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SCARS|RSN™ Psychology of Scams: The Trauma of Victimization

Provided by the National Center for Victims of Crimes SCARS is registered with the NCVC as an online crime victims’ assistance and support organization

Overview

The trauma of victimization is a direct reaction to the aftermath of crime. Crime victims suffer a tremendous amount of physical and psychological trauma. The primary injuries victims suffer can be grouped into three distinct categories: physical, financial and emotional. When victims do not receive the appropriate support and intervention in the aftermath of the crime, they suffer “secondary” injuries.
The physical injury suffered by victims may be as apparent as cuts, bruises, or broken arms and legs. However, it is not uncommon for victims to be fatigued, unable to sleep, or have increased or decreased appetites. Many victims believe that the stress caused by victimization endangers them to physical problems later in life. Victims and survivors suffer financially when their money or jewelry is taken when their property is damaged when their medical insurances do not cover all expenses, and when they must pay funeral costs. The primary emotional injuries of victimization cause both immediate and long-term reactions to victims, their loved ones and, sometimes, their friends.
Dr. Morton Bard, the co-author of The Crime Victim’s Book, has described a victim’s reaction to crime as the crisis reaction.1 Victims will react differently depending upon the level of personal violation they experience and their state of equilibrium at the time of victimization. Victims of non-violent crimes — such as theft — may experience less of a personal violation than victims of violent crimes, however, that is not always the case. Homicide is the ultimate violation for a crime victim and leaves behind the victim’s survivors to experience the personal violation. All people have their own “normal” state of equilibrium. This normal state is influenced by everyday stressors such as illness, moving, changes in employment, and family issues. When any one of these changes occurs, equilibrium will be altered, but should eventually return to normal.
When people experience common stressors and are then victimized, they are susceptible to more extreme crisis reactions. There are certain common underlying reactions that a victim will undergo either in the immediate hours or days after the crime. Frequent responses to criminal victimization include, but are not limited to: shock; numbness; denial; disbelief; anger; and, finally, recovery.

Tips For Coping

These are some ideas that may help you cope with the trauma or loss:
  • Find someone to talk with about how you feel and what you are going through. Keep the phone number of a good friend nearby to call when you feel overwhelmed or panicked.
  • Allow yourself to feel pain. It will not last forever.
  • Spend time with others, but make time to spend time alone.
  • Take care of your mind and body. Rest, sleep, and eat regular, healthy meals.
  • Re-establish a normal routine as soon as possible, but don’t over-do.
  • Make daily decisions, which will help to bring back a feeling of control over your life. Exercise, though not excessively and alternate with periods of relaxation.
  • Undertake daily tasks with care. Accidents are more likely to happen after severe stress.
  • Recall the things that helped you cope during trying times and loss in the past and think about the things that give you hope. Turn to them on bad days.

Shock And Numbness

Shock and numbness are usually considered a part of the initial stage of the crisis reaction. Victims are faced with a situation beyond their control, and some may almost immediately go into shock and become disoriented for a while.
Victims may experience what is referred to as the “fight or flight” syndrome. The “fight or flight” syndrome is a basic automatic physiological response that individuals have no control over. Because many victims do not understand this response, and their lack of control over it, they do not understand why they fled instead of fought, and vice versa. A woman who takes a self-defense course may blame herself when confronted with an attacker because she is unable to put into practice what she has learned. A man may be criticized, or not believe if he did not fight back when confronted. To question a victim’s response to a criminal incident is to inflict a second injury on that crime victim and can cause emotional harm.
In many instances, physical and emotional paralyzes occur whereby the victim is unable to make rational decisions such as reporting the incident to the police or obtaining medical attention. The individual loses control, feels vulnerable, lonely, and confused; the sense of self-becomes invalidated.

Denial, Disbelief, And Anger

In this phase, the victims’ moods will fluctuate. As Steven Berglas states in his article “Why Did This Happen to Me?”, victims almost always think, “This could not have happened to me!” or “Why did this happen to me?” Many will replay the disturbing event by dreaming, having nightmares or even fantasies about killing or causing bodily harm to the offender.2 Survivors or homicide victims may even express anger at their loved one, believing that if the victim had done something differently, he or she would not have been killed. During this period, victims must contend with a variety of stressful emotions, such as fear, despair, self-pity, and even guilt and shame for their anger and hostility.

Recovery

If victims are to recover from the traumatic event, it is crucial that they are provided with the proper support during the initial impact stage and throughout the criminal justice process. Immediate crisis intervention is needed. Trained crisis intervenors should inquire about the victim’s welfare by asking if they feel safe, assurin