Sometimes it’s hard to know what to do or say if a member of your family, whānau, or friend has been a victim of crime or another traumatic event. They’re likely to be dealing with many different reactions to what’s happened.
They might not know how, or even want to talk about it. Give them space - they’ve been through a lot and may need to concentrate on themselves first.
A person recovering from a crime or traumatic event will feel supported if you just let them know you’re concerned and want to help.
A person’s language, culture, or faith can affect how they understand what’s happened and its consequences. Understandably some people may want to also have the support of someone trusted from their own cultural or faith community. Help them to get this support.
Stay calm. Let the person know you’re there for them. They may be disoriented and confused for a while. Be patient, caring, and kind.
Help them to be safe and feel safe. Reassure them that they’re not to blame.
If they want to talk, listen carefully. Don’t say a lot yourself. Don’t pressure them to say more than they want to or judge what they say. They might repeat things they’ve already said as their brain goes over what’s happened. Be patient.
Be accepting of their reactions. These are normal reactions to an abnormal situation. Some might be very strong and it’ll take time for them to work through what’s happened.
Ask them what they need. Always check. Don’t ‘take over’ their decision making, unless they’re in danger or very unwell. Help them to have choices and control over at least some things in their situation.
Be practical. Offer to take them to appointments or help with any tasks and chores: groceries, housework, meals, collecting kids, childminding. Find out any information they want or contact people on their behalf. It’s fine if they say no to your offers to help. Some people find doing things themselves helps them feel more normal and in control again. Make the offer again another time - just offering shows you care.
If you’re acting as a ‘go-between’ with police, medical staff, or others make sure you keep the person involved and informed and regularly check what they want and need.
Spend time with them but also be understanding if they’d rather be alone.
Encourage them to find others who can also support them: their doctor, a counsellor, a Victim Support Worker, cultural or faith leaders or contacts, or other family, whānau, or friends.
Give them time and space to recover and heal. Reactions may continue for some time, and difficult memories may continue to surface from time to time. Be patient - recovery usually takes longer than most people expect.
Let them know what you can and can’t do. Give support as best you can but look after yourself too. Your wellbeing also matters.
Remember anniversaries of the crime or trauma related events as these are often difficult and dreaded ahead of time. Spend time with them on the day.
Don’t take matters into your own hands if someone has harmed your family or whānau, or friend. Let the police deal with them.
If you are asked to help with managing any media interest, see here for tips on managing media attentions
If they require support in their first language, Victim Support can use Ezispeak to connect them with an interpreter over the phone. Call us on 0800 842 846 and let us know. We will try to match the person to a Support Worker who speaks their language.
• Yes, I believe you.
• It’s completely normal to feel this way.
• This wasn’t your fault.
• Thank you for telling me/us because now I/we can support you.
• I’m sad this has happened to you. What do you need most right now?
• I/we want you to feel safe. Is there anything I/we can do to help you feel safer?
• You’re doing so well, even though this has been a terrible experience for you. Just take things slowly for a while. There’s no rush.
- Just forget it happened and leave it behind you.
- Just stop thinking about it. Stop talking about. Just get over it.
- You’re lucky it wasn’t worse.
- This wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t……..
- Don’t tell anyone else. It’s a private matter. Keep it to yourself.
- I know exactly how you feel.
The person might ask you to keep any information they share with you private. You can do this, except let the person know that if you find out that they or someone else is in danger of serious harm, you won’t be able to keep that a secret. You will get help to keep them safe.
Sometimes people might need extra professional help to recover. Encourage them to seek extra help if:
- they don’t seem to be recovering at all
- any ongoing reactions are causing concern to them, or others
- they’re experiencing nightmares and can’t sleep, or need to sleep a lot
- they feel there’s no one they can/will talk to
- relationships are being damaged by their acute stress levels
- they have increased anxiety, depression or suicidal thoughts
- their behaviour has become risky, including more reliance on alcohol and/or drugs or increased aggression/violence
- they say they want help.
Encouraging the person to visit their doctor is a good first step.
If the person or others are in real danger of harm, call 111.
If you are concerned for someone you are supporting, you can call Victim Support on 0800 842 846, 24/7. Our support is completely free and confidential, and available throughout Aotearoa New Zealand.
See more about what we do and how we help.
Other useful information and websites
When someone you know has been through a traumatic experience (NZ Ministry of Health)
If you are concerned about someone's mental wellbeing, see the Mental Health Foundation’s helpful information Worried About Someone?
Trauma - helping family or friends (Australia, Better Health Channel)
If children or young people have been affected by what’s happened
See our information sheet for parents and caregivers about Supporting your child or young person after a crime or traumatic event. Don’t hesitate to get them some extra professional help if they are struggling to cope. Helpful places to go for that help are listed towards the back of this information sheet.