Children as victims of crime slip through the crack of our protective care in more ways than one. When children are victimized, their normal physiological and psychological adjustment to life is disrupted. Furthermore, they must cope with the trauma of their victimization again and again in each succeeding developmental stage of life after the crime.
Child victims suffer not only physical and emotional traumas from their victimization. When their victimization is reported, children are forced to enter the stressful ‘adult’ world of the criminal justice system.
Here are some tips for parents, counsellors or teachers who find themselves having to provide a caring atmosphere for the child victim.
- Choose a secure, comfortable setting for chatting with child victims, or a location that is as comfortable as possible.
- Take time to establish trust and rapport.
- Realize that children tend to regress emotionally during times of stress, acting younger than their age.
- Encourage preschool children to play, as it is the common mode of communication for them. You may find that as children play, they become more relaxed and thus more talkative.
- Since young children often feel they may be blamed for problems, assure elementary school age children that they have not done anything wrong and they are not ‘in trouble.’
- Clearly and simply explain the purpose of the meeting.
- Maintain a non-judgemental attitude and empathise with victims. Because elementary school children are especially affected by praise, compliment them frequently on their behaviour and thank them for their help.
- Remember the limited attention span and be alert to signs that victims are feeling tired, restless or cranky. Consider conducting a series of short meetings.
- Show compassion to victims. Children’s natural ability to cope are aided immensely by caring adults.
- Do not forget to comfort the non-offending parents.
Source: First Response to Victims of Crime, US Dept of Justice, Washington DC, 2001