Listen, encourage, believe
Victims of crime experience a gamut of emotions and no two experiences are the same, which is why Susan Keehn said, "No one can say 'I know what you are going through.' "
Not even experts can say that.
"The emotions victims experience are so broad and it's all individual," said Keehn, a crime victim advocate and director of Someplace Safe in Alexandria. "And certain aspects can make the emotions become more prevalent, such as the anniversary of the crime. The trauma they felt can resurface. The trauma can have an impact on their whole life."
Although experts may not know exactly what victims are going through, they can empathize with them and get victims the help they need and deserve, said Keehn.
Someplace Safe offers a variety of services to victims and survivors of crimes, along with their families, in a nine-county region of west-central Minnesota, including Douglas County. The agency provides services to more than 4,000 victims each year, including victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and exploitation, human trafficking, and other crimes such as harassment, stalking, elder abuse and homicide.
Keehn offered some insight into what families and friends can do for those who have experienced some type of trauma.
"If a person has been victimized, it is their experience," she said. "We can support them by listening, being encouraging, caring and believing what they tell us. And the support doesn't end after whatever happened is done. It's never finished. The crime may be completed, but the trauma remains. The experience never ends."
Feeling safe again is a huge part of a victim's recovery. Things that felt safe before, such as shopping or eating out, can become difficult. Those who are close to the victim need to help the person strategize and make a plan so they feel as safe as possible.
If victims are having a rough day or in a stressful situation, Keehn said writing down their feelings can help.
"Coping in the moment is extremely helpful," she said.
Self-care is also extremely important. Walking, listening to music, talking with friends, counseling, journaling or simply finding a place to be alone and cry things out have all been useful, Keehn said.
When to intervene
Knowing when to intervene if someone suspects a person is being victimized can be a struggle and a balancing act, Keehn said.
She said people want to know how, when and if they should intervene. First and foremost, if a crime is being committed and someone is getting hurt, call 911.
If no weapons are involved, a person could create a distraction and disrupt what is happening as long as they don't put themselves in danger, she said.
People need to be aware of their surroundings.
"Pay attention and disengage from technology," she said. "Watch what is going on. Victims are oftentimes afraid to ask for help."
Keehn also described a fine line between being respectful and probing. Respect the individual's privacy, but offer help and support, and don't be offended if the help is not welcomed.
Victims will often turn to professionals for help, she said.
Someplace Safe offers a variety of services, including civil and legal assistance, assistance throughout the court process, hospital and law enforcement accompaniment, support and empowerment groups, parenting centers and short-term emergency placement, to name a few.
It also offers a 24-hour help line at 1-800-974-3359.
For more information, visit the Someplace Safe website at www.someplacesafe.info or call the Douglas County office at 320-762-1995.