Revictimization is a topic that has often puzzled me. What is it about an individual that invites repeated sexual assault? Does the fact of childhood sexual abuse attract further experience of sexual violence later in adulthood? Is it somehow written on the individual’s forehead? Will it ever end? One of the saddest legacies of repeated sexual violence is that survivors often feel that if it’s happened so often, they must somehow deserve it. Unfortunately, we live in a society that often agrees.
While it is important not to subscribe to stereotypes that a certain “type” of people are repeatedly raped, according to research, the risk of revictimization by sexual assault is approximately doubled for survivors of child sexual abuse. However, it is equally important to do away with the generalization that only child abuse survivors experience repeated rape. Sometimes, even people from stable, loving families are subject to the dynamics of later domestic and sexual violence. And it cannot be stated strongly enough that any person can be a victim of sexual assault. Nevertheless, child sexual and other abuse can leave victims with vulnerabilities that perpetrators may be quick to exploit. It’s crucial to see repeated victimization not as a reason to hate oneself, but as originating from wounds incurred through no fault of the victims’ and for which the victim deserves compassion.
The occurrence of childhood sexual abuse and its severity are the best documented and researched predictors of sexual revictimization. Multiple traumas, especially childhood physical abuse, and recency of sexual victimization are also associated with higher risk. People who were revictimized show difficulty in interpersonal relationships, coping, self-representations, and affect regulation and exhibit greater self-blame and shame. Some studies that have examined more discretely the age at which the child was victimized have found victimization in adolescence to be a stronger predictor of sexual assault in adulthood than victimization in childhood, although childhood victimization is associated with a higher likelihood of victimization in adolescence; those women who were victimized in childhood and adolescence face the highest risk.
In a society where the subject of rape is still taboo, the idea of even one attack is hard to grasp. The idea of multiple attacks seems far beyond probability. This makes it unimaginably hard for the considerable number of victims who do undergo multiple sexual assaults. It’s not an unusual phenomenon. A little known fact is that being sexually assaulted puts one at a much higher risk of being assaulted again in the future, as does childhood sexual abuse. Being sexually assaulted greatly increased the risk of future assaults, with one study purporting that being sexually assaulted once meant a woman was 35 times more likely than others to be revictimized.
“The percentage of women who were raped as children or adolescents and also raped as adults was more than two times higher than the percentage among women without an early rape history.”
– National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 2010, CDC.
Victims may take years to recover from a sexual assault. Being assaulted multiple times can compound the trauma. Sexual assault victims are much more likely to suffer from depression, attempt suicide, develop PTSD, self-harm or use maladaptive coping strategies such as eating disorders or substance abuse. The repetition compulsion is a phenomenon that still confounds researchers in terms of successful interventions even though there are theories on intervention strategies that could help minimize the likelihood of revictimization. Nevertheless, informal, but steady support from friends or family is still highly effective in any victim’s recovery process.
Girl’s Globe: https://girlsglobe.org/2015/08/04/the-repetition-compulsion-why-rape-victims-are-more-likely-to-be-assaulted-again/
National sexual violence resource centre: http://www.nsvrc.org/sites/default/files/publications_NSVRC_ResearchBrief_Sexual-Revictimization.pdf