1/07/2021 - Published by

Is it worse to be a victim of terrorism than any other violent crime? What is so different about being a victim or survivor of terrorism? Should the state response for victims of terrorism be different to that for other crime? 

The short answers are, ‘No’, ‘It’s complicated’, and ‘Yes (maybe).  

The issues surrounding these questions lie at the heart of our work with victims and survivors of terrorism at the Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Peace Foundation, founded by Colin and Wendy Parry, the parents of 12-year-old Tim, who was killed, along with 3-year-old Johnathan Ball, in IRA bomb attack on Warrington Town Centre in 1993. Since then, the Peace Foundation has become a leading international Peacebuilding and Conflict Resolution organisation and has, for many years, provided support for victims and survivors of terrorism.  

Is it worse to be a victim of terrorism than any other violent crime? From speaking to many people, I do not think anyone who has been directly or indirectly impacted by terrorism would say that their experience was especially ‘worse’ than that of a victim of any other violent crime, but it is different in many ways. Each victim’s experience (and this is true any crime) is unique but victims of terrorism face additional challenges. For example, they may find themselves in the midst of a global conflict they had no previous part of. A media storm blows up around them that takes no heed of their wellbeing, privacy, or other needs. Their names may be brought up to further political causes they may not agree with. I could go on. 

What is so different about being a victim or survivor of terrorism? When an act of terrorism is carried out, generally speaking, the victims were not the focus. Society at large, a way of life, all of ‘us’ – was the target. Individual victims become almost incidental and emerge as footnotes in their own story, and this adds to the feeling of being out of control of events and overwhelmed by the tragedy. Fortunately, despite the current threat levels, terrorism in GB is rare and the chances of any of us being affected by terrorism are vanishingly small, but this compounds the feeling of isolation and that nobody understands what they have been through. 

Should the state response for victims of terrorism be different? One argument is that, as society at large, was the target, the state has an additional responsibility to the victims and survivors. This is a national, not a local issue. If someone visiting Sunderland from Somerset, Strabane, Stornoway, or Swansea, was injured in a terrorist attack, which local authority or Police and Crime Commissioner should be responsible for the aftercare? In short, the answer is a combination of local and national services. People need quality and timely support that meets their needs and is delivered locally but nationally coordinated and funded in a sustainable way that recognises the need for continuity and recognises the long-term needs of victims and survivors of terrorism.  

In my presentation at Edge Hill University on Friday 2nd July, I will discuss some other issues relating to the needs of victims and survivors of terrorism, but I am hopeful that the new ‘Support to UK Victims of Terrorism’ service (the Peace Foundation in partnership with the South London & Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, Victim Support and Cruse) that has been funded by the Home Office, Victims of Terrorism Unit will go some way to meeting these needs.  


Terry O’Hara