First Steps / What to Do

FIRST STEPS

  • Establish Safety – Find a safe place and ask for help if you need it
  • Care for Injuries – Go to the hospital to treat injuries and tell them they are a result of a crime BEFORE you are treated.
  • Call the Police – But leave the crime scene intact so as not to destroy the evidence
  • Document the Crime – While it may be the last thing you want to do, write down exactly what happened as soon as possible following your incident.

WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I AM A CRIME VICTIM?

What should I do if I am a crime victim or a deceased victim’s next-of-kin?
Remember that you are not alone. Resources and assistance are available. If you are injured, seek medical attention. Some injuries may not be apparent for several days. In order to document the crime and establish your legal right to recover money damages, you should:

  • Notify local police as soon as possible. Cooperate and provide as much information as you can
  • Ask the police officer for his or her business card and the number of the crime report. Keep this in a secure place. Call the officer back if you remember additional details
  • Request that police notify you if the case is presented to a prosecuting attorney. If the case is filed, call the prosecutor’s office and ask to speak with the prosecutor assigned to your case or to the Victim-Witness Assistance Program representative. Request information on your legal rights, and ask for updates on the progress of your case and notification of all court proceedings
  • Apply for all applicable benefits. If you have insurance, file a claim as soon as possible. If you are not certain whether your insurance covers your loss, speak to your insurance agent and obtain a copy of your policy. If you have been injured or have a family member who has been injured or killed, your local Victim-Witness Assistance Program can provide you with an application for California’s Victims of Crime compensation. An attorney can help you submit your application and file a civil lawsuit against the offender and/or his or her insurance company or other responsible party
  • Report any address or telephone number changes promptly to the police, prosecutor, probation officer, your insurance company, the Victim-Witness Assistance Program and your attorney. If the offender is in the custody of the Department of Corrections or the Youth Authority, you must also advise them of any address changes if you wish to be notified of the offender’s parole hearings, escape or release
  • Keep a complete record of your crime-related losses and expenses for future restitution. Provide as much information as you can to the probation department, prosecutor or court to document your loss of property, wages and support, as well as your medical expenses. Ask the judge to order full restitution from the offender
  • Address the judge at sentencing. The Victim-Witness Assistance Program representative or other victim advocate can help you prepare a Victim Impact Statement
  • If the judge orders the offender to pay restitution, request a certified copy of the order and a copy of the defendant’s financial disclosure from the court clerk. Make several copies and keep the original in a safe place. If the probation department or other agency does not collect your restitution, you can enforce the restitution order by obtaining a judgment in civil court

What are my legal rights as a crime victim?

  • To be provided with information about civil recovery and the state’s Victims of Crime Compensation program
  • To have your property returned promptly if it is no longer needed as evidence
  • To be informed that you may be entitled to witness fees and compensation for mileage if summoned to court by subpoena and to be contacted immediately if the court proceeding is canceled
  • To be notified by the district attorney of a pending pretrial disposition (felony plea agreement), if you have requested notification
  • To attend all criminal proceedings open to the general public. If the victim is deceased or otherwise unable to attend, two family members or persons designated by the victim may attend in his or her place
  • To be notified of all sentencing proceedings, and to have the judge hear and consider your views. The prosecutor also must, if you request it, inform you of the final disposition (outcome) of the criminal case

Can I submit a claim to the state for my losses?

A crime victim who suffers physical and/or emotional injury may be eligible for financial assistance from the state Victims of Crime Program if his or her losses are not reimbursed by another source, such as insurance. Family members or members of the victim’s household also may be eligible for assistance as Derivative Victims.Losses covered by this program include medical and dental expenses; mental health counseling; funeral and burial costs; loss of financial support, wages or income; and job retraining expenses (if employed). Limited funds for relocation and/or security measures may also be available. The loss of personal property or cash is not covered.The crime must have been reported to a law enforcement agency and the victim must cooperate in the investigation and prosecution of anyone suspected of committing the crime. The victim must also cooperate with the California Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board staff and/or local Victim-Witness Assistance Center personnel in the claim verification process. Other limitations and conditions apply.

More information and applications for compensation are available from local Victim-Witness Assistance Centers located throughout the state. These centers are geared to assist you in applying for this assistance. Applicants may also be assisted by a private attorney. The state will pay private attorney fees of 10 percent of the approved award (up to a maximum of $500 per claim). For additional information, call the Victims of Crime Program toll-free at 1-800-777-9229.

How can I find out if an arrest has been made?

Call the law enforcement agency to which you reported the crime, or the agency that is investigating the case. Be prepared to give the agency your name, the date and location of the crime, and the name of the suspect, if you know it. It may also help to mention the name of the officer who took your original crime report.

If charges are filed, how can I check on the status of the case?

Contact the local prosecutor’s office. Look under government listings at the front of your telephone directory and locate the listing for the Office of the District Attorney or City Attorney. Be prepared to provide as much of the following information as possible: your name, the date and location of the crime, the suspect’s name, the case number (if known), and the nature of the crime or charges.You may also call the court clerk at your local courthouse. Again, provide as much of the above information as possible.

Do I have the right to be present at all court proceedings?

Yes, you may attend all proceedings open to the general public, unless the judge orders otherwise. Grand jury proceedings are not open to the public. Many juvenile court proceedings are also closed.

What should I do if I am subpoenaed to testify in court?

Call the number listed on the subpoena to determine if you must go to court or if you can be placed on call. On call, means that you agree to attend court when the person who issued the subpoena notifies you.Unless you notify the person who issued the subpoena, you must appear in court at the date and time specified in the subpoena. If you do not show up, the judge may issue a warrant for your arrest.

If you are concerned that you could face criminal liability by testifying, you should consult an attorney.

Do I have the right to speak at sentencing?

Yes. If possible, you should tell the prosecutor that you plan to attend and speak at sentencing. If you require any special accommodations for a disability, you should advise the court or the prosecutor before the hearing date.As a crime victim, you have the right to attend all sentencing proceedings and to be notified before each hearing. You may attend personally, or have an attorney or support person attend for you. At the hearings, you have the right to reasonably express your views concerning the crime, the person responsible, the impact on you and your family, the need for restitution and the sentence which you believe is appropriate. A Victim-Witness advocate can help you prepare a statement.

If the victim is a minor, two parents or guardians may appear on his or her behalf. If the victim is deceased, the next-of-kin may address the judge at sentencing.

Can I ask the judge to order the offender to pay for my losses?

Yes, you may ask the judge to impose a Restitution Order. It may include the value of stolen or damaged property, medical expenses, and wages or profits lost due to the victim’s injury or the time spent in court or assisting the police. If the victim is a minor, the victim’s family can recover wages or profits lost while caring for the injured minor, attending court proceedings or assisting the police. Expenses incurred by an adult victim in relocating away from the defendant, if necessary for his or her personal safety, and expenses to install or increase residential security can also be recovered.You should present documentation to the court to support your monetary claim. If the amount of restitution cannot be determined at the time of sentencing, the judge may allow it to be set later. When the judge orders the offender to pay restitution to you, request a copy of the defendant’s financial disclosure and a certified copy of the restitution order from the court clerk. Make several copies and keep the original in a safe place.

The judge must order full restitution unless there are extraordinary reasons for not doing so.

How can I collect court-ordered restitution from the offender?

If the offender is sentenced to county jail or placed on probation, you should contact the county’s Victim-Witness Assistance Center, district attorney’s office or probation department to inquire about restitution-collection procedures. In some counties, restitution payments are collected from the offender and forwarded to the victim.If the offender was a juvenile when the crime was committed, the minor’s parents or guardians may be legally responsible for payment of court-ordered restitution. The county’s Victim-Witness Assistance Center can provide information about the applicability of this provision to your particular case.

Offenders are required to disclose their assets and income to the court when restitution is ordered. The court will provide you with that disclosure and a certified copy of the court order. If the probation department or other agency does not collect your restitution, you can enforce the restitution order as a civil judgment. To do this, take the original order to the appropriate civil court for filing and entry of judgment. You may wish to contact an attorney to assist you. Attorney’s fees, collection costs and interest on the unpaid portion of the judgment may be recovered from the defendant. A civil judgment is valid for 10 years and may be renewed until the obligation is satisfied; it may not be discharged in bankruptcy.

Your ability to enforce a restitution order may be affected if you received payment for the same losses from the state’s Victims of Crime Program. The court must then order the offender to reimburse the state for the program’s compensation to the victim.

Will I be notified if the offender escapes or is going to be considered for parole or release?

Crime victims, their next-of-kin, and parents or guardians of minor victims have the right to be notified that the offender has died or escaped, or is to be considered for parole, placed in a reentry facility, or released. However, you must submit a written request for this notification to the California Department of Corrections (adult offender) or California Youth Authority (juvenile offender).You have the right to appear at parole hearings to suggest special parole conditions, such as restrictions on the offender’s placement in the community or future contact with you. You also have rights to assistance at parole hearings and in collecting court-ordered restitution from an offender still in prison or on parole. In addition, the Department of Corrections can provide help if you are harassed or intimidated by an offender.

You must file a written request for these services with the Department of Corrections or Youth Authority. Contact a county Victim-Witness advocate for assistance and the appropriate request forms.

Can I sue the offender or any other responsible party for my losses?

Yes. In many circumstances a crime victim can sue the offender for compensatory and punitive damages. For example, an assault and robbery victim could sue for medical expenses, property loss, pain and suffering, and punitive damages. If the offender is a minor, a victim can also sue the minor’s parent(s) or legal guardian(s) for damages.In some circumstances the victim may bring a suit against third parties, such as property owners or employers, who allowed the crime to occur.

There are time limitations on most types of civil claims. Generally, claims for personal injury or death must be filed within one year of the crime. For this reason, it is important to speak with legal counsel as soon as possible to avoid missing any deadlines.

How can I find a lawyer to represent me?

  • Personal recommendations: If you do not know a lawyer, ask a friend, coworker, or employer to recommend one.
  • Certified lawyer referral services: You can find an attorney who specializes in civil law by calling a State Bar-certified lawyer referral service. Look in the Yellow Pages of your telephone directory at the beginning of the Attorneys listings under Attorney Referral Services, or contact your local bar association. For an online list of certified lawyer referral services, visit the State Bar’s web site at http://www.calbar.ca.gov/.State Bar-certified lawyer referral services seek to find the right lawyer for your particular problem. Most of these services offer half-hour initial consultations for a modest fee (usually $25 to $50).Lawyer referral service fees vary. Don’t forget to ask whether there is a fee for the referral or consultation. And if you decide to hire a lawyer, make sure you understand what you will be paying for, how much it will cost and when you will be expected to pay your bill. You may want to talk to several attorneys before you hire one.
  • Advertisements: Many lawyers list their telephone numbers, addresses, and areas of practice in the Yellow Pages.
  • Free legal services agencies: Depending on your income level and the nature of your legal problem, you may qualify for free or low-cost legal help from a legal services program. Check the white pages of your telephone directory for a legal services program such as a legal aid society. Or call your local bar association for a list of free or low-cost legal service agencies in your area.
  • Prepaid legal services plans: Perhaps you belong to a legal insurance plan through your employer, labor union, credit union or credit card company. Your plan may cover the kind of legal help you need. Generally, the premiums you pay entitle you to a certain amount of a lawyer’s time or to a lawyer’s services at a reduced rate.
  • Victim advocate groups: You can also check with your local Victim-Witness Assistance Program or a local victim advocacy group to find a lawyer to help you. A representative may be able to refer you to an attorney who assists victims on a contingent fee basis, or to a legal services program.

 

The following information is provided courtesy of Witness Justice, a national organization providing help and healing for victims of violent crime.

If I experience a violent crime, what’s the first thing I should do?

First, make sure any physical injuries are addressed and get to a safe place. Then phone 911 (or ask someone else to do it) and, while you’re waiting for the police to arrive, try to write down as many details of the crime and your attacker as possible — especially details of his or her physical characteristics and face, clothing, voice, and any unique physical markings or tattoos. Although this can be upsetting, it is during the time immediately following the incident that you will most likely be able to recall the greatest number of details with the greatest degree of clarity. These details will assist you when providing a statement to the police and could be essential in apprehending and successfully prosecuting your assailant.When the police arrive, they will investigate, collect evidence, and obtain your statement. If the police are meeting you at the scene of the crime, try not to touch or move anything, because doing so may compromise the integrity of the crime scene. When giving your statement, consider having a family member or friend present – not only for emotional support, but also to help validate or corroborate your statement. Following a violent experience, your mind may be racing and your emotions running high, and having someone you trust there with you can help.

The First 24 Hours following a violent encounter can be extremely difficult. You are at the initial stage of what may be a life-altering experience that can affect you in fundamental and unforeseen ways. You are probably, and understandably, overwhelmed. Try to remember that it can take a while for the full extent of the physical and emotional impacts to set in, so consider getting support mechanisms in place (friends, family, counselors, doctors, etc.) as soon as possible. Try to be patient with yourself and allow yourself the time you need to work through the healing process. It is not an easy road to travel, but there is hope, help, and healing ahead.

I was victimized a long time ago and still don’t feel normal. I want to get back to my old self, but can’t. What’s wrong with me?

Remember that any violent trauma — from a 5-second physical assault to a 25-year span of domestic violence — can shake you to your core. You may never be “your old self.” Even years after trauma, many survivors feel “stuck”, perhaps as a result of not fully facing what has happened to them or because they do not understand the profound impact that violent trauma can have. Talking or writing about your experience can be helpful, as can connecting with other survivors, joining support groups, or working with a therapist or counselor. While the Steps to Healing are unique to every survivor, try to keep in mind that healing is a process that can take time. This is by no means cause for despair — to the contrary, many survivors learn, grow, appreciate, and understand life in a new and deeper way as they confront their traumatic experience and move through the healing process.

What is Acute Stress Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Acute Stress Disorder (ASD) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are mental health conditions that can be induced by a wide range of traumatic experiences, including violent crime. In general, they are natural physiological responses to an overwhelming emotional and/or physical trauma. While the symptoms of ASD and PTSD can vary depending on an individual’s personality, the nature of the trauma and other factors, common symptoms of ASD and PTSD include emotional “numbness,” depression, disrupted sleep, a sense of alienation, and a lack of interest in social activities or sexual intimacy.The main differences between ASD and PTSD are that ASD is typically diagnosed only within the first month or so following trauma and is sometimes characterized by a greater degree of “disassociation.” In many cases, experts agree that ASD can lead to the longer-term PTSD if not treated effectively.

I know someone who has been the victim of a violent crime and s/he seems like a different person. I want to help and be supportive, but nothing seems to make a difference. What should I do?

What your victimized friend or loved one may need more than anything is for you to listen — not to necessarily offer solutions, observations, or advice right away. Violence has a traumatic impact on survivors, even if it does not appear so on the surface. There is a strong likelihood that victims will experience symptoms of Acute Stress Disorder or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Recognize that your friend or loved one may have been rattled to the foundation and needs support, along with time and space to heal. Helping a Survivor can be difficult. As much and as quickly as you may want to your friend or loved one to heal, try to avoid saying things like “Try to forget about it” or “You’ve got to put it behind you.” This could intensify your loved one’s feelings of isolation and withdrawal.

The police want me to help with their search for and prosecution of the offender(s), but I’m very reluctant. I’ve heard stories of criminals freed on loopholes or technicalities, and I’m afraid of going through all that for nothing. Should I risk it?

It is true that many perpetrators elude justice through technicalities in the law, while still others are released from prison with minimal time served for vicious crimes committed. As frustrating as this is, there are at least two major reasons to vigorously pursue justice through the court system:

  • Doing so is the only way to get these criminals off the streets and away from other potential victims, which include your friends and loved ones.
  • Seeing these criminals prosecuted and convicted will likely help you to achieve a greater sense of justice.

For some, it may be too difficult and painful, or personal safety concerns might outweigh the need to report the crime or assist law enforcement. Ultimately, deciding whether and when to report a crime is a personal decision. In general, survivors rarely regret at least trying to find justice through the court system. There are, on the other hand, many who regret not pursuing the apprehension and prosecution of their offender(s).

Why do most victims of violence choose not to report the crimes to the police?

Many people are astonished to learn that more than half of violent crime victims do not report the crimes committed against them. There are many reasons why victims do not go to the police. They may feel ashamed or frightened (as is often the case with domestic violence and sexual assault). They may believe that going to the police is futile, or they may simply want to try to forget the event because it is too painful. For others, there are cultural or language barriers that make reporting and seeking help difficult.What is clear, though, is that refusing to report crime does not help victims or potential victims; rather, only criminals benefit from non-reporting.

What is “survivor’s guilt”?

“Survivor’s guilt” is a term used to describe a sense of self-blame and remorse felt by a person who has experienced or witnessed a life-threatening event during which others did not survive or were more badly injured. Survivors may also make comparisons between themselves and others who endured similar experiences that resulted in greater injury or death. They begin to question, “Why them and not me?” Survivor’s guilt can be particularly anguishing in certain situations — for example, for a mother who has seen her child harmed, or for someone who witnessed the murder of a friend.Another aspect of survivor’s guilt relates to the actions (or inactions) taken to survive an event. It is common for survivors to focus on what they did or did not do to perhaps prevent violence against a family member or friend instead of what they did to protect themselves.

It’s also important to understand that survivor’s guilt can occur even for those who were not present during a violent event. Survivor’s guilt can be experienced by friends, family members, law enforcement officials, or anyone feeling a sense of responsibility or who might be haunted by that nagging question — “Why them and not me?”

What is “hypervigilance”?

For many, “hypervigilance” is a natural response following violent trauma, whereby your mind and body instinctively remain alert to any additional potential threats — real or imagined — to your wellbeing. Hypervigilance can be an outcome of the anxiety experienced as part of Acute Stress Disorder or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Feelings of hypervigilance can come and go at different times, often trigged by certain people or situations. During a time of heightened hypervigilance, many survivors experience strong bursts of nervous energy — a drive to keep “doing something.” Often this energy is subconsciously aimed at managing the anguish, pain, and anger resulting from their violent experience.Symptoms of hypervigilence can include sleeplessness, anxiety, panic attacks, and obsessive or obsessive-compulsive behavior. It is important to recognize hypervigilence and to try to channel that energy into constructive activities, and to find a way to rest and relax.

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