Is the Aftermath of Murder Like an Orphan Disease?

Orphan diseases impact a small percentage of the population.  They’re rare.  They’re neglected. They can be genetic, infectious, toxic, or from unknown causes. Orphan diseases get little funding to carry out research.  The lack of research keeps the conditions from being known, diagnosed, and treated. It’s a vicious circle.

Examples of rare, orphaned diseases are Potocki-Lupski syndrome, Trisomy; Microdeletion Syndrome; 2-hydroxyethyl methacrylate sensitization, and Pseudok-Angelman Syndrome.  About 7000 orphaned diseases are known to exist in the U.S.  Together they afflict fewer than 200,000 people per condition. In an extreme example, Fields Condition is known to impact only three people in the world. Most have no treatment.

Is The Aftermath of Homicide Like an Orphaned Disease?

Is the aftermath of homicide for survivors similar? There are about 20,000 known homicides per year in the U.S. with an average of eight to ten people that are deeply and immediately impacted.  This approaches 200,000 new homicide survivors per year. There is a paucity of research, or even discussion of the needs of this group and how best to meet them.  The majority that has been carried out is sponsored by grassroots support groups or the National Institute of Health.

Most healthcare providers today, both in mental and physical health, receive no training in helping people cope with the aftermath of murder.  So, to become an expert they must seek out and master whatever training they can find post-graduation.  This may stem from attending conferences, workshops, support group meetings, being tutored by someone who is experienced, becoming a homicide survivor themselves, or slowly amassing experience by taking on patients who are willing to be treated by an inexperienced person.

If healthcare providers receive no training, they won’t recognize behaviors specific to homicide survivors – such as fear of reprisal and a sudden urge to relocate.  Without proper training, they won’t know important questions to ask (such as “Did you contact the American Biorecovery Association to get assistance in finding a biorecovery company that won’t exploit you on social media?” or “Do you have access to your victim advocate?”)  They are also unlikely to be aware of valuable resources (such as Parents of Murdered Children or Homicide, Inc.).

How can this be reversed?  Well, taking a cue from orphaned disease treatments, the following strategies could be implemented:

Raising Public Awareness

There are several ways of educating the public about this.  One idea is to routinely mention a resource for homicide survivors whenever a homicide is reported on the news.

If more towns would promote September 25th – National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims – in the town calendar more citizens would become aware of this underrecognized date set aside by congress to pause and take note of homicide victims.

It would be helpful to hold public Q and A meetings about Marsy’s Law in states where Marsy’s Law is not yet passed into law.

Raising Academic Awareness

There are very few victim rights attorneys in the United States.  They ensure that the rights of crime victims are upheld in the courtroom.  Law schools could make this obscure specialty visible to current and future law students, thereby increasing the number of victim rights attorneys.

Graduate programs in mental health and corrections could offer an entire course on homicide survivors. 

Raising Treatment Provider Awareness

Medical training could consist of at least one lecture on the aftermath of murder and how it impacts a person physically.

Mental health continuing education programs could offer a self-directed learning module about the diagnosis and treatment of trauma specific to the aftermath of homicide.

Primary care providers could add one question about this situation on their regular health intake forms: (“Have you ever had to cope with the murder of someone you were close to?”)

Building a network of providers

Anyone with experience, post-graduate training, and interest in treating homicide survivors could come together and build a network of providers within each professional group (such as APA, AAMFT or NASW).

Establishing a patient advisory group

A committee of homicide providers could meet periodically to advise the National Institute of Health, professional groups or other governmental bodies about the unmet needs of this population.

Taking any of these actions would reduce the tendency for PTSD and suicide among this population.  It would help parents help their children cope with the change that has come.  It would highlight the need for certain overlooked resources (such as budgeting and financial help).   It would reduce substance abuse risk in this population. It would, in time, motivate a larger percentage of survivors to move toward advocacy.

Together we can.

For more detailed information and for other resources, please refer to my book What Now? Navigating the Aftermath of Homicide and Suicide, available now on Amazon.

Click this Amazon link:

I’m Jan Canty. Psychologist, author, podcast host, speaker…  and homicide survivor.

I am passionate about finding ways to support and help other so-called “homicide or suicide survivors.”

No one should have to go through this kind of loss… but if you do, I want you to know… YOU ARE NOT ALONE! 

You aren’t crazy. It’s not your imagination! Society does not know how to comfort us. Fortunately, we know how to comfort one another.

Check out my books and get tools and resources to help you or someone you love!