned and walked away.
The store manager locked herself and employees in the back and called the police. These two criminals had been robbing K-marts and getting more violent. They would get in, have the manager open the safe, and leave the employees tied up.
These criminals were having a bad day, after being kicked out of the store by a girl, their car wouldn’t start. The police found them a couple blocks away, still in the fake K-mart outfits. At first glance, it seemed that the store manager put herself and other employees in unnecessary danger, but that would be wrong.
This lady was a complete wreck after the crime. She was afraid to go out, afraid to go to work, and afraid that the criminals would come back for her. When the police showed up to take the report, they told her how badly she put herself and others in danger. Then when she had to report what happened to her boss, K-mart told her how badly she messed up and that they might take “corrective action” for violating K-mart’s policy of capitulation during a robbery. Her friends, family, and employees told her much the same thing.
She was completely blown away when I told her, good job. She couldn’t believe I said something so much different. I just broke it down for her. I wasn’t there and I don’t know what was going to happen. She was there, made a decision, and acted on it. I told her that she did exactly the right thing in this situation. Her actions worked, no one was hurt, there was no loss to the company, and the bad guys were caught by the police. How could it get any better than that? I could see her relax a little and start to feel better.
Personally I have found that Post Traumatic Stress sucks. When I came back from Iraq the first time I had nightmares and I couldn’t be in a crowd. What haunted me the most wasn’t what happened but my mind wondering about what could have happened. My dream would start with what happened and quickly go down a rabbit hole of what could have gone wrong. I saw everything from my own death, becoming a POW, and my entire unit being wiped out.
I can only imagine how much harder it would have been for me to come all the way home if someone had told me how I had been wrong, and that everything I did was wrong. Even though all my Marines came back and we accomplished our mission, I can’t fathom how much worse it could have been for me.
So the only thing you can do wrong when talking to a victim of a violent crime is Monday morning quarterbacking their actions. Just be there for them and let them talk about what happened when they want to.