Bank Robberies Leave Life-Long Scars Despite Public Perception as ‘Victimless Crimes’

Once a month in a secret location in Portland, they gather to talk about a horrifying experience some of them have been through more than once. It’s a bonding experience they don’t wish on anyone else, but one that helps them to cope with the emotional struggle they’ve had since someone pointed a gun in their face or slipped a note across the counter, demanding someone else’s hard-earned money.

“Lynne” is one of them. In her 30-year banking career, she has seen a dozen robberies. She’s aware that history has glamorized too many bank robbers and that some think of bank robberies as “victimless crimes” and that if no shots are fired, many will say, “at least no one got hurt.”

They’re wrong.

Someone did get hurt—all 5,546 times it happened in the United States in 2010 and the 52 times it happened in Oregon and Washington banks in the first three months of this year. It is an experience that haunts bank tellers and credit union member service representatives for the rest of their lives.

“You go through a grieving process,” she said. “The bottom line is somebody is threatening you. It’s a life-threatening situation. You feel shock and fear, denial, depression. I had every sense imaginable.”

Anthem is not using Lynne’s full name or identifying her bank at her request, but she does want to share her story. She wants it known she found comfort in regular counseling meetings—comfort that allowed her to leave her house, go back to work and go on with her life.

The Trauma Response Project (TRP) is offered by the Financial Institutions Security Task Force (F.I.S.T.)—a cooperative supported by Oregon credit unions, banks and law enforcement agencies. Its mission is to reduce crimes against financial institutions and to ensure the safety of staff and consumers.

TRP group sessions are offered monthly. Because the victims are often emotionally fragile and still living in fear that the bank robbers might attack again, the meeting locations are disclosed only to victims who register to attend. The peer support group is led by a licensed professional therapist. It’s a place where member service reps share their stories and let it all out. And there’s plenty to let out.

“I started going through counseling, and we have been robbed two more times since then. I can see how it helps you see things differently and I was able to recognize the symptoms of what a robbery does to you,” she remarked.

What it did to Lynne was scare her so much she could not leave her home for awhile. She still jumps if anyone rushes through the doors of her financial institution.

“I was hysterical for a week,” she said. “I was not eating. I was not sleeping. Any little noise and I was a wreck.”

An armed robber held up the Chetco Federal CU in Smith River, CA July 8, 2011. The branch is located in a store, increasing the potential for harm to shoppers, members and employees.

 Lynne saw friends and colleagues robbed in her branch several times before she was personally robbed. One of the most traumatic was a violent take over in 1999. She wasn’t behind the counter the robbers approached but that hardly matters. She felt the impact.

“It affects everybody in the branch. I consider my reaction a severe one. Even though I did not see a weapon, I had a reaction. “

Most bank robbers use demand notes and don’t show a weapon, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. But employees are taught not to take chances with their lives or those of others, in case the bandits are armed. Weapons were used in more than 100 robberies in the U.S. last year. When there are injuries, the victims are most often employees.

 “Most crime victims are not typically asked to go back and visit the scene of the crime. But when you’re robbed at work, you’re expected to go there every day,” she pointed out.

Lynne has stayed in the banking business because she loves it. She notes that the TRP sessions, which she attended for two years, helped her to stay focused and courageous. “What I loved about them was that they’re very compassionate. You get to meet and talk to other victims. What I experienced wasn’t abnormal or weird or different.”

She also learned that most bank robbers plead guilty to avoid trial. “So the judge only hears from his family pleading for leniency at sentencing,” she remarked. “The judge should hear from the victims. So I always file a victim impact statement.”

The TRP group meets the second Wednesday of each month. The next meeting in September will help victims to understand the criminal justice system. Registration is free to Oregon bank and credit union employees. Click here for more information on registration.


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