Know Your Rights
Self-advocacy: a to-do list for crime survivors
June 1, 2017
- Ask for help. For a while, chances are good you’re not going to be able to run your life as smoothly as you did before the crime. Ask for help with concrete chores or emotionally difficult tasks. Ask people to keep you company while you take care of business. Or ask people to keep you in their thoughts or prayers.
- Clarify pros, cons, and consequences. You may find your thinking abilities are somewhat impaired after a crime, so don’t be afraid to ask people to repeat or more clearly state what your choices are and the possible implications of each choice. You may need to remind professionals that you don’t know their system as well as they do. (Having someone with you can be useful – another set of ears and someone to discuss things with before making decisions can be very helpful.)
- Make your own decisions. Certainly ask for advice if you need it, but it’s important for crime victims to feel in control again, and making decisions is an important part of feeling in control.
- Know your rights. See Wisconsin Crime Victim’s Rights. Note, however, that although Wisconsin was the first state to legislate a victims’ bill of rights, most of those rights pertain only to your role if and when the criminal justice system finds your perpetrator.
- Keep track of your actions. Start a log with the date, time, name, and telephone number of anyone you talk to concerning any aspect of the crime or your case. This log may prove valuable to you in a number of ways, such as reminding you who you talked to and helping you track what remains to be done.
- Don’t settle for discriminatory behavior. Trans and non-binary people have the same right as other people to be treated with respect. Likewise, victims have the same rights as non-victims in accessing services. Complain if someone is discriminatory or disrespectful.
- Choose your battles. Recent crime victims have a lot on their plate. Consider letting small problems or irritations slide by, to save energy for the more important issues.
- Be persistent. Many of the people you may work with will have huge caseloads. Even the best-intentioned workers may need to be reminded of a task or issue. Remember, you are your best advocate.
- Value your emotional health. As a crime victim, you have a lot to deal with. Take care of your emotions. Put yourself first whenever possible.
- Say “no.” No is a viable option. Remember you have the right to say “no” to suggestions, recommendations, advice, and even invitations; re-taking control of your life is important.
- Say “yes.” Consider saying “yes” to invitations and options. You may not feel ready yet for social banter or “mindless” entertainment, but you might end up enjoying the outing anyway. Since becoming isolated and estranged from people is a serious risk for crime victims, think again before you say no to seeing friends or going to an event.
- Remember the basics. The best emotion-regulation and stress-reduction techniques are the most basic ones: Get plenty of rest, eat nutritious foods, and exercise (it improves both mood and the body’s stress-handling mechanisms). Remember to breathe. Remember tomorrow is another day, and people do recover from trauma.