By Art Holliday
St. Louis (KSDK) - As individuals and as a community, we react to crime in a variety of ways. Crime makes us angry, anxious, afraid. We don't trust strangers. We avoid certain areas of town. We buy guns and security systems, form neighborhood watch groups, and take self-defense classes. We don't let our kids out of our sight when they go outside to play, all because of crime.
"We cannot control what criminals do to us," said personal trainer Robin Ricca. "What we can change is how we react to it."
Ricca was 17-years-old when she enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in the mid-1980s.
"I had never even slept more than a couple of nights away from home until I went to boot camp, so I was completely unprepared for the situation," she said.
Still a teenager, Ricca was gang raped by other Air Force personnel.
"They were my friends and my co-workers. We were all in a situation where alcohol was involved and they took turns with me," said Ricca. "Fortunately I don't remember a whole lot but I know I'm not the only one. I was so angry for so long, that dogs were growling at me. It's powerful when you think about it. If a dog can smell that on you, it's a real indicator that something within yourself is rotting or poisoned."
Ricca eventually received a less than honorable discharge for sodomy. Although she was sexually assaulted, the Air Force punished her.
"I wasn't angry the whole time about what happened to me in the service, but I was still holding onto something. I felt like I had lost something until I learned about how to forgive and understanding that I wasn't giving those other people the power. I wasn't validating what they did. I was giving myself the power to move on," said Ricca.
Over the years, Ricca has used her story to help other sexual assault victims, in person, and on Facebook.
"If I can help someone understand that it's not their fault that's gratifying, beyond my own healing," said Ricca. "I've made comments to other people on Facebook, the discussion has come up. Usually when I talk about it it's in an effort to try and let people know that they're not alone and it's not their fault."
On April 25, Patti Harvill, a 61-year old grandmother was found dead in her ransacked Berkeley, Missouri home. There were no signs of forced entry, and so far there have been no arrests. Harvill's son Tim worries his mother's killer may never be caught. He also knows he's struggling badly in dealing with his mother's murder.
"If this can happen to my mother in her own home. I've just kind of lost faith in everything whole. I just have problems trusting anything or anybody," said Harvill. "It's just hit way harder because they're no answer, there's no explanation, and I just don't know where to turn."
Jessica Meyers is Director of Services at the Crime Victims Advocacy Center of St. Louis. She routinely works with the families of homicide victims.
"PTSD is not just for soldiers," said Meyers. "People who have been the victims of crime have the potential to develop post traumatic stress disorder, as well."
Meyers has seen a variety of problems created by crime. When a criminal injures someone, the victim can have serious health problems or financial problems due to emergency room care they can't afford.
She says psychological problems are common, and even the crime victim's faith can be shaken.
"They may cling tighter to their faith in God," said Meyers. "That may be the only thing that gets them through, the faith that even though their loved one is murdered, they will see their loved one against some day in heaven. Or your may have clients who have the opposite reaction, questioning why God let this happen to them. It can really rock someone's faith to the core when they've been the victim of a crime."
For St. Louis businessman TonyThompson, crime reinforced his faith and determination to make society better.
"It makes us want to fight even harder," said Thompson.
Tony Thompson's brother, former Pagedale Police Chief Tyrone Thompson was killed in a deadly 2010 shootout with two teenagers who decided to rob him.
"He killed one of the kids and wounded the other," said Thompson, "and the kid is going on trial now and will probably be in jail the rest of his life. Three lives were ruined with that one incident."
In hopes of curbing teen violence in St. Louis, Tony Thompson and his family founded the Tyrone Thompson Institute for Non-Violence. The institute partners with two local schools, Gateway Middle School and Dunbar Elementary, where students who are expelled or suspended stay in school, instead of being sent home. Thompson believes if the students are sent home, they're more likely to fall behind in their school work and eventually get into trouble.
During the in-school suspensions, mentors help students with their homework and talk to them about the choices they make, trying to change their minds about violent behavior. In the first year of the program, suspensions and expulsions at the two schools are on the decline.
"Hopefully we can reach them," said Thompson. "It's something. I'm not saying it's the answer, but it's something."
Ricca says it's possible for crime victims to turn their pain and anger into something useful.
"Allow yourself to feel those emotions and then try to use them for a greater purpose, whatever helps you recover your life," said Ricca.