With mass shootings and violence on the rise, Nancy Lewis, the executive director of the Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance (COVA) says we must reconsider how to best help those victims and communities impacted. This applies not only to immediate needs, but to long-term effects 20, 30 and even 50 years following a crime.
“We have to prepare and predict for victims,” said Lewis. “When you’re in trauma, you don’t understand what’s happening to your body and your mind,” said Lewis, who also serves on the Colorado Healing Fund advisory committee.
After twenty years working in victim assistance, Lewis understands that trauma experienced after mass-casualty crime, like other trauma, is life-long. She says feelings that victims experience one year or even decades later are a less explored terrain. The challenge is how are those needs met and by whom.
“The thing we hear most often from victims of crime is that ‘people don’t understand,’” said Lewis.
Informal support networks formed by mass-casualty crime victims sprouted up 20 years ago and are now one of the primary resources for victims. The Rebels Project and The Principals Recovery Network were started by survivors of the attack on Columbine High School to help other survivors of violence.
Lewis believes it’s time for victim assistance organizations to develop a systematic approach to short and long-term care for victims of mass-casualty crime, so that the responsibility isn’t solely placed on individual communities.
“We need to make sure there is an agency assigned to this responsibility. In Colorado, we already have the Victim Information and Notification Everyday, or VINE System,” Lewis said. VINE provides information about specific criminal cases and status of the offenders in custody.
“We have systems available to us right now. We just need to apply these systems to helping victims heal.”