But this subject I can speak to because of personal experience, and have finally decided to because there are not only few of us out there, but the way our justice system works, the things you would most like to do are exactly the things you cannot do without causing the victim more problems than they already face. Some things will depend upon the type of violence they have endured, but many things are common to them all. So here is my list of things to remember when someone you know has been the victim of a violent crime.
Do not go to them asking questions about what happened. In our justice system, the perpetrator is still just an "alleged" criminal, and the victim will actually be under investigation, too. When law enforcement finds out he has talked to you, you will be on their list of people to question because they will assume that, as a close friend, the person claiming to be the victim will have been more open with you and may have actually said something incriminating.
And the irony is that yes, that victim will not only want to talk, he will need to talk. The adrenaline rush of his fight-or-flight instinct will turn him into a veritable chatterbox, and the professional investigators know that. That is why they called my home at 1:30 a.m. trying to set up an interview—right then. Having a husband in the system meant that we had already contacted an attorney and he had told us to tell them no, not without him present. We did and they left us alone until we could make an appointment with attorney in tow. But now, who to talk to?
If you are a preacher, be ready to be an ear—and a shoulder. The system recognizes preachers as "counselors," and their communication with the victim is thus, privileged information. And you need to be there for that victim and also his family. (There are some exceptions to this, so educate yourself before approaching the victim.) The worst thing about that first week and even the months to follow was having no one to talk to, and I desperately needed to talk. Once the imminent crisis was past, I needed to let everything out that I had been holding in for the sake of propriety, the media, and my children. I needed a good cry, and there was no one to give me that. You are just about the only one who can.
The crisis is likely to continue for a long time. Don't forget to check on the victim at every stage. For us, it was thirteen months until the criminal finally pled out and was sentenced to prison. During all that time, there were depositions, hearings, pain management and physical therapy appointments, and yes, even more investigations because while law enforcement may clear you in just a day or two, others, like your employer or even the community, may not. Be aware of what is going on and the stresses on the victim and his family. The night before the trial was to begin, when we had asked the church for prayers because everyone knew the only defense was to try to assassinate my husband's character, a brother decided it was the perfect time to bring up some nitpicky little grievance he had, and lambaste him over the phone. That was the last thing we needed.
Do not make fun of the fall-out. The direct result of being a victim is fear, sometimes irrational fear. The victim will see a boogie-man behind every face in a parking lot. He will think every car is following him. He will want protection at hand every minute of the day. No matter how much better you think you would handle it, I can guarantee you that you would have a fear unlike any you have ever felt in your life, and you would most likely do the same, or similar, things. Terror will change you, and it may never go away. Do not ever laugh, tease, or make a derisive comment about it, something men are especially bad about. Be understanding and supportive in all of your comments and actions, and be aware that even though the legal and medical processes may be over, the fall-out may last forever.
Encourage your friend to seek counseling for at least a short time. In our case it was offered free by the department, but we did not realize how much help it would be. Tell your friend, "You are not a weak Christian to accept help. There is nothing wrong with you if you need it. What has happened is a life-changing event with, as mentioned above, some serious consequences. Take the help where you can." And as a friend, do not make any negative comments about their need for it.
I will not pretend that this takes care of all the problems victims will face, but I hope it will help them by helping those who love them to know better what they need and a few things they can do about it. I wish we had had this help.
…encourage the fainthearted, support the weak, be patient toward all. (1Thess 5:14)