Break-Ins And Their Emotional Aftermath

By Sarah Volpenhein, Grand Forks Herald
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

July 21--Years after it happened, UND psychology professor John-Paul Legerski said he still remembered the trauma of the break-in that happened when he was a teenager.

"They cleared us out, stealing everything from old film reels of my parents' wedding to the clothes in our closets," Legerski said in an email.

"I felt completely violated and helpless," he said. "The hardest part was imagining other people walking into our home."

It is normal for victims of burglaries to feel anxiety, distress, fear, or a loss of control, according to Faye Kihne, director of prevention and community services at the Community Violence Intervention Center in Grand Forks.

"It can have traumatizing effects," she said.

According to FBI crime data, burglaries of residential properties account for nearly three-fourths of all burglary offenses. In 2013, there were about 350 burglary reports in northeast North Dakota and 27 burglary arrests.

There were about 190 reports in northwest Minnesota in 2012, according to the most recent crime data.

Close to PTSD

Legerski, who now studies post-traumatic stress disorder at the university, said that researchers have found no clear link between burglary and PTSD. But, he said, burglary victims often experience PTSD-like symptoms, such as nightmares, increased negativity or hypervigilance -- checking and double-checking that doors are locked and windows are shut.

In violent burglaries in which victims may have feared for their lives, Legerski said victims might develop PTSD, but clarified that this is rare.

Kihne said the trauma of a break-in can have physical and mental wear on victims, causing them to lose sleep and to worry about the intruder returning.

"Every time a stranger or someone we care about violates our safety, we may feel like we're not in control," she said. "It can cause individuals to second guess themselves and ask, 'What could I have done to have stopped this?'"

Kihne encouraged burglary victims to do what they need to feel safe again and return to normalcy, such as installing a dead bolt or putting in more lights.

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Other steps

Victims can also call police to ask for advice on how to make it more secure, according to Lt. Dwight Love with the Grand Forks Police Department.

If a burglar is convicted, victims may also seek restitution for damaged and unrecoverable stolen property. It there was violence involved, North Dakota's Crime Victims Compensation program may help with lost wages, funeral costs and medical bills not covered by insurance. Its counterpart in Minnesota, the Crime Victims Reparation program, requires injury or death before compensation is offered.

For Legerski everything did eventually return to normalcy after his family's break-in.

"Like most people, these feelings (of distress) faded over time," he said.


(c)2014 the Grand Forks Herald (Grand Forks, N.D.)

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Distributed by MCT Information Services

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