Assistance and Recovery

Assistance and Recovery

After a traumatic disaster such as a politically inspired bombing, victims are likely to be over- whelmed by intense emotions of shock, anxiety, confusion, sorrow, and grief. Some are immediately beset by outrage and revenge fantasies, or even guilt for surviving, while others undergo delayed reac- tions. As the unfocused anger dissipates, depression and loneliness may set in. Sleep disorders, panic attacks, sudden weight gains or losses, and abuse of alcohol and prescription drugs are common symptoms of inner turmoil. Sensing that no one understands what they have endured, some might even contemplate suicide. Professional counseling, spiritual support, and membership in a self-help group might stave off the most serious conse- quences of experiencing this ordeal (Office of Victims of Crime, 2001). However, the “debrief- ings”during counseling sessions frequently offered to traumatized survivors of disasters, such as the September 11 attacks, may be ineffective at best or even counterproductive, according to two recent studies. Researchers turned up scant evidence that the recipients of trauma counseling fare better, in terms of their long-term mental health, than victims who get no professional care, or those who just talk to friends and family members (Van Emmerik et al., 2002).

Victimologists interested in survivorology could study a number of real-life examples of the exemplary resilience shown by some of the specta- tors wounded at the Boston Marathon bombing, such as these:

A 27 year-old newlywed undergoes 17 surgeries to try to salvage her leg, which was severely mangled by the bomb blast. Eventually, doctors conclude, and she agrees, that amputation is the best course of action. She hosts a “last supper” party for her limb and posts pictures about it on her Facebook page, writing to it, “I’m sure it won’t come as a shock to you when I say that we’ve grown apart. The love that we once had has dwindled, and this relationship has become a real burden on my life.” Then the courageous young mother goes under the knife, and the surgeon declares the operation a success. From her hospital bed, she tells her supporters that this marks a new beginning and signs the message with a new last name, “Unleashed.” (Walsh, 2014)

Two brothers, 32 and 34 years old, both construction workers, are watching marathon runners cross the finish line when the bombs explode. Each brother loses a leg from the blast and the shrapnel. After lengthy hospitalizations and a total of 50 surgeries between them, both now are able to walk with their prosthetic legs. A compensation fund for the bombing victims awards each of them over a million dollars, but they wisely put the money into a savings account to pay for future medical bills. After suffering bouts of depression and suicidal impulses, they recuperate, move out of their family’s house, move in with their girlfriends, and make plans for a wedding and for starting a roofing business. After they appear on panel discussions and television interviews, complete strangers walk up and tell them they are “an inspiration.” “Maybe I am helping them in some way,” one brother speculates. (Seelye, 2014)

To help victims recover from the financial losses and the side effects of politically driven attacks overseas, the Department of Justice’s Office for Vic- tims of Crime established an International Terror- ism Victims Compensation Program. The Justice


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Department also operates a Terrorism and Interna- tional Victims Unit, and the FBI set up an Office for Victim Assistance in 2002 (Office of Victims of Crime, 2002).

The federal 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund distributed about $7 billion to the several thousand families of those killed and wounded in the second World Trade Center attacks (the casualties of the first World Trade Center underground garage truck bomb explosion were not compensated so adequately). Its formula focused on calculations of lost income, so the families of victims who were making high salaries received the largest payments. For example, more than $6 million was awarded on average to each of the four families who lost a breadwinner making $4 million or more a year. About $1 million was awarded on average to each of the roughly 160 families who lost a member who was earning less than $25,000 a year. As for the injured, 40 survivors who were badly burned received awards averaging about $2 million each (Chen, 2004).

Congress’s hasty appropriation of a relatively large amount of money for a 9/11 Victim Com- pensation Fund set off a firestorm of debate and soul searching concerning the weighty moral and philo- sophical issues surrounding the proper societal response to victimization due to terrorism. Confus- ing precedents were set, and conflicting principles remain unresolved. Should murders inflicted by ter- rorists be taken more seriously than slayings com- mitted by robbers or deaths caused by drunk drivers? Should compensation amounts be higher for the survivors of heroic rescuers such as police officers and firefighters who died in the line of duty than for the next of kin of average civilians caught up in a disaster? Conversely, is it fair to repay families based on the victim’s lifetime earn- ings potential, which means that wealthy families who lost highly paid executives would receive much more than the families of workers? How much compensation ought to be awarded to the families of immigrant workers who had entered the country illegally, the relatives of single people without dependents, and to the children and domestic partners of victims who were not officially

married? Would standard flat amounts for every- one, regardless of status, be fair? Why were the several thousand families of the victims of the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001 repaid from a special federal fund, whereas the six families who lost loved ones in the 1993 terrorist bombing of the same buildings for roughly the same motives were not? Why were the families of the over 3,000 9/11 victims of foreign religious extremists given more financial compensation than the families of the 168 victims of domestic right-wing extremists in Oklahoma City? Should attacks that take place within the United States evoke more generous out- pourings of economic assistance than attacks on Americans on foreign soil? Most importantly, can money really serve as an adequate surrogate or met- aphor for other significant public and governmental responses and expressions of collective emotions, such as compassion, support, respect, honor, regret, sorrow, obligation, and appreciation, that are intended to help victims and their loved ones cope with the special problems terrorism imposes? And finally, will such special arrangements for pay- outs be implemented every time terrorists inflict casualties in the future (Belkin, 2002)? (Until 9/11, people injured by terrorist attacks and the next of kin of those who died in the attacks applied for financial assistance from their state vic- tim compensation funds, which have very limited resources set aside to reimburse individuals who get wounded in ordinary street crimes. See Chapter 12 for a full discussion of the legislation establishing government-run compensation funds.)

In the aftermath of the vicious Boston bomb- ing, similar but not identical thorny questions were raised: Where should the funds to help victims recover primarily come from, the government at the local, state, or federal level, or private sources, or a mix of both? How much aid should each totally innocent person who was in the wrong place at the wrong time get? What would it take to try to make each individual “whole again”?

The task of compensating the many wounded spectators and the next of kin of the four who were murdered largely fell to private charitable organiza- tions, especially One Fund Boston, not the city of

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Boston, the state of Massachusetts, or the federal government. This charity, rapidly set up to assist the victims of this particular bombing, distributed over $60 million and planned to parcel out an addi- tional $20 million to the over 200 casualties and the families of the three who perished plus the officer who was slain during the bombers’ attempts to get away. Its basic formula was to give priority to peo- ple who face a lifetime of medical and psychological care because they needed amputations or treatments for severe injuries to their limbs. The highest pay- outs, over $2 million per person, went to the fami- lies of those who were murdered or suffered double amputations. Others received payouts based on whether the amputation was above or below the knee; the severity of the injuries to their remaining limbs; the number of surgeries they underwent; and their age. But some of the younger amputees expressed concerns that the seemingly generous awards actually would not cover a lifetime of med- ical expenses. Others who were wounded ques- tioned a payment formula that based allotments on the number of days they spent in a hospital. Those with traumatic brain injuries (as well as hear- ing loss, PTSD, and blast-related phobias) felt that they did not receive sufficient “cash gifts” as they were called—only about $8,000 each—from the fund’s medical advisory board to cover the treat- ment of their permanent yet invisible wounds (Abel, 2014; and Bernstein, 2014).

Civil lawsuits for damages are another avenue for financial recovery that can be pursued by people injured by terrorists, and for the families of those who perish from their wounds. The obvious targets for these lawsuits are the evildoers themselves. But terrorists rarely have assets that can be confiscated, sold, and divided up. An alternative strategy is to sue some other party that can reasonably be proven to be partly responsible for the injuries and losses. (See Chapter 12 for a detailed discussion of these third-party lawsuits.)

Concerns about the need to enhance security at potential targets predated the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Therefore, shortly after that attack, more than 400 plaintiffs (injured office workers and the families of the six who were fatally

wounded, plus some owners of businesses in the building) sued the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the governmental body that built and operated the Twin Towers, for negligence for failing to safeguard a likely target. Twelve years later, a six-person civil jury unanimously ruled in the plaintiffs’ favor. In a historic decision, the jurors accepted the victims’ argument that the agency should have realized that the commercial center symbolized American capitalism and consequently ought to have foreseen the likelihood of a terrorist attack and should have taken steps to prevent it. Specifically, the management did not heed the warning about the vulnerability of an underground garage that was flagged by a 1985 security study that it had commissioned in the wake of a spate of bombings in Europe and the Middle East. How- ever, New York’s highest court reversed the 2005 decision in 2011 and ruled by a 4–3 vote that the Port Authority was not liable for the damages inflicted by the 1993 truck bombing on the 400 plaintiffs (Weiser, 2011).

The survivors of the September 11 attacks and the families of those who perished also have used third-party lawsuits as a means of empowerment and redress. Because there were so many victims drawn from such diverse backgrounds, more than 20 groups sprung up to represent them (Voboril, 2005). In their search for the truth about the events leading up to the attacks, they have pursued a wide range of targets in civil court, from terrorist groups and foreign governments that may have harbored them to businesses and charities that may have served as fronts for terrorist fundraising (CNN, 2002). Some survivor organizations also have sup- ported whistleblowers who publicly reveal govern- ment blunders and weaknesses in national security strategies (American Civil Liberties Union, 2005).

People concerned about becoming victims of future acts of terrorism can take out insurance backed by the federal government. When Con- gress passed the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act of 2002, it authorized the secretary of the treasury, in concurrence with the secretary of state and the U.S. attorney general, to determine whether any act inflicting casualties and losses on American soil,


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or to U.S. airplanes or ships, was committed on behalf of any foreign person or interest. If it deci- des the injuries and damage was due to interna- tional terrorism, then the U.S. Treasury will pay

90 percent of the covered losses beyond what the insurance companies must reimburse to their pol- icyholders. Ways of repaying victims of any and all crimes is the subject of the next chapter.


Groups of victims who face special problems that require special solutions have received a lot more attention in recent years. Victims of stalking, until recently, had a difficult time convincing the author- ities to take seriously their concerns about being in danger. New legislation, improved law enforce- ment responses, support groups, and self- protection tactics now help ease their plight. Mean- while, the problem of cyberstalking is growing. Fortunately, the number of officers slain in the line of duty is declining thanks to improved training and better equipment. Victims of bias-motivated hate crimes need social support from well- meaning people who are trying to make the ongo- ing experiment in multiculturalism in America succeed. Worker safety, including protection from violence, requires greater attention on the part of employers. Inmates in jails and prisons face grave dangers from their cellmates and rivals but the vio- lence they inflict on each other no longer is

overlooked or tolerated. Police officers face unusual dangers because of their special mission: They con- front people known to be armed and dangerous on a daily basis—just the opposite of what risk reduc- tion strategies would recommend. To enhance their on-the-job safety, they need better training and improved equipment, but new initiatives also must target suicide and accidents, which claim more lives. In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, difficult questions arose that still have not been resolved about the proper principles to follow to financially support the casualties of terrorism. A spate of school shootings have focused attention on the dangers that students face while at school, but school grounds still are much safer than the streets of surrounding communities. The myth of college campuses as crime-free sanctuaries also has been shattered, but campuses remain among the very saf- est places for 18- to 24-year-olds to spend their high-risk years.

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