Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Secondary victims

When our agency serves primary victims of sexual violence . . . meaning the people the violence actually happened to . . . we are also on the lookout for secondary victims who may need help. A secondary victim, as you may have guessed, is a family member, roommate, or good friend/partner of the primary victim.

When we work with Moms . . . often I see a delayed emotional reaction. Moms tend to move themselves into a mode of being the caregiver . . . the person handling the details of medical care and interacting with law enforcement, the courts, and support agencies. I warn Moms that they may find that once the primary victim starts to function more normally, then they may relax to the point where they experience their own emotional response.

When I work with roommates, we talk about fear . . . and the need to balance their own desire to be supportive but also taking care of themselves.

It goes on . . . over the years we have seen trends in how people react . . . based on their own position and personalities.

I was recently in the ER with a young woman. She was with her mother and sister. She was very open to assistance and seemed to have very good support from her family. She was not interested in reporting the crime to law enforcement. She could articulate why she was making this decision . . . and had a pretty clear idea what she did want as well.

I could see from her mother's reactions that mom didn't really agree. I think the mother was hoping I would have some magic words to reverse her adult daughter's decision. There was a quiet moment when I could talk to the mom on her own. I explained that it was important that her daughter be given the opportunity to make decisions for herself . . . that the perpetrator had taken the right to make decisions away from her daughter and that she would "heal" better, faster if we could restore decision making back to her, even if we don't agree with those decisions. The expression on the mom's face told me that she understood, and ultimately wanted what was best for her daughter. And, I could see that the mom was relieved that her concerns had been understood too.

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