Homicide is a crime that has a profound and lasting impact on the victim’s
family and friends. The grief that people experience in relation to death
through homicide may be intense due to its sudden and violent nature. People can
feel further distressed by having to deal with the police, the media, the
coroner and other organisations. Another factor is that someone took the life of
the deceased and this can evoke strong feelings of anger and a desire for
Every individual’s experience of grief is unique, although several common
experiences have been identified. For homicide victims, the grief reaction may
be more intense as there are other issues the family must deal with.
Often families of homicide victims feel isolated and alone. Society often places
some of the blame on victims and attaches stigma to the death. Many people
bereaved through homicide also feel as though no-one understands the depth of
their grief, and have unrealistic expectations of the time it takes to heal.
The effects a homicide has on individuals and families may be long lasting and
many aspects of life may be impacted on. For example, personal relationships,
work, social life, physical, emotional and spiritual well being, values and
beliefs about the world. It is also important to remember homicide also has an
impact on children and that their lives will be affected too.
When families initially learn of the violent death of a loved one they often
experience intense shock due to the sudden and unexpected nature of the death.
Families are also trying to deal with the police, media, coroners and funeral
directors and this can be extremely confusing and foreign. It is often at this
stage where families require a lot of practical assistance such as dealing with
every day tasks, liaising with other agencies involved, notifying other family
and friends and organising funerals. Dealing with all of this as well as trying
to comprehend the loss of a loved one can feel overwhelming.
People may also experience intrusive thoughts about the violent way in which the
person died which can be graphic and intense. These thoughts may be about how
they imagine the person died and or suffered or actual memories from the scene
of the crime or morgue. Also people may feel that their own safety is at risk.
When time goes on the full impact of the loss is felt and deep emotions such as
sorrow, fear, anger and guilt are experienced. People begin to understand what
the death of their loved one means and how much they miss them.
Dealing with the criminal justice system
For homicide victims’ families, dealing with the criminal justice system can be
a frustrating and drawn out process. People may need support, information and
assistance throughout the court process. There may also be ongoing issues such
as the release of the offender from prison, parole, seeing the offender in the
street and so on. For families where the body of the loved one has never been
located there will be ongoing issues that cannot be resolved. Similarly, if no
offender is found guilty people might feel that there is no justice.
Dealing with the police
Dealing with the police can be difficult for families particularly in the early
stages where people are in shock, confused and trying to cope with their loss.
The police may have apprehended someone for the murder or may still be
investigating. Either way they will need to have contact with people closest to
the victim to provide information or to gain information to assist with their
investigations. The police may not be able to give out all of the details due to
their ongoing investigation, and they may also regard some people as suspects
and this can be very difficult to cope with. It is important that people
identify someone or several police officers that can be contacted to provide
accurate and clear information.
Dealing with the media
When someone is murdered the media want to report the details to the public.
This can mean that the family is approached for a comment, photograph of the
deceased and further information about what happened. The media can be
persistent in their endeavours to obtain information, which can create more
stress for families. They can also print inaccurate information or appear to
blame the victim, which can be distressing. Sometimes media coverage is
important to assist with the police investigation or when a person is missing.
The media may print further reports on the case after court hearings, the trial,
if the offender applies for early release or even years later when the offender
is released. These reminders may raise feelings of pain and grief.
Dealing with the Coroner’s Office
The police may need someone to identify the body of the victim and this normally
happens at the morgue or forensic science centre. This can be particularly
difficult for families as they may not be adequately prepared for the
experience, the victim may have physical injuries and no-one may be allowed to
touch or spend time with the body. An autopsy or postmortem will also be
performed to establish the cause of death, which may be traumatic for families
and can also mean a delay in the release of the body and hence, may delay the
Dealing with the funeral
Funerals are an important part of the grieving process as they provide a ritual
to say goodbye to the deceased in a meaningful way. Sometimes in the case of
homicide where the victim has sustained injuries people are not encouraged to
view the body. However, this may be particularly important to some people and is
also the last opportunity to see the person. Therefore, careful consideration
should be given to this decision. Also, if no offender has been identified the
police may be present at the funeral and the media will probably attempt to get
a story. This can feel like an invasion of privacy but may be necessary for the
Dealing with the courts
If the police have apprehended someone for the murder then there will be court
hearings and possibly a trial. Most people have never had to deal with the
courts and have little knowledge or experience about how they work. It can also
seem frustrating, as there are often many delays, a lack of information and few
rights for the victim and the victim’s family. Families will have to decide if
they want to attend the court and whilst it is often difficult it may be
important in the long term. Some people feel frustrated as they believe that the
punishment the offender receives is not adequate for the life they have taken
and the lives they have affected.
With time, people do learn to cope with such a traumatic event. Support is often
the key to helping people get through this experience. Support can be provided
by trusted friends and family or through counselling or support groups. Another
important aspect is receiving accurate and clear information and being able to
make informed decisions that are right for you. Other strategies such as
relaxation, writing a journal, having time out and so on may also help but it is
often an individual choice about what helps.