Keeping fear from the door

25th August 2005, Comments 0 comments

We look at Dutch victim support agency Slachtofferhulp which helped more victims last year than ever before.

It was an awful period. We distrusted everyone in the neighbourhood. We didn't even feel safe anymore in our own home. For instance, we locked the bedroom door every night and Paul kept a baseball bat and knife within reach. He was really afraid it would happen again, though I didn't think there was a big chance of that.

(Paul and Marjan from Dronten)

***

I was blinded by the bright light from a headlight. I tried to jump quickly to the pavement but I never reached the other side of the road. I still remember that the car did not brake. At full speed, I ended up on the hood. My head banged into the windscreen and everything went black.

(Bert Gibcus, aged 63)

***

These are excerpts of two of the thousands of stories the volunteers of the Dutch victim support organisation Slachtofferhulp Nederland (SHN) hear every year.

This is one of the recurring nightmares SHN helps victims to deal with

The first comes from Paul and Marjan, civil servants who found their home had been broken into when they returned  from a family party on 31 December.

The place was a complete mess: all the cupboards had been opened and the drawers pulled out, scattering their belongings on the floor.

But the scariest aspect of all was that the intruder had left blood covering everything - the carpets, walls, the settee and the furniture. Paul's razor was dumped in the hallway and an unopened bottle of wine was left on their bed.

The pair thought they could get through the trauma on their own but the police knew otherwise and put them in touch with victim support.

The second extract is from the account given by retired ambulance nurse Bert Gibcus. The accident itself wasn't the only traumatic experience. The next day the driver rang to demand Bert pay for the damage to the car.

Their cases are far from isolated. Last year, SHN helped counsel more victims of crime and accidents than ever before.

Annual report

In total 96,958 people were helped by SHN in 2004, some 2.700 more than the year before.

In its annual report published on 25 August the organisation said the increase was largely due to the growth in the number of crime victims seeking help. In contrast, the number of victims of traffic accidents seeking help has dropped.

*sidebar1*This may not indicate a fall in the theft and car accidents. The organisation has in recent times focused on victims who find themselves confronted by "more serious" consequences.

"Of those, it more often involves a victim of a violent crime than a victim of a property crime," SHN director Jaap Smit said in the report.

What is SHN?

Slachtofferhulp Nederland has 75 offices around the country and a national office in Utrecht. It is financed by the Ministry of Justice, local authorities and the fund, Fonds Slachtofferhulp.

The organisation has its origins in the emergence of the "victim movement" in several countries in the 1970s. For the first time it was widely accepted that crime can have a lasting psychological impact on the victim.

The concept of victim support was tried out in Rotterdam and went nationwide in 1984.

SHN describes itself as "an independent, authoritative, scientific and professional" organisation. Its paid staff and volunteers offer practical, emotional and legal assistance to victims of crime and accidents. The practical help can involve help filing insurance claims. SHN also offers support to victims during criminal cases and helps fill in victim impact statements.

Memory of the crime can be worse than the crime itself

It's main task though is to give victims the opportunity to talk freely as a first step to getting

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