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Multiple Victimization of Rape Victims - What is the explanation?

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What is revictimization or multiple victimization?

The risk of sexual revictimization, according to the CDC, is based on vulnerability factors. One of these is the pre-existance of PTSD from a previous assault. Being the victim of child sexual abuse doubles the likelihood of adult sexual victimization (Parillo et. al., 2003) (Sarkar, N.; Sarkar, R., 2005). PTSD levels are actually higher in those who have been previously victimized than in survivors of only one assault (Follette et. al., 1996). PTSD could give the victim the appearance of vulnerability in dangerous situations and effect the ability of the victim to defend themselves.

One study found that of the 433 sexually assaulted respondents, two-thirds reported more than one incident (Sorenson et. al., 1991). Two further studies also found that women who were victimized more than once or in both childhood and adolescence had a higher risk for adult revictimization and more PTSD (Siegel & Williams, 2001), (Breslau et. al., 1999).

Treatment: Intervention such as counseling for mental health issues (like PTSD) and for possible addictions related to the abuse can help women with child sexual abuse histories overcome some of the abuse-related sequelae that make them vulnerable to adult revictimization (Parillo et. al., 2003). Other factors influencing recovery are emotional support from friends, relations, social and community supports (Sarkar, N.; Sarkar, R., 2005).

Problems experienced by retraumatized women were that they were more likely to be alexithymic, show dissociation scores indicating risk for dissociative disorders, and to have attempted suicide compared to the other groups (Cloitre et. al., 1997).

Summary of the literature:

"This article reviews the literature on sexual revictimization, covering approximately 90 empirical studies and includes a discussion of prevalence, risk factors, and correlates of sexual revictimization. Research suggests that two of three individuals who are sexually victimized will be revictimized. The occurrence of child- hood 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. There is preliminary evidence that membership in some ethnic groups or coming from a dysfunctional family places an individual at a greater risk. Revictimization is associated with higher distress and certain psychiatric disorders. People who were revictimized show difficulty in interpersonal relationships, coping, self-representations, and affect regulation and exhibit greater self-blame and shame. Existing research on prevention efforts and treatment is discussed. More longitudinal studies on sexual revictimization are needed." (Classen, et. al., 2006)

"According to research on victimization, a small percentage of the population experiences a relatively large proportion of all crime, and one of the strongest predictors of victimization is previous victimization. Robbery victims’ chance of being robbed again is nine times the chance among people who have not been robbed, and burglary victims’ risk of burglary is four times the risk of people who have not been burglarized. In addition, researchers have found that one-third to one-half of women who are physically abused at home are likely to be abused repeatedly. The highest rate of repeat victimization for crimes other than domestic violence is among sexual assault survivors. One study concluded that women who have been sexually assaulted in the past are 35 times more likely than other women to be sexually at some point in the future. " Vera Institute of Justice

"Women sexually assaulted in childhood are twice as likely to be sexually assaulted in adulthood. Post-traumatic mental problems, acute stress disorders, depression and other psychological problems are found in victims of sexual assault. Women often suffer from sleep disorders, nightmare, anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, and diminishing of sexual urge and pleasure among other disorders following sexual assault or rape. Recovery is slower in sexual than in non-sexual assault victims. Factors influencing recovery are emotional support from friends, relations, social and community supports. Overall social changes in outlook and perception towards women are needed in the modern society to curb the sexual assault on women." (Sarkar, N.; Sarkar, R., 2005)

Sexual violence and domestic violence are both listed as causal factors for homelessness in the back grounds of many homeless women (Styron et. al., 2000).

"Psychiatrist Richard Kluft in his study of survivors who have been sexually abused by therapists, maintains that sexually abused children are "systematically taught to disregard their own needs and, hence, are more vulnerable to abuse in all settings." Viewed in this context, the plight of battered women and rape victims, for example, may be seen as a logical consequence of early victimization, rather than the result of "bad judgement." Another theory is that "a tendency to "re-enact" with someone else the trauma that one has experienced at the hands of an earlier perpetrator. This behavior is attributed to the belief, however unconscious, that 'things will work out better this time.'" *


Revictimization is a problem for women and adolescents. "Thirty-nine percent of rape victims in the NWS [National Women's Survey] had been raped more than once, and 41.7% of the adolescent victims said that they had been sexually assaulted more than once." (National Women's Survey)

Selected quotes from scholarly articles:

"One-fourth of the women [in the survey] had been revictimized (i.e., experienced child sexual abuse and at least one instance of adult sexual victimization). Child sexual abuse was associated with both rape and other sexual victimization by a sex partner in adulthood, as well as adult rape by a stranger/nonsex partner. Drug and mental health treatments reduced abused women's chances of being raped by a sex partner; drug treatment also decreased the likelihood of other sexual victimization by a sex partner." - (Parillo et. al., 2003) Association Between Child Sexual Abuse and Sexual Revictimization in Adulthood Among Women Sex Partners of Injection Drug Users

Questions to think about: Is being a victim of child sexual abuse something that increases the risk of adult sexual victimization? If so then what psychological vulnerabilities are related to this? How does the perpetrator make this determination?

"The results of this study indicate not only that victimization and revictimization experiences are frequent, but also that the level of trauma specific symptoms are significantly related to the number of different types of reported victimization experiences."- ( Follette et. al., 1996) Cumulative trauma: the impact of child sexual abuse, adult sexual assault, and spouse abuse.

Questions to think about: Are PTSD and psychological problems related to the first sexual assault a possible motivation to the perpetrator to assault again?

"Also, repeated victimization was related to denial, a symptom of posttraumatic stress. Denial was discussed in regard to the likelihood of its increasing the risk of revictimization."- (Roth et. al., 1990) Victimization history and victim-assailant relationship as factors in recovery from sexual assault

Questions to think about: Is denial (ptsd) a cause of lack of reporting and lack of followup care? If so then does denial and lack of psychiatric counseling for victims relate to repeat victimization?

"two-thirds reported more than one incident; the average number of incidents per person was 3.2. Single- and multiple-incident victims of sexual assault did not differ on a wide range of variables including demographics, mental disorders, and general functioning (e.g., suicide attempts, family violence). Thus, once an initial victimization occurred, personal characteristics of the victim were not related to risk for subsequent sexual assault." - (Sorenson et. al., 1991) Repeated sexual victimization

"Furthermore, previous events involving assaultive violence—single or multiple, in childhood or later on—were associated with a higher risk of PTSD in adulthood. CONCLUSIONS: Previous exposure to trauma signals a greater risk of PTSD from subsequent trauma. " - (Breslau. et. al., 1999) Previous Exposure to Trauma and PTSD Effects of Subsequent Trauma: Results From the Detroit Area Survey of Trauma

Questions to think about: Is the greater risk for PTSD a possible explanation or cause for lacking coping skills in potentially dangerous scenarios? Would a perpetrator perceive that?


Bufkin, J. (1998). Domestic Violence, Criminal Justice Responses and Homelessness: Finding the Connection and Addressing the Problem. Journal of Social Distress and the Homeless, 7(4), 227-240.

Cloitre, M., Rosenberg, A. Follette, V., Ruzek, J. (2006). Sexual Revictimization: Risk Factors and Prevention. Cognitive-behavioral therapies for trauma (2nd ed.). New York, NY, US: Guilford Press, 2006. pp. 321-361.

"The treatment model recommended for retraumatized women is a two-phase model in which the first phase of treatment focuses on skills training in affect and interpersonal regulation (STAIR). The second phase of treatment is an eight-session modified prolonged exposure (MPE) treatment adapted from Foa's treatment for rape-related posttraumatic stress disorder."

Messman-Moore, T., Brown, A. (2006). Risk Perception, Rape, and Sexual Revictimization: A Prospective Study of College Women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 30 (2) p159-172.

"Risk perception was examined in relation to sexual victimization among 262 college women. Participants were presented with written vignettes that described hypothetical situations with a stranger and with an acquaintance. Participants' hypothetical decision to leave a potentially risky situation with an acquaintance predicted rape and revictimization during an 8-month follow-up period. Revictimized participants had significantly delayed responses compared to previously victimized respondents who were not revictimized. Multivariate models indicated that prior victimization and delayed risk response increased vulnerability for rape and other forms of sexual victimization. Results highlight the need to assess multiple aspects of risk perception, including threat identification and behavioral responses to hypothetical or real situations. Findings suggest that delayed response to danger cues might be one factor that increases vulnerability for revictimization by acquaintances."

Myers, M. (2006). Coping ability of women who become victims of rape. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering, 67(2-B), pp. 1159.

Sarkar, N. N., Sarkar, R. (2005) Sexual assault on woman: Its impact on her life and living in society. Sexual & Relationship Therapy, 20 (4), 407-419 Database: Academic Search Premier

Shields, N., Hanneke, C., Hotaling, D., Finkelhor, J. Kirkpatrick J., Strauss, M. (Eds) (1988). Multiple sexual victimization: The case of incest and marital rape. Family abuse and its consequences: New directions in research. (pp. 255-269). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

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