Treating Victims of Crime

by Angela Elliott

Everyone likes to think that crime happens to other people, and that’s fine until the day comes when you’re mugged for your mobile phone, or you return home one night to discover you’ve been burgled. Straightforward crimes such as these can unexpectedly turn you into a ‘victim’ and you may feel a range of emotions: be angry, shocked, hurt, and often frightened. Imagine then if you are victim of a serious crime: rape or sexual assault, domestic violence, any kind of physical assault, homophobic or racist crime, aggravated burglary, or bereaved through homicide or manslaughter. Imagine the range of emotions you might go through then. Crime doesn’t just happen to ‘other’ people, it happens to everyone.

When I trained as a hypnotherapist I intended treating patients with anxiety disorders and phobias. I had been a phobia sufferer for years and I figured I knew what it felt like and that, because hypnotherapy had worked for me, I could show others how it could work for them too. Life, though, took me in different direction.

Early in the year I qualified, I spent a day on attachment with the Metropolitan Police Force in Brixton. They gave me a bulletproof vest, an extendable steel cosh and a radio and told me if they went down I had to call for back up. The first call we attended was a raid on a crack house. From that moment I was hooked on learning more about the effects of crime. But there was something else driving me: I too had once been a victim of a serious crime.

One day in 1985 my car broke down on a motorway and a stranger stopped to ‘help’ me. His form of ‘help’ was to rape me. I was terrified and didn’t have the courage to fight back. To my shame, but like the majority of women, I also didn’t report it. It wasn’t until ten years later that I told someone what had happened. The day I spent with the Brixton Police showed me that the time had come to fight back. I volunteered as a Case Worker with Victim Support and it was the best decision I’ve ever made.

As a matter of course, the Police refer all victims of crime to Victim Support, which is a charity organization partially funded by the Home Office. I was given thorough training to cover general crime, homicide, domestic violence, racial and homophobic crime, and rape and sexual assault; offering both emotional and practical support. I was introduced to the Family Liaison Officers from the Serious Crimes Squad at Scotland Yard and spent time at Enfield Magistrates Court talking to witnesses.

For over a year I spent one day per week working voluntarily for Victim Support at my local office in Haringey, making home visits where necessary. Recently they asked me to work for them full-time as their Manager, with a special interest in Domestic Violence. My remit does not include using formal Hypnosis. However, as much of my work includes crisis intervention and extremely brief therapy, with no time to complete a full case history, I use Alert Hypnosis together with a simple protocol I’ve developed to reframe victims in as short a time as possible whilst building rapport and remaining empathetic. In private practice I have been able to extend this specialization and now treat patients who are victims of serious crime. With this come all the legal ramifications and practical considerations that I must take on-board when doing this kind of work.

Crime is different to other types of crisis in that the trauma caused is due to the deliberate action of another person. Grief is often left unresolved; anger and shock are predominant emotions; the judicial process is long, and frequently the outcome does not match the victim’s expectations. Certain types of crime are concomitant with further risks, as in the case of domestic violence, where the therapist may unwittingly be placed in danger, or when supporting a bereaved relative of a homicide victim who may also be a suspect in the investigation. Your first consideration must always be your own personal safety.

As any evidence obtained during hypnosis is inadmissible in court, it is vitally important that you do not prejudice a court case by regressing the patient such that they recover a memory they may then rely on in court or offer up as evidence to the Police. There are many ways, however, that Hypnotherapy can speed recovery.

Much of the work I do draws on Crisis Theory, developed in the 50s and 60s and traditionally employed for the treatment of victims of crime. Like hypnotherapy, Crisis Theory is an eclectic mix of psychotherapies, and hypnosis is its ideal partner. Specific use of reframing, parts therapy, self-integration dissociation, ego strengthening, direct suggestions and alert hypnosis, whilst avoiding use of regression, can empower and heal the victim. And yes, I refer to them as victims until they decide that they want to be referred to as survivors. Never automatically reframe a victim of crime as a survivor. It is vitally important that you gain trust, develop rapport and use their language, working at their pace, particularly when dealing with serious crime.

There are specific emotional distinctions between each crime. Domestic violence for example can include sexual, financial, emotional and physical abuse, each with their own set of emotional responses. Homicide can include feelings of revenge, anger, or hopelessness, and this may be turned on you as their therapist. As such you need to be both very well- trained and mentally prepared to deal with certain types of incidents. You will lose your objectivity if you are unduly affected by the horrors of the crime. If this is the case, then you are better off referring. Additionally, should you feel you have been affected by your patient’s trauma, then you must ask for supervision and deal with whatever this has brought up for you.

When it is a matter of crisis intervention and you don’t have enough time to take a full case history, the simple protocol I have developed for use with victims of non-serious crimes or where the victim has no prior history of trauma, takes only one hour and works in the following way:

  1. Allow the victim to tell you about the crime
  2. Reassure and normalize the victim’s emotional states, reframing where necessary. Leave the victim/survivor reframe until later
  3. Ask about support from family and friends
  4. What were they doing with their life before the crime? Their work, study, interests etc
  5. What plans did they have for the future before the crime occurred? Original goals?
  6. Incorporate the positive and reframed aspects of the crime to provide a new insight on the future. Use their words to feed their positive feelings back to them.
  7. Now reframe the victim/survivor tag. Ego strengthen, stressing bravery.

These seven steps provide a very simple way to guide a victim of non-serious crime around the healing circle; taking them from the journey in pain to the journey to recovery by reframing, using Alert Hypnosis to incorporate the crime into their life as a learning experience.

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