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‘Getting A Grip’ Following Home Invasion

6/26/2013 8:00:00 AM
Written By:
Carol Wilson

Statistics generally show that crime rates have declined steadily since the 1980s. This may sound comforting - until crime strikes you, or someone you love. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigations Uniform Crime Statistics, 2,159,878 burglaries occurred in the United States in 2010, which means approximately 700 out of every 100,000 people experienced a burglary. To put that in perspective, York County's population is approximately 64,000, which means about 448 burglaries were estimated there in 2010.

Traditionally, burglary, or "breaking and entering" has been labeled by police and the criminal justice system as a property crime. As a result, in our society, the focus is on punishing the offender for destroying another's materials or stealing another's property. Efforts are often made to compensate victims for the damaged window or door, or replacement of taken goods. Unfortunately, there is rarely any recognition of the emotional impact of burglary, which is very real.

If you talk to the average person who has experienced a burglary, they will often use terms like "robbery" or "home invasion" to describe the event. In the eyes of the law, a robbery or a home invasion is an act that occurs to the person, by force or threat of force, not the removal of property from an unoccupied home. However, this description of the act by the lay person - the victim - only underscores the deep impact a burglary has on the family that experiences it. For them, it is much more than a loss of property.

At the Heart of the Reaction

In western society, we are familiar with the saying, "A Man's Home is His Castle." However, what does that really mean? At the heart of this saying is the belief that the home is our sanctuary, our safe place - a place where we are in control and we have the say over who comes and goes. A burglary is the deepest violation of this belief, and an assault on our sense of security: A stranger has been in our house. Not only has someone stolen some of the things we worked so hard to purchase, sometimes priceless mementos of our lives, they have invaded our safe sanctuary, our home. If the locked doors of our home can't keep someone out when we aren't there, will they keep them out when we are there? Will they come back? Will this happen again? How safe am I anywhere? How safe is my family?

A burglary is not just about the lost property - it penetrates to the core of our deepest fears: Is the world a safe place? Do I have any control over what happens to me? This can be a life-altering shift in how one views the world. It is normal to have fears, worries, concerns, and reactions following an invasion of one's home, such as needing to think and talk a lot about the incident, sleeplessness, difficulty concentrating, irritability, appetite changes, and changes in trust, as you begin to re-evaluate your beliefs about the world, your sense of security, and how you find a new balance after being a victim.

Victims of burglary often experience emotions and reactions similar (although typically not as intense or life-changing) as rape victims. If the victim was home when the burglary occurred and came face to face with the offender, the impact can be compounded. If there have been previous traumas in the victim's life, such as recent illness, loss of a loved one, or prior burglary, this can also increase the reaction to the crime. High life stress, in general, or a lack of a social support system, can also make the adjustment following a home break-in more difficult.

Resilience and Recovery

Sometimes just understanding the nature of the trauma and why one experiences certain reactions is enough to help most people weather the storm following a home break-in. Most symptoms lessen gradually over 2-3 weeks, and are mostly resolved in over a month. If, at 4-6 weeks, the burglary still absorbs one's thoughts, sleeplessness remains a major problem, trust issues and irritability are beginning to impact relationships, and concentration problems affect work, this could be a sign that the traumatic reaction to the home invasion has created neuro-biological reactions in the body that could need a visit to a doctor to improve. Early intervention is key! There is no need to live as a shadow of yourself - the body and mind were never meant to exist under extreme stress for weeks at a time. Reactions to crime include anxiety, depression, chronic sleep issues, and other medical conditions that are often easily resolved through medical inventions and counseling.

Remember: The human spirit has an amazing capacity for resilience and recovery. With time and the right tools, even the worst experiences can be a distant memory, or even a positive growth experience.

Carol Wilson has been employed by the York-Poquoson Victim-Witness Assistance Program since 1996, and the director of the program since 2002.  She is a Credentialed Advanced Victim Advocate through the National Organization for Victim Assistance's National Advocate Credentialing Program, and certified in Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) Peer and Group Crisis Intervention through the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation. She currently sits on the York-Poquoson Child Advocacy Team, the Colonial Area Intimate Partner and Family Violence Fatality Review Team, and is the Team Coordinator for the York County Violence Against Women Task Force.

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