If You Have Been a Victim of Crime, You Might:
- Feel angry, sad, lonely, or depressed.
- Have trouble sleeping.
- Feel like no one understands.
- Think it’s your fault.
- Feel sick to your stomach or not want to eat.
- Feel like you have no friends.
- Find that you are always getting into fights.
- Want to hurt someone else or yourself.
- Feel like taking steps to defend yourself.
- Feel hopeless about whether anything can be done.
- Feel bad about yourself.
- Be afraid to go out.
- Feel anxious all the time.
Being a victim of crime when you’re a teenager can really affect how you develop and
mature as an adult. What follows are some of the normal phases teens go through, and how
they can be affected by victimization. If you are dealing with some of the issues described
below, you should know that you don’t have to feel this way forever. It is important to remember
that, with help, you can begin to feel better.
You have probably been taught about the changes your body goes through during the period
called puberty, or adolescence. Although awkward and uncomfortable, these changes
are healthy and normal. Teens who are victimized (especially sexually) during puberty may feel unclean or devalued. You might think there is something strange about your body. You
may think that the changes in your shape or size caused or encouraged the abuse and that
you have no control over what happens to you. You might think that the only way to get attention
is by using your body to attract it. You may feel that your body is worthless or “only good
for one thing.”
Younger children are closely connected to their families and caretakers. Adults fulfill their
needs for guidance, help, comfort, companionship, food, shelter, and safety. As you get older,
however, your need for your parents decreases, and your emotional dependence on your
friends increases. Most teens test limits set by their parents, look for social and emotional support
from friends, and become more concerned about the acceptance of friends than family.
Teens who have been victimized, though, often feel different from their friends. You may feel
that no one else understands what you are going through. You might feel separated and
isolated from your friends. You might feel like your friends are judging you or blowing you off,
or harassing you. You may want to withdraw from your friends, or find a new group of friends
where you feel more accepted.
Critical Thinking Skills
One of the most important life skills you begin to learn as a teen is critical thinking. Critical
thinking is the ability to think about what is happening in a situation and to anticipate several
different ways it could turn out. If during your teen years you become a victim of crime,
you may start to think that bad things will continue to happen. You may start believing that
you will always feel lonely, hurt, or confused and that you can’t do anything to change it. You
might feel hopeless and helpless, or even think about hurting yourself or dying. But if you can
begin to think critically, you can start to figure out several different possible outcomes to your
situation and ways to get beyond the bad times.
During normal development, adolescents begin learning to think abstractly. They also analyze
the relationships between cause and effect, learn to predict outcomes, and identify and
explore values. If you are victimized during the development of these skills, you might begin
to mistrust your own values and judgment and wonder if something you did “caused” the
victimization. You may believe that you are responsible for what happened or that you are bad
or should expect nothing better than this kind of treatment. You may feel that your personal
choices and desires are meaningless and may begin to expect to be hurt and used by other
Part of growing up is learning to evaluate risks. It’s looking at choices you make, figuring out
what might happen, and deciding if it’s worth doing. A risk might be making a friend of a different
ethnic background, trying out for a sport, exploring career and educational opportunities,
or deciding who to date. Victimized teens sometimes have a hard time thinking about
these choices and don’t see when things are dangerous or have a long-term impact. You might
have used drugs or alcohol, had unprotected sex, driven after drinking, gotten into fights,
or started stealing. You might not recognize, appreciate, or care about the long-term consequences
of your choices.
Having bad things happen to you is not your fault. Nothing about what you say, the way you
look, or what you believe gives anyone the right to hurt you.
- Tell your parents, and talk with them about ways that they can help you be safe.
- Tell a teacher, counselor, or trusted adult to see how they can help you. Talk with
friends. You might find you’re not the only one who has had these kinds of experiences.
- If you are having difficulty finding help, call an anonymous crisis hotline in your area.
Where can teen victims find help?
- School counselors
- School resource officers
- Youth program staff
- Victim service providers
- Rape crisis centers
- Community mental health agencies
- Social workers
If you choose to tell someone, you should know that some adults are mandated reporters.
This means they are legally required to report neglect or abuse to someone else, such as the
police or child protective services. You can ask people if they are mandated reporters and then
decide what you want to do. Some examples of mandated reporters are teachers, counselors,
doctors, social workers, and in some cases, even coaches or activity leaders.
The most important thing is your safety. Seek out persons or resources in your community that
can help you reduce your risk of being victimized again. Find healthy things that help you express
how you feel: write in a journal, talk to friends, paint or draw, or exercise. It doesn’t matter
very much what it is, as long as it doesn’t hurt you or anyone else, and it makes you feel better.
Help Someone Else
Sometimes it’s hard to know what to do or say if a friend has been the victim of a crime. He or
she might not know how to talk about it either. Let your friend know that you care. Stay calm,
and don’t judge their choices or behavior. Believe your friend, and just listen. Sometimes letting
them vent and not needing to have answers for everything can help a lot.
Sometimes the family and friends of victims also feel the impact of the crime and experience
emotional and physical reactions. This is called secondary victimization. If this is happening to
you, help is available for you, too.