Losing a loved one to violence is a traumatic experience, but the impact of unsolved homicide cases on homicide victims’ families can have devastating consequences that last for years. As a cold case family advocate and researcher, I have seen firsthand the long-lasting effects that unsolved homicides can have on victims’ families. I explore below the eight devastating consequences of unsolved homicides on victims’ families.
- Prolonged grief and trauma – The trauma of losing a loved one to violence can have a profound impact on the mental health of survivors, particularly if the case remains unresolved. Studies have shown that family members of murdered individuals are at increased risk for depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to the lack of closure and resolution (Altholz, 2020; Connolly & Gordon, 2015; Mastrocinque, et al, 2015). The fear and uncertainty that come with an unsolved murder can also have lasting effects on the mental and emotional well-being of survivors. They may experience feelings of anger, frustration, and hopelessness, as well as a loss of trust in law enforcement and the criminal justice system (Altholz, 2020; Connolly & Gordon, 2015; Reed & Caraballo, 2022).
- Financial burden – In addition to the psychological impact, unsolved homicides can also have financial consequences for victims’ families. They may face significant expenses related to the investigation and funeral, as well as ongoing legal fees if they seek compensation through the courts (Altholz, 2020; Williams & Rheingold, 2015).
- Strained family relationships– Unsolved murders can also put additional strain on family relationships, as survivors may struggle to cope with their grief, feelings of blame, resentment, guilt, and anger (Armour, 2002; Connolly & Gordon, 2015).
- A sense of injustice – Research has shown that families of unsolved murder victims often experience a profound sense of injustice, which can result in a lack of closure and ongoing pain. They may feel that the killer has gotten away with the crime and that their loved one’s death has not been given the attention and justice it deserves. Families may experience frustration and dissatisfaction with the criminal justice system, especially if the investigation is stalled or the perpetrator is not brought to justice (Altholz, 2020; Armour, 2002; Connolly & Gordon, 2015; Reed & Caraballo, 2022).
- Community impact – Unsolved homicides can also have a lasting impact on communities. For example, residents may live in fear and insecurity or may experience a loss of trust in law enforcement and the criminal justice system (Altholz, 2020; Morris & Scott, 2022;
- Lack of support and resources – Recent studies have shown that families of unsolved murder victims are often not given adequate support or resources. They may struggle to access information about the investigation or obtain counseling services to help them cope with their loss (Altholz, 2020; Armour,2002; Connolly & Gordon, 2015; Reed & Caraballo, 2022; Stretesky, et al, 2010).
- Marginalized community impact- The impact of unsolved homicides on victims’ families can be particularly pronounced for marginalized communities, such as people of color or low-income individuals, who may experience additional barriers to accessing support and resources (Altholz, 2020; Morris & Scott, 2022; Petersen, 2017; Sharpe, 2015)
- Social anxiety – The stigma associated with homicide can lead to social isolation and a lack of support for the families of victims, especially if the case remains unsolved (Armour, 2002; Huggins, et al., 2020; Mehr, 2015; Ngu, 2018).
In conclusion, the impact of unsolved homicides on victims’ families can be far-reaching and long-lasting, touching every aspect of their lives from mental and emotional health to financial stability, and relationships. It is important that the criminal justice system recognize the importance of bringing closure to these cases and providing adequate resources and support to the families affected. These devastating consequences of unsolved homicides on victims’ families illuminate the need for more support and resources so they can cope with their loss. This can include counseling, support groups, financial assistance, and advocacy for a thorough and timely investigation.
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