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Mind The Gaps

by Brian Sims
Brian Sims BA (Hons) Hon FSyI: Editor of Risk UK

Brian Sims BA (Hons) Hon FSyI: Editor of Risk UK

The apparent lack of a widely recognised definition for any given ‘victim’ of terrorism is putting at risk the prospect of survivors receiving the emotional and practical help they so desperately need after being caught up in an attack. That’s according to new research conducted by Victim Support.

While families bereaved by terrorism have automatic access to high quality care through the Government-funded Homicide Service – which, in fact, is delivered by Victim Support – British citizens who survive an attack abroad and suffer either psychological or less serious physical injuries are often “falling through gaps” in the system. Many are left struggling and only receive help after referring themselves.

The new Victim Support report entitled ‘Meeting the Needs of Survivors and Families Bereaved Through Terrorism’ also finds that survivors can struggle to know where to turn for information and help in the days and weeks following a terrorist incident.

A survey of Victim Support caseworkers who have supported (or continue to support) people directly affected by terrorism, as well as interviews and questionnaires with survivors and bereaved families, reveals the significant emotional and psychological effects of terrorism and the shortfalls in provision of care. 93.5% of survivors suffered effects including difficulties in sleeping, intense distress when reminded of the incident, anger, flashbacks and anxiety. 78.8% required emotional and psychological support, including from specialist services, but the waiting times for counselling or therapy via the NHS can feel too long, and deter some from even accessing such support.

While post-traumatic stress disorder is relatively common among those who’ve experienced a traumatic event, it’s true to say that treatment isn’t offered by all NHS Mental Health Trusts in England. Other apparent shortcomings of the current system include financial hardships exacerbated by challenges in claiming compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority and a lack of assistance when it comes to dealing with excessive media attention.

In its detailed report, Victim Support makes a series of recommendations based on the findings of its own research with caseworkers, survivors and bereaved families. These also draw on the experiences of individuals and organisations that have a role in providing services to survivors and international examples of what Victim Support believes to be Best Practice.

Those who are ordinarily classified as direct witnesses should be considered and treated as survivors by all agencies, in turn enabling them to access suitable support services. Also, a pathway of support ought to be mapped out and agreed upon by all agencies involved in assisting survivors and a Working Group convened immediately to co-design this pathway.

While there are positive aspects to the current system, such as the support provided by Humanitarian and Survivor Assistance Centres, improvements clearly need to be made. Hopefully, this report will encourage all the agencies involved to work together on ensuring that everyone impacted by such harrowing events receives the absolutely vital assistance they so richly deserve.

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