Family survivors of homicide victims: Theoretical perspectives and an exploratory study

Authors

  • Angelynne Amick-McMullan,

    1. Medical University of South Carolina, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, 171 Ashley Avenue, Charleston, South Carolina 29425–0742
    2. Veteran's Administration Medical Center, Charleston, South Carolina
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  • Dean G. Kilpatrick,

    1. Medical University of South Carolina, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, 171 Ashley Avenue, Charleston, South Carolina 29425–0742
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  • Lois J. Veronen,

    1. Medical University of South Carolina, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, 171 Ashley Avenue, Charleston, South Carolina 29425–0742
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  • Susan Smith

    1. Medical University of South Carolina, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, 171 Ashley Avenue, Charleston, South Carolina 29425–0742
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  • A preliminary version of this paper was presented at the Family Violence Research Conference, Durham, NH, July, 1987.

Abstract

Little empirical information is available on the impact of homicide on surviving family members. Existing descriptions fall into a dichotomy of grief theory and those reporting symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. This pilot study offers a multidimensional formulation which combines symptoms reported across previous studies. Participants were 19 survivors recruited through a victim witness program and a victim rights organization. A learning model, Mowrer's Two Factor Theory, was applied to explain the acquisition and maintenance of post-traumatic symptoms. Consistent with this model, survivors reported recurrent homicide-related intrusions and avoidance behaviors on the Horowitz Impact of Event Scale (IES). Comparison of survivors' IES scores with those of victims of rape, loss of a family member, and other trauma revealed a high frequency of symptoms. Mean length of time since homicide was 2.5 years. The Derogatis Symptom Check List 90-Revised (SCL9O-R) revealed a high level of general psychiatric distress, with 66% of survivors meeting “caseness” criteria, indicating a need for treatment intervention. A 7-point Likert scale measure of satisfaction with the criminal justice system was highly correlated with SCL9O-R subscales of depression (r = − 0.82) and anxiety (r = − 0.82). This link between distress and perceptions of the justice system provided preliminary support for an equity theory perspective on survivor attributions. Conceptual, research, and clinical implications were discussed.

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