“I was robbed with a gun when I was returning home just before midnight. I knew that someone was following me, but was not able to run away in time. My first reaction was disbelief: this cannot happen, especially not in Finland and not in my own home street. The police came to visit me home that same night. I think I also met the lead investigator before dawn.
What happened during the following days was blurry: I had lost my phone, my wallet with all debit and credit cards and my ID card as well as my keys. It took time to get things organised. The event was also reported in some media in a bit too much detail. One magazine, for example, published photos of the gateway of our apartment building and also mentioned my age. Also a reconstruction of the case was shown on Police TV. It was more violent than the actual event. I did not have the strength to talk about it to some not so close friends, but they recognised me from the news and made sure they had the right person by trying to call me and noticing that my phone was switched off. Some closer friends, on the other hand, were very helpful. When I needed to talk, they were there to listen.
The man who robbed me attacked another woman a couple of days later and got caught. I went to the police station to identify him. My own attempt at escape and the robbery had been captured on the CCTV of a nearby business and the evidence against the man was strong. He also confessed quite quickly. But then he kept insisting for quite a long time that he was not armed, and this was the most difficult phase for me. Even the lead investigator argued at some point that I might have just imagined that the man had a handgun, that perhaps he was only threatening me with an air gun. As an illustration of how hard this was, even I started to doubt my own memory that was very clear. I remember that I wasn't even able to sleep and started to doubt my sanity. I also got physical symptoms, had severe stomach aches and headaches. I held my position, however, and finally the man confessed to using a gun and told the police where he had hidden it.
The investigation process was very hard. I had to go to the police station repeatedly to clarify how things had taken place, and my employer at the time was confusingly awkward about my recurring absences that I could not help. Being sued to the trial felt strange. I had always thought that the people who committed crimes were sued, not the victims. I felt somehow guilty seeing the summoner standing at my door. The end of the legal process and the prison sentence of more than two years the man got made me feel a lot better. I think the actual recovery process only started after the trial.
The robbery happened in January, and I suffered from some degree of fear the entire year. Sometimes when I was coming home from a restaurant, a friend who lives nearby had to walk me home. One time when I got home, a completely insane guy was raging in front of my staircase with a crowbar. That brought the robbery back to my mind and I was very anxious for some time again. I might be standing at traffic lights and constantly looking to see who was standing behind me, and I could have panic attacks in the metro and even in a university auditorium. For a couple of years, I was unable to watch any movies that had guns in them.
All in all, it was a very difficult year. The night of the robbery I had just been talking to a friend about the attempted suicide of a mutual friend a couple of weeks earlier. Sometimes it felt like life could never be good or the same again. That anything might happen. My friend could have died, I could have been shot. I think that worse than the actual robbery was the fact that I tried to run but didn't succeed. I ran for my life and it still ended the way it did. If I hadn't had the time to react at all, I might have accepted the event more easily.
These thoughts felt confusing a couple of years later, and now, nine years later, that year seems like a dream, so unreal. On the other hand, it's an important part of the story of my life.
The event caused some kind of a permanent crack in my basic feeling of safety. Since then, life has felt more fragile, but also more valuable. After the robbery, I did lots of things that I had dreamt about and probably lived more in the moment than before. As strange as it may sound, the event or at least its consequences did not turn out to be all negative in the long run. During the robbery and the legal process, I found resources in myself that I never thought existed. I realised that you can get through anything. Also my relationship with my family improved. Relationships with friends changed: some people are now closer than before, some more distant. Perhaps some of my friends were not able to bear my anxiety or know what to feel about what had happened, but the support of those who stayed is something I will remember for the rest of my life. They are still important to me. It is difficult to explain, but somehow the event also made me understand life better. After it, I was more accepting about choices people make as well as myself.
If I had to say what I could have done differently after the robbery, the first thing that comes to my mind is that I could have sought professional help. Before the trial, I went to the doctor to get some sleeping pills, but for some reason, I never went anywhere to talk about what had happened. I did not know there was such a thing as Victim Support Finland. I'm sure that would have been very useful. I decided to focus on my studies and work and just to forget what had happened. Besides panic attacks, this also resulted in an incipient gastric ulcer. It was only after that I realised I had to rest.
Here are some tips for people that are close to someone who has been the victim of a crime:
Don't blame. Nobody becomes the victim of a crime by choice. I was most astonished by people who said “you have to watch who's walking behind you” or “why didn't you cry for help?”
Don't be afraid of strange reactions. My panic attacks and phobias apparently scared some of my friends. A feeling of going mad is common in crises. It doesn't help if also your friends become afraid of you.
Listening is what's important.The most important thing is that a loved one does not walk away when things get tough. If necessary, you can encourage the victim to seek professional help by contacting a crisis clinic or victim support for example. A friend can make it easier to seek help by saying that getting help and feeling bad after a shocking event is completely normal. I felt guilty about my symptoms and reactions and thought that in order to be entitled to seek help, the event should have been much worse. Looking back, thinking like that seems absolutely incomprehensible.”