Victim/Offender Trauma Bond: The 15 Elements of the Crime Victim Detour

Victim/Offender Trauma Bond

The 15 Elements of the Crime Victim Detour

Scam & Financial Fraud Victimization

A SCARS Insight

Understanding Victims of Crime and Their Need to Deal with the Victim/Offender Trauma Bond and the 15 Elements of the Crime Victim Detour

This article is based upon a paper by Wilma Derksen, presented in a plenary session at “Restoring Community in a Disconnected World Part 2,” the IIRP”s 12th International Institute for Restorative Practices World Conference, October 21-23, 2008, Bethlehem, PA, USA. We appreciate the opportunity to present this as related to scam victims.


In the late 1980s, when I was directing the program development of a group called Family Survivors of Homicide, we discovered that there was a dearth of information regarding crime victimization and especially homicide. The information that we did find was often misleading and minimizing. So we did our own journeying. In hindsight, I find the journey itself to be informative.

At first, the group gravitated toward grief literature. Because we were mainly parents of murdered children, we companioned with a cousin group called “Compassionate Friends” and found their rituals and understanding of grief truly outstanding. We emulated their program and invited various grief counselors to come and speak to the group. We were taught the stages of grief from almost every discipline and perspective, all of which was helpful.

But it wasn’t enough. After spending the first part of our biweekly evenings on our inner journeys we would always end up discussing the offender. At one point, one of our members went to see the young man who had killed her son. We were intrigued. She led us through the journey of what would now be called “restorative justice encounters,” where we began to spend time trying to understand the offender and the trauma bond that binds us.

One thing became clear; for us to find our way back to health after encountering serious crime we needed to become our own experts in every field.

The exploration of the Crime Victim Detour will explain why a violent crime has such catastrophic impact on victims and why restorative justice will look different through the eyes of a crime victim.

Statement About Victim Blaming

Some of our articles discuss various aspects of victims. This is both about better understanding victims (the science of victimology) and their behaviors and psychology. This helps us to educate victims/survivors about why these crimes happened and to not blame themselves, better develop recovery programs, and to help victims avoid scams in the future. At times this may sound like blaming the victim, but it does not blame scam victims, we are simply explaining the hows and whys of the experience victims have.

These articles, about the Psychology of Scams or Victim Psychology – meaning that all humans have psychological or cognitive characteristics in common that can either be exploited or work against us – help us all to understand the unique challenges victims face before, during, and after scams, fraud, or cybercrimes. These sometimes talk about some of the vulnerabilities the scammers exploit. Victims rarely have control of them or are even aware of them, until something like a scam happens and then they can learn how their mind works and how to overcome these mechanisms.

Articles like these help victims and others understand these processes and how to help prevent them from being exploited again or to help them recover more easily by understanding their post-scam behaviors. Learn more about the Psychology of Scams at

Introduction to Scam Victims

Just as had been found in the case of other crimes, this directly applies to the experience of scam or online financial fraud victims. Scam victims experience all of the same factors as victims of violent crimes. The obvious reason for this is the nature of deceptive romance or relationship scams where the victim is so closely connected with the criminals that engage in the fraud (though the victim does not know it).

Scam victims develop a close bond with the criminal(s), to the extent that in their mind it is indistinguishable from a real relationship (though of course, we know it is not.) The result is that as the crime is discovered and the reality of the situation is revealed, the scam victim experiences much the same trauma as a victim of rape, domestic abuse, or assault. It is important to remember that scam victims do not consent to being scammed, just in the same way the rape victims do not consent to being violated either. The result is that romance scams especially are a violation and a crime of violence.

The result of this is that scam victims find it extremely difficult to stay the course to recovery and more often than not succumb to the Crime Victim Detour.

These are the issues that they need to face:

15 Elements of the Crime Victim Detour

1. Story Fragmentation

The reaction to something as horrific as a violation such as in a romance scam is shock, numbness, and disconnection. This fragmented state shows itself first in a victim’s inability to find the words to describe in a cohesive way what happened. The inability to find words at this time is critical.

Because victims have difficulty describing what happened, they will deal with this frustration in various ways. They might suppress their story and refuse to talk about it to the point where they will avoid people or places that demand an explanation. Others might obsess about telling their story to everyone they meet.

Those who tell their stories might have obvious inconsistencies in their stories. The stories might lack chronological cohesion or reflect defensiveness. It is not uncommon for victims to lapse into lengthy descriptions of simple concepts, be overcome with emotion during certain parts of their story or fumble for words.

Some victims will stick only to facts in their story and express no feelings; others might dramatize emotions with few facts; others might find more creative ways to express their story.

2. Terror Trauma

Fear that can be empowering in normal circumstances can be so overwhelming after a romance scam that, instead of being a positive reaction, it will incapacitate and disorient victims of these crimes. When victims are assaulted with enormous fears of every kind — fear of theats being carried out, fear of physical safety, fear of the perpetrator’s retaliation, fear of abandonment by friends or family, fear of their own emotions, fear of shame, fear of memories, fear of pain, fear of fear itself — the intensity of the fear will show itself in severe physical, mental and emotional traumatization.

Because of the severe panic and terror reaction to these crimes, victims will often have an obvious physical response to the crime after it is discovered. The resulting state of physical hyperarousal might show itself in an adrenaline rush, accelerated heart rate, hot flashes or chills, frequent urination, nausea, and other exaggerated startle responses. The terror trauma could also affect victims’ behavior and lifestyle. They might complain about having trouble eating, sleeping, remembering small details, or concentrating. They might insist on Band-Aid symbols of safety, such as aligning with anti-scam hate groups and allowing anger to restore equilibrium. They might also want to adjust their lifestyle to provide more comfort, such as keeping their lights on, building a fence around their yard, insisting on not being left alone, becoming overprotective of other members of the family or other victims, and being reluctant to leave any place deemed as safe.

3. Grief Displacement

The losses of a romance scam – in terms of the fake relationship and money (if any was lost) need to be processed and grieved. However, since the grieving process is one of vulnerability, pain, and sadness, it is common for the victim who is already feeling unsafe to want to avoid this process. The persistent exposure to anti-scam hate messaging can also threaten to overshadow the necessary grieving process. Unprocessed grief will then find its expression in other less healthy forms, such as anger, rage, and psychological disorders such as Savior Syndrome (or others.)

Because issues surrounding a romance scam often overshadow the initial sense of loss resulting from the crime, victims might avoid acknowledging the losses and resist the mourning process. Unresolved grief will find its expression in other ways. It might show itself in related forms of emotions such as exaggerated fear and anger responses, in unnatural forms of connections and associations, or in extreme forms of suppression, avoidance, and forgetfulness. It might show itself in confused emotional responses; for example, there might be no tears or an excessive amount of tears shed in unusual times or places.

4. Time/Memory Warp

Violence robs crime victims of control of their lives, and without a doubt, a romance scam is a form of violence. The resulting inner chaos can disturb the inner controls of victims’ minds and sense of time to the point where they might feel as if they are going crazy (but they are not.) This can rob them of the ability to process events as they are happening, manage their lives, dream creatively, plan in advance or make decisions.

Because of the loss of control, victims might experience a sense of overwhelming chaos created by this crime. The loss of the ability to organize their thoughts or process their lives systematically will leave them feeling as if they have lost their minds (referred to as Cognitive Dissonance.)

Often they will complain about having difficulty remembering details such as names, times, or places. Losing control of a sense of time might show itself as being obsessed with the past, being unconcerned about the present, and having no thought of the future. If they feel that the present time is meaningless, they will have difficulty with very practical life-management issues, like meeting time commitments, paying their bills on time, or accomplishing tasks with deadlines.

5. Spiritual Crisis

Encountering violence will often leave a victim feeling insecure about his or her spiritual beliefs and understanding of a Higher Power. The criminal violation of society’s moral code and social contract calls into question the order and control of the entire universe and the creator of that universe.

Because these crimes often force crime victims to reevaluate their entire spiritual value system, they are forced to ask the questions like “Why me?” in terms of their place in this universe. “What was the purpose of this? What do I need to learn? What did I do wrong?” These questions often result in guilt feelings or feelings of disloyalty.

During this time, victims might talk about their inner spirituality and describe feeling disconnected, empty, purposeless, dried up, exhausted internally, old and thirsty. They might use desert language (in other words, speaking about the world as though devoid of life.).

6. Identity Devastation

The experience of romance scams reorders the “self” of the victim. The values, interests, lifestyle, attitudes, and habits are so drastically altered that a victim can become unrecognizable after one of these crimes. Stigmatization resulting from the tendency of society to want to “blame the victim” can also cause the victim to question his or her identity, status, and worth.

Because crime causes a radical change in the status, values, and habits of the crime victim, victims might feel alienated and different. They might complain that everyone has changed, that their friends are no longer sympathetic. They might appear hypersensitive to the criticism or disapproval of others (including those trying to help and support them.) They may talk about insecurities, loss of confidence, and lack of self-esteem. Some victims will show reckless behavior that reflects a lack of regard for themselves or others, such as reconnecting with scammers or disregard for their online safety. They may change the way they drive or involve other activities that could be dangerous. They might be reluctant to become involved in social situations. Family relationships will be shifting and changing too.

7. Disabling Harm

The breaking of the law, which is designed to protect the rights and freedoms of every individual, causes immeasurable harm to the victim of the crime. Even in comparatively less severe crimes, victims can still be seriously violated mentally, physically, emotionally or spiritually. Continuing losses resulting from the crime, such as marriage failure, job loss, financial limitations, and social dysfunction, can also continue to disable the victim from continuing his or her life as before. Thus the question of who is going to cover the cost of the losses and help the victim recover from the harm is an important expectation of the justice-making process. However, often victims are unable to choose or differentiate real assistance (such as SCARS) from that of amateurs and pretenders due to their desperation.

Because of the accumulated physical, emotional, and spiritual harm caused by romance or relationship scams, victims feel that there needs to be some recognition of these losses, preferably through recovery or compensation, perhaps indirectly through healing or rehabilitation programs, or at the very least through a sincere apology from the scammers which will never happen. This need for recognition of the loss might force them to demand restitution even if the process of gaining compensation is more emotionally draining or more expensive than the actual loss. They will often say, “Someone has to pay.” Because of the initial loss, they will vehemently resent losing even one day at work to be present in court. They will resent having to pay for counseling or any kind of rehabilitation when these expenses are a result of a crime. They may even resent having to spend any time recovering at all.

8. Blame/Guilt Confusion

The first instinct of a victim is to identify the primary cause of the harm. However, the cause of the violation is not always apparent or easily identified; this can lead to “blame confusion.” It is the nature of this blaming process to choose a cause that is non-threatening, accessible, and convenient, which can lead to misappropriated blame. This can result in illegitimate self-blame or unwarranted blame projected onto another person, system, place, or thing (such as blaming the police, government, or even crime prevention organizations.)

Because of the confusion around blame and guilt, and because of the strong need to deal with the primary cause of the crime immediately and effectively to recreate a sense of safety, there can be a sense of panic to deal with the cause. When this confused force of emotion, which is not always rational, is directed at the police, the media, the entire justice system, the support provider, or their close friend or partner or themselves, it can be extremely destructive. Victims will often set out on a “war path” against the person or system they feel is the cause of the violation. This unwarranted blaming can effectively destroy their communication channels that the victim needs.

9. Truth Dilemma

To make sense of the scam/fraud, restructure their lives, and build preventative safeguards, victims need to know what happened and why.

Unfortunately, for many reasons in the aftermath of these crimes, this information is not always accessible to the victim, and often they turn to the wrong sources. Victims’ “need to know” can conflict with their natural desire to avoid anything that is frightening, horrifying, or painful.

Because of the victims’ almost obsessive “need to know,” they will often begin a fact-finding journey and truth-telling quest to find the answers to the violation they have just experienced. They might want to see the scammers’ photos, seek guidance from “experts” that mirror their own anger, talk with other survivors or read books or websites on these crimes. They may even go back to the criminals that harmed them seeking answers.

The information they seek could be about the crime, the criminal, or any information pertaining to their own personal well-being. In the case of scam victims might want to know every detail of the scamming process and how scammers work. If victims are stressed about some of the information, they might expend a great deal of energy avoiding it.

10. Uncontrollable Rage

The natural feelings of anger in response to injustice can take on unusual proportions after experiencing the violation that comes from a romance or relationship scam.

A disempowering justice system and the public’s general lack of understanding of the victim’s needs can exasperate the victim until his or her anger escalates into an uncontrollable revenge emotion.

Because the emotions around the feelings of rage are often out of control, victims can, without warning, explode into fits of rage and act in ways that are not characteristic and self-destructive. Since the anger emotion is not conducive to calm rational thinking, the resulting behavior can seem irrational, out of control, and possibly dangerous.

11. Victim/Offender Trauma Bond

All crime is about broken societal relationships. The more violent or violating the crime, the more difficult it is to reestablish a trust relationship. Until there is some resolution, victims and offenders are often bonded together in an unfinished justice agenda. Some of the unresolved issues can include terror, rage, guilt, protection, and blame.

Because victims are connected to the offender in an unfinished justice-making process, they might become obsessed with the identity, whereabouts, and apprehension of the offender, need to know the attitude or morality of this person(s), or demand restitution from this person even if they know restitution is impossible.

They might react strongly to anything that happens to the offender or other similar criminals — for example, news of offenders being arrested or convicted, the offender is sentenced, etc. If this trauma bond is not dealt with, it can control the victim for the rest of his or her life. In the case of victims, the offender’s attitude and whereabouts can determine where the victim will choose to live, what he or she will do, and with whom to associate.

12. Justice Revictimization

The victim’s expectations for a balanced, understanding justice-making process are often disappointed by the existing criminal justice system and law enforcement, which focuses more on determining guilt than on the victim’s needs for recovery and vindication. Because of the nature of these crimes, often there is no justice process at all. Professionals and other alternative justice processes can also fail the victim. Since the expectations for justice are so high, this disappointment can feel like revictimization.

Because victims find the criminal justice system or police disappointing, it is not uncommon for victims to rage against the system and the professionals working in the system. They might use excessive anger and hate, and try to convince others that there is no point even reporting these crimes. Any organization that does not reflect their attitudes is also a focus of hate as well. They might begin to lobby the government and become angry political activists for change without any idea of the work already being done or who is making a difference.

13. Unsatisfactory Closure

Victims yearn to find closure and a way of “moving on,” but the aftermath of these financial fraud crimes remains a continuing part of their lives. The constant reminders of the crime, the unresolved issues, and the continuing losses can also hold victims hostage to the injustice even after they have decided to move on. Not being able to find a way to gain control of their lives, they remain victimized.

Because of the inner pressure to move on and “get over” the event, victims who feel imprisoned or stuck because of the event might use artificial ways to find closure. They might suppress the experience by refusing to talk about it or acknowledge it in any way. They might become obsessed with finding closure and reconstructing different ways and means of closure (vengeance, vigilantism, and scam baiting for example.) Failed attempts are met with extreme anger and feelings of failure. Eventually, they might begin to find ways to escape the inner pressure and become vulnerable to addictions.

14. Recovery Controversy

Recovering wholeness and healing from the wounds of serious crime is often sabotaged and infiltrated with pressure and expectations from many different sources. Society as a whole, media, other victims, and friends or family all have expectations that put undue pressure on victims to conform to their idea of what recovery looks like. This outside pressure can range from an expectation of the victim forgiving to that of avenging the injustice.

Because so entities know how to really deal with trauma and the aftermath of the crime, knowledgeable victims might be skeptical about entering any proposed recovery plan. Those who try to conform to outside pressures to recover might choose a recovery plan that is more destructive than healing or, at the very least, entirely ineffective. Being unable to find a recovery plan that will help them deal with the issues will leave victims feeling stuck and powerless. Even if they find a recovery program, such as the SCARS program they often are unable to fully take advantage of it for these reasons.

15. Paralyzing Despair

The cumulative effects of fragmentation, traumatization, disorientation, disempowerment, and unsatisfactory closure can cause a paralyzation often referred to as “becoming stuck.” Victims can become stuck in any one of the elements — stuck in fear, stuck in anger, stuck in grief. This state is characterized by a lack of hope. Being stuck arouses feelings of hopelessness that can put the victim at risk of choosing a destructive means, such as suicide or escapism, to deal with the resulting despair.

Because of the feelings of being powerless and stuck, many victims find that over time their hope has faded — or has disappeared completely. Then they are susceptible to paralyzing despair, which can be compared to depression. Repeated failure can lead to intense discouragement and fatigue. This also shows in a lack of participation in their own recovery if they are part of a program.

Getting Over It

Victims do not simply get over their experiences. They are permanently encoded with the experience. Research suggests that victims have a more negative view of the world than those who have never been severely traumatized. Crime victims know that “bad things can happen to good people,” and nothing can take away this knowledge. But those who have come to terms with what life is all about, the good and the bad, will emerge as butterflies with a deeper appreciation of what is good, feel somewhat sadder about the bad, and be considerably wiser because of the knowledge of both.


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PLEASE NOTE: Psychology Clarification

The following specific modalities within the practice of psychology are restricted to psychologists appropriately trained in the use of such modalities:

  • Diagnosis: The diagnosis of mental, emotional, or brain disorders and related behaviors.
  • Psychoanalysis: Psychoanalysis is a type of therapy that focuses on helping individuals to understand and resolve unconscious conflicts.
  • Hypnosis: Hypnosis is a state of trance in which individuals are more susceptible to suggestion. It can be used to treat a variety of conditions, including anxiety, depression, and pain.
  • Biofeedback: Biofeedback is a type of therapy that teaches individuals to control their bodily functions, such as heart rate and blood pressure. It can be used to treat a variety of conditions, including stress, anxiety, and pain.
  • Behavioral analysis: Behavioral analysis is a type of therapy that focuses on changing individuals’ behaviors. It is often used to treat conditions such as autism and ADHD.
    Neuropsychology: Neuropsychology is a type of psychology that focuses on the relationship between the brain and behavior. It is often used to assess and treat cognitive impairments caused by brain injuries or diseases.

SCARS and the members of the SCARS Team do not engage in any of the above modalities in relationship to scam victims. SCARS is not a mental healthcare provider and recognizes the importance of professionalism and separation between its work and that of the licensed practice of psychology.

SCARS is an educational provider of generalized self-help information that individuals can use for their own benefit to achieve their own goals related to emotional trauma. SCARS recommends that all scam victims see professional counselors or therapists to help them determine the suitability of any specific information or practices that may help them.

SCARS cannot diagnose or treat any individuals, nor can it state the effectiveness of any educational information that it may provide, regardless of its experience in interacting with traumatized scam victims over time. All information that SCARS provides is purely for general educational purposes to help scam victims become aware of and better understand the topics and to be able to dialog with their counselors or therapists.

It is important that all readers understand these distinctions and that they apply the information that SCARS may publish at their own risk, and should do so only after consulting a licensed psychologist or mental healthcare provider.






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