Psychological Effects of Burglary on Victims

For the past few months, I’ve been working on a nonfiction project with a retired detective about a serial burglar he was instrumental in bringing to justice. This has led me to research other books on burglary including A Burglar’s Guide to the City by Geoff Manaugh.

In Manaugh’s book, he goes deep into how cities and architecture are exploited by thieves. He also delves into the meaning of burglary, meets with lock picking enthusiasts as well as safe room manufacturers. When he spoke with the owner of one of the safe room companies, I was astounded at the owner’s comparison between rape and being burglarized. I thought his statement that the two crimes produced equivalent psychological trauma was almost offensive. But having recently read an inordinate amount of cognitive psychological research for my graduate studies, I decided to put that newly acquired capability to good use and began researching the topic of burglary and psychological trauma. The results are interesting.

The first research article I examined on the subject built on some interesting findings on burglary and PTSD-like symptoms (in order to qualify as PTSD a physical assault or experience must occur, most victims of these burglaries were not home when they happened), If you suffer from anxiety due to this problem, there is an article about CBD and anxiety. From The Role of Coping and Personality – Traumatology: An International Journal, Chung et al:

Burglary is a severe form of intrusion and a violation of one’s safe territory and sense of security and intimacy (Brown & Harris, 1989; Caballero, Ramos, & Saltijeral, 2000). Consequently, victims can experience considerable adverse psychological effects such as anxiety, depression, shock, anger, fear, sleeplessness, exhaustion, and confusion (Beaton, Cook, Kavanagh, & Herrington, 2000; Friedman, Bischoff, Davis, & Person, 1982; Jones, 987; Maguire, 1980, 1982). One study showed that 1 or 2 weeks after the burglary, victims reported a higher level of the preceding psychological distress than those who had not been burgled (the control group). One month after the crime, although they showed improvement in these distress outcomes, their levels remained worse than the control group (Beaton et al., 2000). These victims have also been shown to experience more distress than those of other property crimes and feel a need to seek medical help from general practitioners (Mol et al., 2002).

The study surveyed 125 participants all of whom were victims of burglary. On average the participant’s burglary happened a year prior to the study. The results seem to show that the PTSD-like symptoms are long lasting with 48% thinking about the burglary without meaning to, 44% had waves of strong feeling about it, and 22% had trouble sleeping. The entire group reached the threshold of medium posttraumatic stress symptoms and 41% reached a high level of posttraumatic stress symptoms.

This makes sense. I have had things stolen from me, my car burglarized, my family home broken into (vacant after my father passed). But I have never had the place where I live, sleep, prepare my children’s meals, and relax, violated by another human being intent on taking from me. I have no doubt I would have extreme difficulty sleeping at night.

In another research article  Criminal victimization, posttraumatic stress disorder, and comorbid psychopathology among a community sample of women –

Results indicated that victims of crime were more likely than nonvictims to suffer from PTSD, major depressive episode, agoraphobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, social phobia, and simple phobia

Satisfaction with the initial police response and development of posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms in victims of domestic burglary, Kunst et al. references another study:

Domestic burglary may have serious psychological consequences for household members. After all, “burglary entails a violation of the sanctity of the home in addition to collateral victimization usually in the form of stolen property” and “is a personal affront to the security of victims and carries with it multiple costs and psychological concerns” (DeLisi, Jones-Johnson, & Hochstetler, 2010, p. 12)

The study seems to show that if police response to the burglary is seen as satisfactory, then the likelihood of PTSD symptoms is greatly reduced in the victims.

The idea that your home could be invaded and your privacy violated by an individual or individuals bent on taking from you is something that we don’t spend much time thinking about. Hollywood has even glamorized the idea of cat burglars in movies like “To Catch a Thief” and “Entrapment” and many others over the years but the truth is, no matter who the victim of the crime might be, rich or poor, old or young, weak or powerful — the effects on the psyche of the victims of these crimes is long lasting and life altering in many cases.


Traumatology: An International Journal, Vol 20(2), Jun 2014, 65-74 The Role of Coping and Personality Chung, Man Cheung,Stedmon, Jacqui,Hall, Rachel,Marks, Zoe,Thornhill, Kate,Mehrshahi, Rebecca.  

J Trauma Stress. 1998 Oct;11(4):665-78 Criminal victimization, posttraumatic stress disorder, and comorbid psychopathology among a community sample of women. Boudreaux E(1), Kilpatrick DG, Resnick HS, Best CL, Saunders BE.

Brown, & Harris. (1989). Residential burglary victimization: Reactions to the invasion of a primary territory. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 9(2), 119-132.

J Trauma Stress. 2013 Feb;26(1):111-8. doi: 10.1002/jts.21774. Epub 2013 Jan 18.
Satisfaction with the initial police response and development of posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms in victims of domestic burglary.
Kunst MJ1, Rutten S, Knijf E.

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