How to cope with crime

As we are all different, if we witness a crime or become a victim of a crime, we react in different ways.  However, we should understand that our reactions may result in unconscious changes to the way we feel or the way we act, after the crime has taken place: the more traumatic the crime, the more changes we may experience.

According to Victim Support UK[1], it may be difficult to cope with the effects of a crime as we know it was carried out deliberately by another person. Unlike an accident or an illness, people who commit a crime intend to cause harm to either people or property.

The effects of crime can last for a long time, and these effects are not necessarily dependent on the ‘severity’ of the crime. Some people cope well after being involved in a serious crime, while others can be very distressed by a more minor incident.  You can read more about how crime affects people here.

It is possible to find ways to cope after being involved in a crime, some people feel better on their own, others wish to talk to their family and friends, or get help from a victim support professional or a psychologist. Victim support professionals are specifically trained to help people who have become victims of crime.

Here are some tips for dealing with the impact of crime:

  • Talk to your family and friends: talking to those close to you may help you process the traumatic experience. While it may be distressing to think and talk about the crime, it may also help you understand what happened and move on.
  • Say how you feel: talking about your feelings is one of the ways people process and deal with their emotions.
  • Get professional help: there are victim support professionals who can help you cope with your experience in a safe manner. Read on to find out more about victim support organisations.

How to report a crime

If you, or anyone near you, is in immediate danger or if you have any other kind of emergency, please call your national emergency number. The European emergency number is 112, it is accessible throughout the EU, free of charge.

For more information on 112 in your country, see: https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/112-your-country and for a full list of national emergency numbers, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_emergency_telephone_numbers. In many countries, people can contact emergency services in a number of ways: by SMS or other text messages, smartphone applications, video calls with sign language, etc.

Whether you report a crime – or not – is up to you as a victim or a witness. (Please follow this link for information on any questions you may have). However, reporting a crime to the authorities will allow a victim access a wide array of legal rights and support services, and is good for society as a whole. If you do not report a crime, you are still able to receive help as most victim support organisations, around the European Union, provide emotional and psychological support even if there is no official report to the police. If you need to find a victim support organisation, please consult our interactive map:

Making an official complaint to the police allows you to access your rights to justice (such legal aid or legal support), receive compensation, provide you with protection, if required, and have all the information you need to make informed choices to help you get over your experience as a victim of a crime.

The quickest and easiest way to report a crime, in most cases, is by contacting the nearest police station. The police officers should be able to help you successfully submit an official complaint. There are, however, other ways to report a crime – depending on the country and the crime.

In the Netherlands, by answering questions on the police website, you will find how to report the crime, based on its type and circumstances: https://www.politie.nl/aangifte-of-melding-doen. This same system applies in the UK. In Belgium you can report a number of minor offences online,  and in Portugal many crimes can be reported through the online complaint service. However, in  most countries, you will need to report a crime at a police station.

There are certain types of crime that can be reported online no matter which Member State you are in cybercrime and illegal internet content.

When you do report a crime to the police, and depending on the country and its justice system, you may have a specific role to play: victim, witness, civil claimant, civil party, private prosecutor, etc.[2] These roles differ from one country to another, and some of them have rights attached to them that may be important later on in the justice process. Check with the police what roles exist in your country, you may also need to know about any deadlines that apply to submitting information about the crime. The police should provide this information to you, along with other information on your rights.

Once you have reported a crime, the legal authorities will work together to bring justice for you and any others involved. As part of this process, they may require your active cooperation until, and perhaps after, the end of the criminal proceedings if there is a prosecution. You will have an important role during this time and your assistance is very much appreciated.

The police will begin their investigation, to establish the evidence to bring the person, who committed the offence, to trial. If the person is prosecuted and found guilty, the judge will decide the appropriate penalty for the offender.

As a victim, you have legally guaranteed rights during the criminal proceedings, some of your rights may extend to your family members and relatives. The European Union has taken steps to guarantee a minimum set of rights and standards which Member States’ laws should comply with. These rights are contained in the Victims’ Rights Directive (2012/29/EU), but each Member State has different ways of applying the Directive in its laws and implementing the rights in practice.

The European e-Justice Portal has a list of factsheets, for each European Union Member State, with information on the rights of victims of crime during an investigation, criminal proceedings, and a trial as well as the support and help you can get in each country – and how to find it. The factsheets also outline the main elements and processes of the justice system of each country.

Please consult the country factsheets here:

How to find help: support and services

As a victim of a crime, you will want to know how to find the organisations that can help you with your experience. Most European countries have helplines for victims of crime: 116 006 is available in Germany, Austria, Portugal, Croatia, the Netherlands, Ireland, Finland, Czechia, Denmark, and Latvia. Additionally, the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) has created a list of helplines for victims of violence in each EU Member State.

If you report a crime to the police, they are obliged to provide you with information on your rights, including your right to information on support services. Remember, you do not have to report a crime to be able to access support services, you can make an appointment or even walk in, depending on the organisation.

There are many victim support organisations providing professional, free-of-charge psychological, legal, and even financial help to victims of crime across the European Union. Some organisations focus on specific kinds of victims (specialised support organisations), such as victims of domestic violence or victims of terrorism, for instance, but many assist all victims of crime (generic victim support organisations), no matter the type of crime they experienced. Victim support organisations also provide online help, through text or video chat platforms.

Victim Support Europe is made up of 41 national victim support organisations, providing support and information services to victims and witnesses of crime in 26 European countries. Victim Support Europe Member Organisations abide by a set of guidelines in the support provided to victims of crime. You may consult all our Member Organisations through our interactive map here.

Not all victim support organisations are part of Victim Support Europe. You can search for your nearest victim support organisation online. The European Union Agency for Fundamental Human Rights has put together[3] a list of generic victim support organisations in each EU Member State:

Staying safe

If you are a victim of crime, you can keep yourself and your loved ones safe after the crime has been committed. The Victims’ Rights Directive gives you rights: to not have to face the person who harmed you; to be protected from repeat victimisation, intimidation, and retaliation, to special protection measures during a criminal investigation and trial. You are have the right to be told about what happens during a criminal investigation and trial, for instance, if the offender has been sentenced, released, or if there is a decision not to prosecute the person who harmed you.

To effectively protect a victim (in particular, a victim of different forms of domestic violence and stalking) from violence and harassment, national authorities often approve of measures, such as restraining, barring or other protection orders[4]. These measures help stop further violence or further attacks by the offender. If a person is given a protection order in one Member State, protection can be given if the person moves or travels to another Member State, according to a system for the mutual respect of protection measures.

Staying safe online

Whether someone has become a victim of crime or not, online safety is important for everyone. Offenders can stalk, bully and/or harass people online – this is called cyber harassment, or cyber bullying. If you are experiencing constant and unwanted attention, and this is making you feel scared, harassed or anxious, then you are a victim of stalking[5].

If someone is bullying you online, there are several steps you can take, other than reporting it to the authorities. You should not reply to abusive messages, but you should save copies of them in a file. You can block those harassing you, so that they can no longer message you. Make sure your online platforms are secure, your passwords are updated and not the same for different platforms. You can reach out to a victim support organisation for advice on your specific situation, and, of course, you can always report the offender to the police.

According to Victim Support UK, the continuous, repetitive nature of what may seem like small incidents can make it difficult for police and others to deal with harassment and stalking. Helping the police and courts to see the bigger picture makes it much easier to deal with the offender’s behaviour.

Here are some of Victim Support UK’s tips[6]:

  • Keep a diary of events. Write down the date, time, location, and details of what happens. It is also a good idea to include information on any other witnesses, who can confirm what happened.
  • Keep copies of letters, text messages and emails, and take screenshots of other online messages (e.g. on Facebook).
  • Try to get ‘evidence’ of any events that happen at your home – but be careful to do this discreetly. Waving a camera at someone who is harassing you is unlikely to help and could make things worse.

If you would like to reach out to a victim support professional near you, check out our interactive member map. If you are in immediate danger, please call 112.