Our first guest expert:
Jo Dover has worked in the field of conflict resolution, resilience and support for people affected by conflict, war and terrorism for over 20 years. She is the Director of Jo Dover Consulting, delivering training and consultancy services in Resilience, Mental Health, Stress Management and Major Incident Response. Ms. Dover has worked with people affected by terrorism, including former armed forces personnel, and civilians bereaved, injured and witness to acts of terrorism and other conflicts since 2001.
*All answers provided under the Ask our Expert series are solely the opinion of the expert and are not a reflection of UN policy.
Michael B. from Australia asks:
"Everyone keeps talking about resilience after a terrorist attack – what does it actually mean?"
Hi Michael, this is a very good question. Resilience is about who we are, what strength we have within us, to be able to cope when something adverse or demanding happens. We have many experiences in life that we can draw upon to help us to cope in situations – some of these coping strategies are very helpful, others not so much. Following a terrorist attack, there is often a particular focus on resilience, particularly aimed at the public. There is a sense of not letting those who tried to harm us win, and trying to get back to normal, and rebuild ourselves and our communities. This can be very helpful, but it is not that simple for those directly affected as their world can be completely shattered, they will be in shock, but slowly they can rebuild a new life – one that includes the attack, but the attack does not define who they are. Resilience is about being able to deal with what life throws at us, to find ways to cope, and in many cases, become even stronger as a result.
Aissatou M. from Mali asks:
“How can the victim of terrorism forget the attack and let it go?”
It is impossible for the victim to forget what happened to them, and there is no reason that anyone should feel that they have to forget. These events are life changing and remembering what happened, in a private or a public way is a normal part of an individual’s recovery. However, it is important that if memories of the event are affecting you, such as nightmares and flashbacks, and they are impacting your life in a negative way, you should seek professional help. It is important to acknowledge what happened, to remember what was lost, but not to let it become your identity. Many people feel intense emotions such as anger, injustice and fear. We need to deal with these emotions, so that they don’t become destructive and make things more difficult. It is not as simple to say ‘let it go’, but perhaps find a way to redirect the negative energy, into something more positive – that way, the terrorists don’t win.
Fadiel F. from Libya asks:
“Is it fair if the victim of terrorism forgives the attackers?”
This is entirely an individual process and choice and can take many different forms. For some people, it is a big part of their culture or faith to forgive. Some people will choose to do this and others find it impossible. Others see the forgiveness outside of a religious context, and as a way to let go of their anger and pain. It does not have to mean that you agree with the attacker, although many people interpret it in that way. This process is very personal, and can be different, even within the same family.
Sawan S. from Iraq asks:
"What can I do to help victims in my community?"
One of the most important things you can do for a victim is to listen to them. Being recognised and listened to can be very helpful in recovering from such an event. In many countries, victims are not recognised at all by their Governments, or by society in general. You can do many things, from practical help such as raising money to assist with medical expenses, to creating support groups, where people can talk to each other. Please also remember that these events stay with people for a lifetime, and it may be much later that the impact is felt, it’s not always just afterwards. For some people it can take a long time to heal, and they will still need our support, even if it’s many years afterwards.
Karim N. from Tunisia asks:
"Will I ever get over what happened to me?"
Victims are often asked “aren’t you over it yet?”. It is a very individual process and one that I don’t think has a specific end. From working with victims over the years, I don’t believe you ever fully “get over it”, it will be very painful and change your life and your world view, but over time you learn how to live with it within your life, to start moving forward again. Some people call it a ‘second life’ as you don’t go back to how you were, but you become like a new person with this big event that happened. That has been the case for both those who lost loved ones, and also those who have survived.
Abdul H. from Afghanistan asks:
"How can I get help when my Government doesn't provide help?"
Unfortunately, there are many countries where victims get no assistance at all, or very little in the immediate aftermath. Other countries have learned how to respond and have put some wonderful processes in place. In some circumstances, it is not clear who is responsible for looking after people. There are some things you can do: some victims have set up associations to ensure that the correct assistance is provided, and they raise money to pay for it. Others set up small support groups to help each other – sharing your experience with others who understand, can be extremely helpful. It is not always possible to get help, so we have to sometimes rely on our families, friends and communities, to do what we can.
Juana P. from Spain asks:
"I want to help other victims, what can I do?"
Many victims want to reach out to other victims when something similar has happened. You have some idea of what kinds of things people are likely to go through, the kinds of experiences they’ve had, and how much life changes. It can be very helpful for new victims to talk with those who’ve been in previous attacks, particularly to hear about the kinds of strategies that helped you to cope, to normalise some of the things that feel strange, and also to feel connected to people again. Being a victim of a terrorist attack isn’t something that most people experience, so you can feel very isolated. Being there for someone else can provide a great deal of support and comfort.
Marie L. from France asks:
"Am I a victim for the rest of my life?"
Terrorist attacks do change people’s lives. Many people lose a loved one, or are injured and cannot do some of the things they used to do. It is a huge change and loss, and can take many years to deal with. There will be ups and down, and times where you are reminded about what happened to you – particular when attacks happen elsewhere in the world. You will see things differently too. In terms of if you are a victim for the rest of your life, it’s different for everyone, but you can move forward, start to recover and rebuild yourself. In the early days, it may help you to describe yourself as a victim, this may even be a legal term that gets you some help. The word victim can be seen as being powerless or helpless, and in my experience, many of those affected by terrorism are far from powerless or helpless. They have not only recovered, but many have gone on to achieve things they may never have done if they had not been affected. It is something that will stay for you for life, but does not have to rule your life – you can live again.
Aamiina D. from Somalia asks:
"How do we help our children recover after an attack?"
Children need focused help and support to help them to recover. Depending on their age and experience of the world, there are different things they may need, but an important thing to do is be clear and honest with them about what happened, let them know it is not something that happens to everyone or all the time, because they can be very fearful. Try to establish routines again as soon as is possible, to help them feel normal again, but pay attention to what else is going on – their sleep patterns, are they having nightmares, has their behaviour changed, have they become withdrawn? These all may indicate a need for professional help. It is also good to talk as a family, to give them choices in how much they want to know or share, and not to add to their fears.
Muhammad H. from Indonesia asks:
"How can a community overcome fear after an attack?"
One of the main aims of a terrorist attack is to create fear and panic amongst the population. It is extremely common for people to avoid areas, change their method of transport, not go to work, start to distrust others (particularly people from a community that appears to be connected to the terrorist). It is also common that these attacks unite a community and make it stronger. Many wonderful community projects have come about following an attack, which brings people together. Some of these are educational projects, some are about helping the rebuilding phase, others are about working across borders and divides. One of the ways to overcome fear is to connect with other people, don’t isolate yourself, go and talk to someone you don’t know, get involved in a project. Help raise funds for those who need help.