Resources for Criminal Justice Professionals
The experience of a homicide survivor is unique. The grieving process is complicated by the trauma of the homicide. Bereavement experts have found that most people need to have information about the circumstances of a loved one’s death in order to advance through the grieving process. Homicide survivors are less likely than other mourners to have such information available to them. They experience what has been called “a grief like no other” which is exacerbated when the crime remains unsolved. Prolonged justice often translates to prolonged grieving. Grief and trauma affect how well individuals are able to cooperate, interact and communicate with criminal justice officials. Officials should be mindful of, and sensitive to, this dynamic. As the mother of a homicide victim explained:
“The case is not a cold case to me. My son was murdered. It is like yesterday.”
Communicate regularly and honestly with survivors. Lack of communication or contact can be as frustrating to a survivor as lack of progress on the case. Regular contact will help the survivor to know the case (their loved one) is not forgotten.
Never complain about workload or explain a delay by saying you are busy. Though it may be true, this type of comment is often misinterpreted as minimizing the importance of the victim’s homicide.
Utilize a victim specialist from your agency or from a community agency if you do not have a specialist on staff. A victim liaison can attend to the victims’ needs, answer questions and provide case updates. He or she can also check in with the victims, even when there isn’t anything new to convey, which is something survivors report would be helpful to them.
Victims may need help finding support groups and other services. The victim service field has grown considerably over the past two decades. It is possible victims are unaware of resources that exist but did not exist when the crime occurred. To help survivors locate homicide survivor support groups in their communities, refer them to the National Organization of Parents Of Murdered Children, Inc., at (888) 818–POMC. Victims may also find the information in the Victim Rights and Services section of this website helpful, as well.
When a case is first reactivated, it may be helpful for the cold case staff to hold a meeting with the survivors if possible and a victim specialist. This meeting will set a foundation for future communication and cooperation; help set realistic expectations; clarify roles; and help assess whether victims have the support they need moving forward.
If the case is attracting media attention (or is likely to), establish communication with survivors to help them understand how their involvement with the media could potentially impact the case. Explain the agency’s protocol and policies for sharing information with the media. If the agency plans to release information to the media during the case, survivors should be told ahead of time. Agencies may wish to distribute the Victim Media Card (PDF, 92KB) which contains resources and practical tips for victims regarding the media.
Statutory Duties to Victims and Witnesses (Crime Victim Rights)
Victims of crime in Wisconsin have special constitutional and statutory rights. Public officials and agencies have specific statutory duties regarding these rights. Victim rights help keep victims informed and better able to cooperate or assist in an investigation or prosecution. Officials should be aware that in Wisconsin, a spouse, minor child, adult child, sibling, parent or legal guardian of a homicide victim is considered a victim for the purpose of receiving these special rights and other services.
The following online resources may help your agency better comply with Wisconsin’s victim rights statutes: