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Beating the Burglary Blues

Focuses on the psychological aftermath of a burglary. Victims' lack of a feeling of security and inviolability; Psychiatrist Billie Corder's interviews with burglary victims; Rape metaphor; Impact on children.

Having your home robbed is admittedly less traumatic than, say, dodging bullets from an AK-47. But the psychological aftermath of a break-in can be surprisingly intense.

"The majority of victims say they will never have the same feeling of security and inviolability that they had in the past," reports Billie Corder, Ed.D., a psychiatrist at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.

In interviews with 68 burglary victims, Corder found that half described the experience as feeling "like a violation or rape." The rape metaphor, used even by some men, may sound melodramatic. But for the study's middle-class subjects, most previously untouched by crime, the fact that a stranger violated the sanctity of their abode was unnerving.

The feelings of violation led several women to wash all of their clothes after a burglar had rummaged through them. One laundered everything three times. And in a third of adults, sleeplessness and anxiety lingered four or more months after the break-in.

But kids were especially shaken by the experience. One first-grader began hiding favorite toys before leaving for school each day.

Corder and colleagues Jillayne Hollifield, Ph.D., and Thomas Haizlip, M.D.--all burglary victims themselves--teamed with police to develop a program to reduce burglary trauma. Most subsequent victims say the new approach--combining police sensitivity with informational pamphlets--is helpful. That's good news, because few burglary victims ever recover their stolen possessions. But at least now they'll get back a little peace of mind.