Helping Crime Victims Heal, Cope, And Find Justice How does being a victim of crime change those who live through it? For insight, Farai Chideya speaks with Lawanda Hawkins — founder of Justice for Murdered Children — and Dr. Michael DeArellano, a clinical psychologist at the National Crime Victims' Research and Treatment Center.
NPR logo

Helping Crime Victims Heal, Cope, And Find Justice

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Helping Crime Victims Heal, Cope, And Find Justice

Helping Crime Victims Heal, Cope, And Find Justice

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


This is News & Notes. I'm Farai Chideya. Crime is everywhere. You can track it in the media and see how popular it is in movies and novels. But what's the reality of being a victim? Does it change you and how you live your life, and how do you begin to heal? In a few minutes, we're going to talk to a psychologist and a crime victims' advocate. First, we're going to talk to Lawanda Hawkins. She's the founder of Justice for Murdered Children. Her son, Reggie, was killed in December of 1995. Welcome to News & Notes.

Ms. LAWANDA HAWKINS (Founder, Justice for Murdered Children): Thank you.

CHIDEYA: Tell us what happened to your son.

Ms. HAWKINS: My only son, Reginald Lakita Reese(ph), was brutally murdered on December 6th, 1995. I believe they were trying to rob him, and that's why they killed him. But the people responsible for his murder have never been arrested so we have never gone to a courtroom. So, I don't know definitely what actually took place. But I do know my child was murdered that day.

CHIDEYA: How did you respond to his death in the weeks, and the months, and the years that followed?

Ms. HAWKINS: Devastated. I'll never forget hearing the news on the radio that morning, not knowing that it was my son. But on my way to work - I was working at Century City at that time and hearing about them finding a young man's body in San Pedro. And the first thing came to my mind was, oh, my God, I feel sorry for that family. And I was sending prayers to that family not knowing later on that day, I was going to get a call from my husband telling me to come home to find out that it was my son. And it is then - it was like a nightmare, and it's been a nightmare ever since because you don't expect your child to leave this earth before you. And then to leave at the hands of another human being is even more devastating.

CHIDEYA: Tell me about, Reggie.

Ms. HAWKINS: He was everything. He loved to dance. He loved music. At that time, they used to do this thing called break dancing, where kids would go in to streets and dance and compete against each other. Well, Reggie was all into that. Reggie loved music. He loved cars. He loved animals. But yeah - and at that time they used to play this game called Atari. They didn't have this Xbox, PS, and all this stuff, no, nope, nope, nope. It was an Atari at that time, and he loved that. He was - oh, he loved to smile, loved to smile. And "Dirty Dancing" was his favorite movie. He loved that movie. He loved "Dirty Dancing." And me and his dad would love to dance, too, and we would tell him - yeah, yeah, he loved music and he loved to dance.

CHIDEYA: Well, it's clear that you still have a lot of love for him and remember him as he was. But what did you have to do after you found out he had been killed? What did you have to do in terms of interacting with the legal system, in terms of, you know, dealing with any legal issues like, you know, death benefits. I mean, what was it like to be a victim through your son's victimization?

Ms. HAWKINS: It was horrible. I ran into other parents who were experiencing the same thing. And we felt as though we had been left totally out the criminal justice system. And that society as a whole was looking at us in a negative way. They act as though we have some type of disease that they could catch. People were asking us questions, and saying things - stuff that we couldn't believe. And knowing that they didn't mean it to bring any harm, but they - I guess, they didn't know what to say. And so, by us feeling that way, we all get together, and we created this organization called Justice For Murdered Children - where we would be able to speak freely among each other, and we would be able to try to educate society as a whole, regarding this crime called homicide.

CHIDEYA: So, what is it that you think you've achieved as a group?

Ms. HAWKINS: Well, what we have achieved as group so far - with our billboard thing - where we put up constantly is letting people know that anyone can be a victim of this crime. People have stereotyped it that only a certain group of people - and that your child had to be doing something. And I think they did that to help them deal with it. And the derogatory name-calling of the victims and the witnesses - we discuss that issue with them and explain that that has to stop, that you can't do that. And I guess people do these things to help their self, to comfort their self, not knowing that they're creating a problem.

CHIDEYA: So, as you think about the - on our show, we're really trying to take a look at crime from a 360 degree perspective. From the perspective of people who are incarcerated. From the perspective of people who were victims themselves or people like you who were victims because you've lost people. What's the number one thing that you would say, to someone who may get the same kind of call that you once got, the call that they've loss someone to crime?

Ms. HAWKINS: To hold on, to hold on, and know that God will prevail. He will prevail even though the worst has happened to you. There's nothing worse. There's nothing no one can do to make it right. But God will prevail, that's what I think. Only thing I can tell them to do is just to hold on. I start thinking about that four year old little boy who just got killed here in LA. You know, that family is just, will never be the same, just like my life. I was on a whole different track December the 5th, 1995. I can never get back on that track again - no matter what I did. I was in school, had a whole different thing going on for my life. And once my son was murdered, I'm on this track and can never go back. And I didn't choose this track. I did not choose to be involved with this issue. And I know these other parents didn't choose this either. And to be a member of our organization, you have to lose a loved one to a crime called homicide. And see, we don't solicit members.


Ms. HAWKINS: This is one of these organizations when people have a membership drive and all that. We never have that. We never have a membership drive. I like people to understand this that we're all responsible for these kids for being murdered. We all play a major, major role.

CHIDEYA: Well, Lawanda, it - I really appreciate you telling us about the work that you do and of course, it's work that's incredibly important not just to you but to all of us. Thank you.

Ms. HAWKINS: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: That was Lawanda Hawkins. She's the founder of Justice for Murdered Children. Her son Reggie was robbed and killed in 1995. And now, we're going to talk to Michael DeArellano. He's a clinical psychologist at the National Crime Victims' Research and Treatment Center based at the Medical University of South Carolina. Thank you for coming on.

Mr. MICHAEL DEARELLANO (Clinical Psychologist, National Crime Victim's Research and Treatment Center, Medical University of South Carolina): Thank you for having me.

CHIDEYA: So, we just heard Lawanda's stories. What are the stages of recovery when you have been told that someone you know has been killed in a crime?

Mr. DEARELLANO: Well, first I wanted to thank Ms. Hawkins for all of her efforts to try to make changes, to make things better for crime victims. Her story is not unique. Unfortunately, there are many folks who - after a victimization also then are re-victimized through the criminal justice system. And I applaud her for trying to make things different. People respond in different ways - when either they have been victimized directly or a loved one has been victimized as in the case of survivors of homicide. Depending on the response, depending on the perceptions of the individual, if you fear that your life might be in danger or the life of a love one might be in danger, you're at greater risk for having more serious mental health problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, other anxiety disorders, and alcohol use.

CHIDEYA: So, when you are a part of a situation like this, it's not just about the legal aspects and of course there are financial aspects as well. It's really about getting to the core of who you are and how you function psychologically. Are there ways that adults and children deal differently with trauma?

Mr. DEARELLANO: Absolutely. Depending on the developmental age of the child, depending - young children might perceive things very differently than an adolescent might. And it's very important that we keep in mind that - what the biggest predictor of how someone will respond to a victimization is their own perception of that victimization. Regardless of whether we thought they were in danger or not. So, if there is physical harm done to them or the perception that they would be physically harmed, especially if it was a child, then it would be very important to ask that and to try to get them services, if they perceived that they were at great risk. And children, unfortunately, can manifest problems in a lot of different ways, as opposed to having just post traumatic stress disorder or depression. They can express it through behavior problems. They can look like they're, you know, being more non-compliant, not following directions, having a hard time minding their parents. But really those things might just be expressions of the anxiety that they're experiencing as a result of the victimization.

CHIDEYA: We're using the term victim or I'm using the term victim, but you also just used the term survivor. Is there a language around this? Or does the language really matter at all?

Dr. DEARELLANO: Well, yeah, the language does matter and the best term to use is the term that the person who experienced it is using, whether they prefer to be - whether they are OK with victim, crime victim or a survivor of crime. That - that is - it's best to let them choose.

CHIDEYA: What are the ways that people are taking control of their lives? You know, there was that period particularly in the '80s and '90s where you saw a lot of model muggings, slashed model rapist, classes where women who didn't feel safe on the street, who hadn't been attacked often, one it's to prevent that attacks and they took classes. Are there other ways that people, whether or not you have been attacked or robbed or any other kind of crime, that you can do something that puts you in a space where you feel you're being proactive?

Dr. DEARELLANO: Well, a lot of individuals especially if the crime is something that was close to you, whether that it's close to you because the victim was the same gender, the same age, the same socio-economic status, the same race, or in the same community. The closer it is to you the more you're going to feel that it can happen to you as well. And that typically leads to folks engaging in more - just kind of behaviors to develop their safety. And you know, for example, if there break-ins, trying to make sure that things are locked up and alarm systems. Taking self-defense is also a very big thing that folks are using and as well as carrying things like mace and other ways to defend themselves.

CHIDEYA: Michael, thank you.

Dr. DEARELLANO: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: That was Michael DeArellano. He's a clinical psychologist at the National Crime Victims' Research and Treatment Center based at the Medical University of South Carolina.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.