PTSD following assault

PTSD following a violent assault, robbery or mugging

It’s widely understood that countless people suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). That could include you if you have faced a violent assault, robbery or mugging. The impact of this would be deep and probably difficult to explain, even to yourself! Well-meaning friends and relatives could say “Well, at least it’s all over now, and you’re safe. It could have been worse!”

The truth is, even if your assailant has been brought to justice, this awful incident could leave you with PTSD. What are the signs that a deeply distressing, potentially life-threatening single event has caused you (or a loved one) to have PTSD?

Violent crime and PTSD figures

First, how likely are British people to experience a violent assault, robbery or mugging? Sadly, it’s probably more common than you realise.

In England and Wales, in the year leading to March 2020, there were 5.8 million crimes recorded by the police (figures exclude Greater Manchester). Of those, over 1.2 million included violence.

One report suggested as many as 30% of crime victims suffer PTSD.

Witnesses and unharmed victims can have PTSD too

Can you have PTSD as a witness to a crime, such as a robbery in your workplace, an attack you saw on your partner, or even a violent assault you witnessed while your children were present? The answer is yes!

The physical impact of a violent crime can be negligible or even non-existent. However, if you felt an overwhelming sense of danger, helplessness and lack of control, that can still result in PTSD.

Put it this way. Imagine emerging physically unharmed from being the subject or witness of an incident, in which you felt you – or someone you care about – was going to be raped or killed. The trauma is substantial and you are still a ‘victim’.

There is another deeply troubling aspect of this. Studies (including a research project in Canada) show that victims of violent crime can go on to be people who carry out violent acts, due to untreated PTSD and other stress-related psychiatric disorders. A terrible cycle of violence.

Symptoms of PTSD following a robbery or assault

Part of the issue is that victims of crime are often themselves unaware that they have PTSD. Any lingering issues are assigned to anxiety or depression, which require a different therapeutic approach to post traumatic stress disorder.

Some victims of a violent assault appear to recover well, and no longer have contact with the police, justice system or victim support. However, they can gradually start to experience poor sleep, nightmares, lack of focus and a continuous ‘replaying’ of the incident. Anger and fear get mixed in with embarrassment they can’t ‘throw off’ what has happened.

Addressing the issues

More research is needed to understand the link between violent assaults and robberies and PTSD. Including the potential that Restorative Justice has to alleviate this mental health issue. That is when the victim and offender have either direct or indirect communication to repair some of the harm.

Also, could investing in even more robust victim support procedures and techniques ‘nip’ this type of PTSD in the bud?

Also, what more can the police and justice system do, in tackling crime impact quickly and decisively, to stop PTSD occurring? This links to the fact that one in five UK police officers experience PTSD themselves, according to a study by University of Cambridge funded by the charity Police Care UK. How is this being addressed?

Meanwhile, if this issue resonates with you, you can read more about treatment options on our website here

Crime in England and Wales: year ending March 2020 report

Short-term effects of restorative justice conferences on post-traumatic stress symptoms among robbery and burglary victims: a randomized controlled trial, Caroline M. Angel & Lawrence W. Sherman & Heather Strang & Barak Ariel & Sarah Bennett & Nova Inkpen & Anne Keane & Therese S. Richmond; 19 March 2014,J Exp Criminol (2014) 10:291–307 DOI 10.1007/s11292-014-9200-0

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Treatments for PTSD

It is possible for PTSD to be successfully treated many years after the traumatic event occurred, which means it is never too late to seek help. For some, the first step may be watchful waiting, then exploring therapeutic options such as individual or group therapy – but the main treatment options in the UK are psychological treatments such as Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprogramming (EMDR) and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

Traumatic events can be very difficult to come to terms with, but confronting and understanding your feelings and seeking professional help is often the only way of effectively treating PTSD. You can find out more in the links below, or here.