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When home doesn't feel right: Victims of property crimes affected in short, long term

July 7, 2014 Updated: July 7, 2014 at 7:40 am
Caption +
Maida Scott stands at her bedroom balcony door in her Mesa neighborhood home Thursday, July 3, 2014 where she believes thieves broke into her home three years ago. Scott now makes sure all the doors are locked and has put in a bar to stop the door from sliding for added security. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette

Maida Scott, her husband and their two sons used to go out to dinner once a week, always on the same night. Then their home on Colorado Springs' west side was burglarized in the summer of 2011.

Someone had sneaked into her house through an unlocked second-story window and taken every electronic device in sight, but that wasn't all that was stolen: Scott's family, especially her two sons, who were 7 and 8 at the time, had their sense of security snatched from them. They no longer felt safe in their home.

"Our kids slept with us for a week after it happened, and for a while they had to go through and make sure every window and door was locked before bedtime," Scott, a 45-year-old Web developer, remembered.

Although property crimes such as residential burglaries, car break-ins and theft are not usually violent in nature, victims are significantly affected, in the short and long term.

Changing behavior patterns, switching up routines and beefing up security with extra locks of doors and windows are some of the things that victims of property crimes, such as Scott, do to regain their sense of normalcy and security.

In some cases, victims' reactions can be even more extreme. Some victims move out of a house that was burglarized or avoid the area where a car theft occurred. Others have difficulty balancing alertness with paranoia, Colorado Springs police detective Jim Strachan said.

"Victims of property crimes feel violated because someone has been in their personal space," he said. "People consider their homes as sanctuaries, and for someone to infringe on that, it is definitely traumatic."

With security of their personal space shattered, Scott's family also had to deal with more mundane - but no less stressful - aspects of dealing with a home break-in: filing police reports, starting insurance claims and improving home security.

Losing all the family videos that were still in a digital camcorder, Scott said, was the hardest thing to get over.

"We hadn't downloaded or backed up the videos yet, so it was sad to lose all those memories, because they're irreplaceable," Scott said.

Maricela Dennis, Victim Advocacy Unit director with the Colorado Springs police, has seen the effects property crimes have on victims. She has seen firsthand how victims work to recover a sense of normalcy and security. The process is different for each person.

"Some people can move on from it without much trouble," Dennis said. "I think younger folks tend to be more resilient. The elderly have a harder time with it, especially if they've lived in their homes for many years (because) their connection to the property is stronger.

"It's a lot harder for people to bounce back when they have to live in the house that's been burglarized."

Many victims of residential break-ins, Dennis said, personalize the crime and live in constant fear that the burglar, or burglars, will return to the home and could hurt them or their family. For Scott's sons, that fear was very real in the weeks after the break-in.

"They were scared that whoever broke into the house would come back, especially when we were all sleeping," Scott said. "It was difficult to explain to them why it had happened. And since no one was ever arrested, they didn't have anyone to hold accountable."

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