Lesson 1
Basic Guidelines on Approaching Victims of Crime

Background

    The way people cope as victims of crime depends largely on their experiences immediately following the crime. As a law enforcement officer, you are usually the first official to approach victims. For this reason, you are in a unique position to help victims cope with the immediate trauma of the crime and to help restore their sense of security and control over their lives.

    Circumstances of the crime and the crime scene determine when and how the first responding officers are able to address victims and their needs. This lesson recognizes that each crime and crime scene is different and requires officers to prioritize their performance of tasks in each situation. Generally, officers must attend to many tasks, including assessing medical needs, determining facts and circumstances, advising other personnel, and gathering and distributing suspect information. It is helpful to keep in mind that apprehension of the suspect is the primary duty of law enforcement and that accomplishing this task helps not only the suspects current victims but potential victims as well. Sometimes the first responders must delay their attendance to the victims if the situation requires. For example, if the crime is ongoing, or if the collection of evidence or investigation of the crime is extremely time-sensitive, first responders may not be able to direct their immediate attention to the victims. However, as soon as the most urgent and pressing tasks have been addressed, officers will focus their attention on the victims and their needs. At this point, how the officers respond to the victims, explain the competing law enforcement duties, and work with the victims is very important.

    By approaching victims appropriately, officers will gain their trust and cooperation. Victims may then be more willing to provide detailed information about the crime to officers and later to investigators and prosecutors, which, in turn, will lead to the conviction of more criminals. Remember that you are there for the victim, the victim is not there for you.

    You can help victims by understanding the three major needs they have after a crime has been committed: the need to feel safe; the need to express their emotions; and the need to know “what comes next” after their victimization. The information in this handbook is designed to show you how to meet these needs.

Tips for Responding to Victims' Three Major Needs:

  1. The need to fee safe
  2. The need to express their emotions
  3. The need to know "what to comes next" after their victimization

 

Victims' Need To Feel Safe

    People often feel helpless, vulnerable, and frightened by the trauma of their victimization. As the first response officer, you can respond to victims' need to feel safe by following these guidelines:

 

Victims' Need To Express Their Emotions

    Victims need to air their emotions and tell their story after the trauma of the crime. They need to have their feelings accepted and have their story heard by a nonjudgmental listener. In addition to fear, they may have feelings of self-blame, anger, shame, sadness, or denial. Their most common response is: “I don't believe this happened to me.” Emotional distress may surface in seemingly peculiar ways, such as laughter. Sometimes victims feel rage at the sudden, unpredictable, and uncontrollable threat to their safety or lives. This rage can even be directed at the people who are trying to help them, perhaps even at law enforcement officers for not arriving at the scene of the crime sooner. You can respond to victims' need to express their emotions by following these guidelines:

 

Victims' Need To Know “What Comes Next” After Their Victimization

    Victims often have concerns about their role in the investigation of the crime and in the legal proceedings. They may also be concerned about issues such as media attention or payment for health care or property damage. You can help relieve some of their anxiety by telling victims what to expect in the aftermath of the crime. This will also help prepare them for upcoming stressful events and changes in their lives. You can respond to victims' need to know about what comes next after their victimization by following these guidelines: