A number of therapies have been shown to be effective in helping sexual assault survivors recover psychologically, and are in common use. These include; cognitive processing therapy, exposure therapy, etc. These therapies aim to reduce PTSD, depression, anxiety, and phobias, but are not specifically designed to reduce the likelihood of revictimization – although to the extent treatment resolves PTSD, dissociation, low self-esteem and self-medication, they may ultimately reduce vulnerabilities that put survivors at risk.
In fact, although sexual assault has one of the highest revictimization rates of any crime, there have only recently been efforts to develop intervention programs to reduce behavioral risks to survivors. In part, this gap may be due to reluctance to entertain the idea that survivors may be able to exercise some control over their risk of revictimization. Some advocates reasonably object to the implication that victims somehow cause the re-assaults and point out that only the potential perpetrator can truly prevent a sexual assault from taking place. This truth is very much acknowledged. Yet while the criminal justice system attempts to thwart perpetrators, there are few programs that seek to train survivors on how to be more aware of the vulnerabilities which put them at risk of revictimization and how to exercise more control. From studies conducted on women who had experienced revictimization, the research expected to find that there would be lifestyle factors that put them at risk, but that was less true than the fact that they were vulnerable to manipulation and coercion.
RISK FACTORS FOR REVICTIMIZATION
- Alcohol Use.
- Tonic Immobility. This is the paralysis (inability to move or scream, trembling, dissociation – a wide array of experiences from mild detachment from immediate surroundings to more severe detachment from physical and emotional experience.) that victims may experience during a serious violent crime.
- Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and Related Symptomology. Symptoms such as Dissociation, Anxiety, Depression, Post-Sexual Abuse Trauma, and Sleep Disorder.
- Sexual Assault Awareness. Knowledge of sexual assault and situations leading to it.
- Confidence in Difficult Situations. Confidence in regard to recognition of danger, ability to control a situation where an individual is trying to be manipulative, etc.
- Attributions. Extent to which victims blame the assault on their behavior, their own character, or external factors. Attribution theory primarily distinguishes between internal and external attributions for the cause of events, and also between controllable and uncontrollable causes.
- Dating Behavior. behavior like; drugs and alcohol consumption, spending time alone with someone the victim had just met, assertiveness in the face of abuse or unwanted sexual advances.
- Sexual Experiences. Many studies have found that adult survivors of child sexual abuse begin engaging in consensual sex at a younger age, have more sexual partners, have more short-term sexual relationships, and have sex with casual acquaintances more often than women who were not sexually abused in childhood. However, while it may seem logical that more sexual partners increase the chance of unwanted sexual contact, the relationship is not completely clear. Some well-designed studies found only a weak or inconsistent relationship between number of partners and adult sexual victimization.
Based on the points above, the “risk reduction” intervention should focus on teaching survivors how to build risk recognition skills using comprehensive prevention approach. Multiple sessions has a better success rate than a one-shot method. These sessions will focus on educating women about perpetrators and their tactics, rather than the victims. Skills such as;
- Establishing interpersonal boundaries.
- Understanding when their boundaries are being crossed.
- Recognizing the characteristics of sexually aggressive men.
- Recognizing how the men change situations to make them risky.
- Dynamics of sexual assault and strategies for taking control or escaping from sexually aggressive men.
The population that would benefit significantly from prevention programs that teach risk reduction strategies are those with a single victimization. It is important to note that studies have indicated that survivors of childhood sexual abuse are more likely to experience a wide variety of trauma symptoms as adults. Recent life stress has been found to be associated with trauma symptoms not connected to a particular trauma. What this means is that, a childhood sexual abuse survivor experiences stressful events in the same way the original trauma was experienced because the survivor brings the trauma related representations of themselves to the current traumatic situation. Therefore, traumatic symptoms are intensified by life stressors. Revictimization of male survivors is not represented in any of the discussions, research, or study. Much of the research on this topic is also heterosexually biased, in that very little has been done to determine sexual revictimization by same-sex perpetrators.
Again: attempting to analyse sexual revictimization, the cause, and risk reduction strategies is not akin to victim-blaming. This is purely for information purposes which may be useful to workers in sexual violent related field and to survivors themselves.
Please give yourself compassion if you are a multiple sexual assault survivor – you certainly have mine.
Adapted from Research & Advocacy Digest: Sexual Assault Revictimization.