What is Terrorism?

Terrorism is a deliberate act of violence that is intended to create fear and to further a political or ideological cause. Terrorist attacks cause harm in many ways. There may be injuries and fatalities, damage to property, and ongoing fear among those directly affected and within the wider community.

Our Support Workers are available to support you personally, or as a family or whānau, for as long as you need us. You can call us 24/7 on 0800 842 846 to be connected with a Support Worker.

Many people will become involved after a terrorist attack to help, protect, and investigate. For a helpful list that explains the roles of key people you may meet and some of the legal processes that must happen, please see this information in our After a Homicide section. 

Everyone’s different and will react in their own ways
Many people who personally survive a terrorist attack say that life instantly changes for them, and for their family, whānau, and friends concerned for them. The world can suddenly become an extremely uncertain place to be in. You might be recovering from physical injuries, learning to live with ongoing disabilities, or health complications that need ongoing treatment. If you’ve been bereaved by the event, you will also be grieving for your personal loss. If you witnessed the attack you may experience nightmares, flashbacks and other symptoms of psychological trauma that can affect your life in many ways.

Reactions can be very strong
The strong reactions you experience are normal responses to an extreme situation. Most people will have a wide range of reactions. Common emotions include shock, numbness, confusion, fear and terror, anger and fury, helplessness, powerlessness, and deep grief. You may have trouble sleeping, appetite changes, body aches, chest pains, nausea, or exhaustion. Existing health conditions may worsen.

The psychological wounds can be complicated. You might have difficulty concentrating, experience memory blanks, and have difficulty making decisions. You may want to be with others more or want to be alone more. Your daily life might be interrupted by disturbing images or memories. You might have ongoing nightmares or flashbacks (reliving what happened) or develop mental health challenges, such as acute anxiety, panic attacks, or depression.

Many victims of terrorism struggle to make any meaning out of what happened. It’s common for victims to be on alert and jumpy. There may be places or reminders you avoid. You, and your family and whānau, might be exposed to repetitive and distressing media images and descriptions of the event, which can bring it all back.

Some victims might also experience employment issues, financial pressures, and an ongoing feeling of uncertainty and insecurity about their future.

If children or young people have been affected
See our information sheet about supporting children and young people grieving after a homicide loss.

Looking after yourself is important
Encourage others who have been affected to do the same. Eat healthy food. Drink enough water. Keep up routines and get good rest and sleep, as best you can. Do some simple exercise. Take some slow, deep breaths. Spend time with people you can relax with, or with a pet. Spend time in nature. If you find keeping busy helps, find useful tasks to do. See a doctor if you’re unwell, extremely anxious, or are having difficulty sleeping. Draw on any cultural or spiritual beliefs you may have. Accept caring offers from others if that would help.

Talk about what happened
When you’re ready, talk to someone you trust about what happened, such as a trusted member of your family, whānau, friend, a respected elder, rangatira, a Victim Support worker, your doctor, or a counsellor. You are not to blame for this crime, the perpetrator is.

If you have a flashback, it feels as though you’re back in the middle of your traumatic experience or reliving some aspect of it. This can be in vivid detail and during a flashback it can be difficult and confusing to connect back to the present and to what is real. To better understand flashbacks and ways to manage them, see our information sheet Dealing with Flashbacks.

More tips for coping with your reactions
To understand more about trauma and grief, and to learn ways to manage your reactions, please see:

Your reactions are normal responses to a traumatic event. Even though it may not feel like it now, they will gradually lessen in the weeks and months to come.

If they don’t lessen, or get worse and disrupt your daily life and work, it is best to seek the help of a professional who has experience supporting people after trauma. Some people may, for example, develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If you have concerns, see your doctor, a counsellor, a psychologist, or ask a Victim Support Worker about help that is available to you.

If your reactions trouble you

  • Visit your doctor. They can do a health check and support you with any ongoing issues, such as sleeplessness, anxiety, flashbacks, or depression.

  • Consider talking with a counsellor or psychologist. They can help you work through your reactions and the consequences the crime has had.

  • If you need to find a local doctor, counsellor, or psychologist, please click here.

If children or young people have been affected
See our information sheet about supporting children and young people grieving after a homicide loss.

As a victim or a witness, media may want to get comments, or interview you, or your family, whānau, or close friends. Media can be demanding and intrusive. Our After a homicide: Managing media interest information sheet offers some helpful tips to make informed decisions about dealing with the media, including managing social media.

Use the tips police suggest in their booklet Keep Safe, Feel Safe. Taking these actions can help to increase your confidence in your personal safety and security, and that of your family and whānau.

Our helpful guide After a Death – dealing with practical matters also provides information and advice on a wide range of practical matters you are likely to need to attend to after a death.    

See also the information in our After Homicide section.

We are here for you 24/7
Our Support Workers are available to support you personally, or as a family or whānau, for as long as you need us. You can call us 24/7 on 0800 842 846 to be connected with a Support Worker.

Our support is completely free and confidential, and available throughout Aotearoa New Zealand.

What we can offer:

  • someone to listen, talk with, and support you to cope with trauma and loss
  • help to understand your rights and make informed choices
  •  information and help to answer your questions
  • help to access local support services and counselling to suit your situation
  • practical information and assistance to deal with things like funeral and coronial processes
  • support at court trials, hearings, and dealing with police and other government agencies
  • help to prepare Victim Impact Statements
  • financial assistance for victims of serious crime.

We are committed to providing quality support to strengthen the mana and well-being of all those affected by terrorism.

If English is your second language
If you require support in your first language, Victim Support can use Ezispeak to connect with an interpreter over the phone. Call us 24/7 on 0800 842 846, and let us know. We will try to match you to a Support Worker who speaks your language.

Other useful information and websites

How to cope after a traumatic event (Ministry of Health) in many languages, including Te Reo.

Advice on how to support a victim of terrorism (UK Govt)

How to talk to children about terrorism (The Conversation, Australia)

Helping Children and Teens Cope with Traumatic Events (The Help Guide, USA)

Protecting Our Crowded Places from Attack: New Zealand’s Strategy (The New Zealand Govt)


Coping with Trauma
Dealing with flashbacks
When you are Grieving
After a death: Dealing with practical matters
After a homicide: Supporting grieving children and young people
If you discover or witness a homicide death
After a homicide: Managing media interest