10 Things to Do When Your Loved One May Be a Crime Victim

Coping under extreme stress

Posted Jun 17, 2016

It seems there is not much practical information available about what to do if your loved one may be a victim of a crime, like a mass shooting. Unfortunately ambush attacks seem to be happening with more frequency. I'm going to be very direct in this post, because you probably want to just hear the basics. Crisis has a way of whittling things down to just "need to know" information. Here's what I have learned as a psychotherapist that specializes in trauma, PTSD, and vicarious trauma, and from working with families who have encountered severe trauma.   

1. Assume the best until if or when you have definite confirmation of the worst. 

If you have not heard from your loved one or know they were in the vicinity of a crime, like a shooting, it is very easy for your mind to go to dark places. However, the chances of your loved one actually being killed in a mass shooting or being the victim of another crime or tragedy are still very low. They are much more likely to be killed in a car accident or even struck by lightning. Pray, meditate, do whatever you feel is best to get some sense of comfort, hope, or peace. Even a little helps.  

2. Do not post your loved one’s location on social media during an active shooting scene.

Luckily, in the age of smartphones, people can let their family know if they are okay, and may even say their location. However, criminals (including shooters) have access to social media just like the rest of us, and can learn hiding locations through this medium. First, let the police know the location of your loved one. If you need to notify family and friends via social media, a short “John has checked in” should suffice. 

3. Appoint a trusted friend, family member, or an attorney as a family representative. 

The media will contact you – have any requests screened through your family representative. In studies of families coping with tragedy, having a family representative in charge helped reduce feelings of trauma for the loved one's family. 

4. Contact an attorney.

An attorney can tell you and your loved one’s legal rights, let you know your rights in regards to hospital access to your loved one, and also can act as your family’s representative when the media come calling. 

5. Turn off the news and police scanner.

Studies have found you can traumatize yourself by watching repeated media coverage of a tragedy. You can become especially traumatized when you feel helpless in the face of tragedy, and watching news coverage can reinforce that. It may be very difficult to not watch or listen to what is going on, but you run the risk of traumatizing yourself further.   

6. Take advantage of crisis counseling services.

Many crisis centers have specially-trained counseling staff, and are available free of charge. Take advantage of these services. Then follow up with a counselor afterwards. There are counselors who offer sliding scale services – you pay based on your income. Consider looking for counselors who specialize in trauma, grief, and loss.  

7. Have someone with you at all times. 

Do not stay home alone. This time of crisis can be very isolating. It is important you have someone at home with you – or stay at his or her home instead. If you need access to your home phone line, you can temporarily forward your home phone number to a friend’s house. 

8. Do not go to the scene of the crime.

The feeling of wanting to go to the scene of a shooting can be overwhelmingly strong. While you may feel like you can help or look for your loved one, you are putting yourself at risk and possibly impeding first responders. 

9. Keep up your regular routine as much as possible.

Keeping up your routine as much as you can provides some sense of structure and normalcy in an incredibly stressful time. Self-care is very important during this time - make sure you are eating enough, and if you need help getting to sleep, contact your doctor. Not getting enough sleep can make crisis situations feel much worse.  

10.  There is no "right" way to do this. 

People may tell you that you should or shouldn't do certain things. Trust your gut. Do what you think is in your and your loved one's best interest.  What works for one family may not work for another, and vice versa.  

Take care of yourself, and I wish you peace.  

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