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SCARS™ Special Report: From Pain to Power – Crime Victims Take Action

The following is from a report by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office for Victims of Crime [Edited]

Please note: The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this document are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice or the Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc. It is presented (edited) to help victims better understand the context of victimization. Some sections have been omitted since they do not reflect our focus or because they have become dated.

SCARS’ Introduction

The following helps crime victims understand the broad context of what it means to be a victim of a crime and how working to create change can occur.

The Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc. [SCARS] was created out of just such a need and has now been operating for years to support scam victims worldwide. Most of this document was written about victims of violence, but it also provides a broader understanding of the views of victims’ assistance providers and the United States government which can be helpful in helping victims develop a more complete understanding.

The roles described below are services being provided by SCARS and we stand ready to help all victims of cyber-enabled crime worldwide.

(Original) Foreword

Across America, victims of crime have turned their agony into activism. Many have found that participating in community service— helping other victims and initiating crime prevention and awareness programs—contributes significantly to their own healing. These victims include extraordinary people such as Marilyn Smith, who founded a comprehensive victim service program in Seattle for deaf and deaf-blind victims of sexual assault after trying unsuccessfully to find services herself as a deaf sexual assault victim; Azim Khamisa, who joined with the grandfather of the 14 year-old gang member who murdered his son to provide gang prevention programs in San Diego schools; and the many parents who came together after their children were killed by drunk drivers to support Mothers Against Drunk Driving in its successful efforts to strengthen laws, provide victim impact classes, and educate the public about the devastating impact of this crime.

This monograph chronicles ways in which many crime victims are channeling their pain into helping others, improving their communities, and healing themselves at the same time. It describes opportunities for victims who want to become active and makes important recommendations for victim service programs regarding ways to involve victims in community service.

The monograph was written by Victim Services, a New York City-based program that is the largest victim assistance provider in the nation. The monograph is part of a larger document entitled New Directions From the Field: Victims’ Rights and Services for the 21st Century, a comprehensive report and set of recommendations on victims’ rights and services from and concerning virtually every community involved with crime victims across the nation.

Crime victims themselves have a critical role to play in the nation’s response to violence and victimization. The purpose of this monograph is to foster increased collaboration between victims, service providers, and policymakers to ensure justice and healing for all victims of crime.

Kathryn M. Turman, Acting Director, Office for Victims of Crime


“Pain falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom.”

—Agamemnon, Aeschylus

(Original) Introduction:  Two Stories

In 1985, Ralph Hubbard’s 23-year-old son was shot and killed in New York City. After years of feeling angry, frustrated and powerless, Hubbard resolved to help other families work through their suffering. In a Victim Services support group for families of homicide victims in New York, he began to speak out, telling his family’s story to the police, criminal justice officials, social service providers, and the public. He found that telling others what his family had gone through helped him cope with his pain and anger and inspired other victims to address their feelings. He started a self-help group for men who had lost family members to violence. He also became an adviser to New York’s Crime Victims’ Board, vice president of Justice For All, a victims’ rights advocacy group, and a board member of the National Organization for Victim Assistance. A leading spokesperson for victims’ rights in New York State, Hubbard feels no less compelled to be an advocate for victims ten years after his son’s murder: “It’s something I need to do. This is therapeutic for me.”

The Trauma of Violence Leaves Its Mark

Long after the physical wounds have healed, many crime victims continue to feel overwhelmed by the psychic pain of loss, powerlessness, low self-esteem, isolation, fear, rage – feelings that often are shared by their family and friends, as well as by the extended community.

From the ashes of criminal violence, victims and their families are struggling to rebuild their communities, as well as their own lives. Through community activism, individuals like Ralph Hubbard and Tom McDermott are transforming their pain into power, helping change society, and healing themselves in the process. Moving from the personal to the political, they work to correct causes of crime that are systemic, such as poverty, racism, sexism, the culture of violence, and easy access to guns; to hold those who commit crimes accountable, and to enact victim-sensitive reforms and programs. As the crime victims’ movement enters its third decade, advocates should look for ways to nurture victims’ desires to help others by providing educational and organizational opportunities for community action.

Without intervention, victims can become chronically dysfunctional — afraid to venture out at night, unable to work productively, alienated from neighbors and friends, distrustful of police and courts, and overly dependent on social services. Their withdrawal from life hurts their families and weakens the fabric of the community.

Individual counseling and practical assistance help people deal with the psychological aftermath of crime and reconstruct a sense of equilibrium. When crime victims move from their personal experiences to a broader social analysis and to activism, they can also aid their own recovery from the trauma of victimization. Recognizing or addressing the social conditions that lead to violence and victimization is important. Helping other victims, working to change laws, or mobilizing violence prevention initiatives can help victims and survivors regain a sense of control and channel their fear and rage into efforts for reform.

The history of grassroots efforts in other movements shows that community activism can be a powerful catalyst for social change. Individual stakeholders—those whose lives were directly affected by the movement’s cause—have brought about landmark reforms. The movements for civil rights, elder rights, welfare, environmental protection, and AIDS research and treatment have been spearheaded by those directly affected by the issues. Like crime victim activism, each of these movements arose from victimizing conditions of neglect, persecution, or marginalization; and the involvement of “victimized” individuals legitimized the cause.

A crucial step toward activism may be the individual’s self-identification as a member of a group victimized by particular social conditions. Yet within the crime victims’ and battered women’s movements, the “victim” label remains controversial. Some believe it is a stigmatizing label that hinders recovery and reinforces society’s perception of victims as helpless, hopeless, and dependent. Others see it as an empowering identification that promotes connection with others and spurs community involvement.

The impetus for community involvement and political empowerment often comes from victims themselves or from their families and friends. Victim Services’ Families of Homicide Victims program initially offered individual counseling. By talking with each other, participants found they were not alone in their suffering and could give each other valuable affirmation and support. They formed a self-help group, which provided the first real sense of community since their tragedies. When members wanted to become more politically active, the group spun-off as an independent organization. Those who wanted to help other survivors were trained to work with Victim Services staff as group co-facilitators. More recently, members have become involved in crime prevention. One participant who lost three sons to violence started an afterschool program for at-risk youth.

The Impact of Crime

Crime victims often suffer a broad range of psychological and social injuries that persist long after their physical wounds have healed. Intense feelings of anger, fear, isolation, low self-esteem, helplessness, and depression are common reactions.4 Like combat veterans, crime victims may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, including recurrent memories of the incident, sleep disturbances, feelings of alienation, emotional numbing, and other anxiety-related symptoms. Janoff-Bulman suggests that victimization can shatter basic assumptions about the self and the world which individuals need in order to function normally in their daily lives—that they are safe from harm, that the world is meaningful and just, and that they are good, decent people.5 This happens not only to victims of violent assaults but also to victims of robbery and burglary6 and to their friends and family.7 Herman has suggested that “survivors of prolonged, repeated trauma,” such as battered women and abused children, often suffer what she calls “complex post-traumatic stress disorder,” which can manifest as severe “personality changes, including deformations of relatedness and identity [which make them] particularly vulnerable to repeated harm, both self-inflicted and at the hands of others.”8

The emotional damage and social isolation caused by victimization also may be compounded by a lack of support, and even stigmatization, from friends, family and social institutions, that can become a “second wound” for the victim. Those closest to the victim may be traumatized by the crime in ways that make them unsupportive of the victim’s needs. Davis, Taylor and Bench found that close friends and family members, particularly of a victim of sexual assault, sometimes withdraw from and blame the victim.9

Crime victims must also contend with society’s tendency to blame them for the crime, which compounds the trauma of the event. To protect their belief in a just world where people get what they deserve, and to distance themselves from the possibility of random or uncontrollable injury, many prefer to see victims as somehow responsible for their fate.10 The lack of support for victims trying to recover from a crime can exacerbate the psychological harm caused by victimization and make recovery even more difficult.

When victims do seek help, they may be treated with insensitivity. They may feel ignored or even revictimized by the criminal justice process, which has traditionally been more concerned with the rights of the accused than with the rights and needs of the victim. Family members of homicide victims in particular may feel left out of the justice process. When one woman whose child had been murdered asked to be informed as the case progressed, she was asked, “Why do you want to know? You’re not involved in the case.”

Benefits of Community Involvement

Community involvement can help victims overcome feelings of low self-esteem, isolation, powerlessness, fear, and anger. The process of connecting with others, confronting and overcoming real-life challenges, striving for justice, and giving something back to the community can provide recovery benefits not achieved solely by traditional counseling or therapy.

[SCARS NOTE: in the following sections it will be talking about victim initiated peer to peer support groups. It is important to remember that all such groups have obligations of care and limitations in what they can offer. Far too often amateur groups go far beyond what is effective, safe, or legal in their groups. In the case of traumatized scam victims, peer to peer groups have to be tempered with profess