For immigrants in the US, interacting with a law enforcement officer is often the last thing we want to do. But what happens if you witness a crime? What happens if you’re the victim of a crime? How can you keep yourself safe while taking the most responsible actions to move forward?
Let’s slow down the spiraling thoughts and focus on what we can control right now. Read on to learn all the options at our disposal as immigrants who witnessed a crime.
Reporting Crimes with Legal Protection
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services department offers a U Visa specifically for victims who suffered physical or mental abuse upon witnessing a crime. It is contingent on their willingness to work with law enforcement so they can find and prosecute the criminal.
U Visas have been around since October of 2000. They were designed to help law enforcement investigate and prosecute cases of domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, and other crimes while protecting the victims who are helpful in catching the culprits.
We should report the incident as soon as possible by dialing 911, calling our local non-emergency number, or by going straight to the police station and speaking with an officer. Consider bringing a supportive friend or family member along. Distressing times are easier to cope with when we’re not alone.
Providing A Witness Statement
If we have the chance to speak with police at the scene of the crime, we should. Our witness statement will be key for their investigation, and it can help anyone affected by the event. (Especially if the case ends up going to court.)
Sometimes, investigations require multiple interviews or an appearance in court. If this happens, expect to receive a full explanation from the police about the next steps, and information on where and when we need to appear in court.
Witnesses can even get help to cover the costs of travel. To learn more, contact a support worker or the officer in charge of your case.
Spirituality and Losing a Life at the Scene of the Crime
Some cultures want to perform a ceremonial blessing where someone has passed away in order to start the grieving process. It can be healing to acknowledge the spiritual impact that the tragedy had on so many people. It also allows the deceased to pass onto the other side with respect and dignity.
We are under no obligation to make these ceremonies public to people outside of our family or culture, even if the investigation is. However, some people find it more healing to open up the celebration of life to the local community. To find someone who can arrange the blessing of the site, consider asking the police officer for contacts or reaching out to your local church or place of faith.
Coping with Trauma
Even if we weren’t harmed during the event, witnessing a crime or disturbing act of violence can affect us psychologically. We may feel shocked, disbelief, vulnerability, fury, or immediate grief. It can be overwhelming, but others may feel the opposite—a total numbness. We may fight feelings of guilt, convincing ourselves we had more power to stop it than we actually did.
Days, months, or years later, we may be reminded of the event through flashbacks, surprising memories, or disturbing nightmares. Even though the event happened once, being surrounded by reminders can make us feel like we’re living through the shock of it all again. Some people become more isolated, trying to avoid any reminders of what happened.
For cases like this, it’s important to work with a licensed professional counselor to sort through and reprocess those feelings. If you are ready to get started, please read more about EMDR trauma therapy and contact me today.