How does revictimization occur and how to avoid it?
In addition to the pain and trauma that sexual abuse itself generates in those who suffer it, many times that suffering is relived when a victim of sexual abuse or violence dares to reveal what happened to them, this is known as revictimization, secondary victimization, or double victimization.
In addition to the perpetrator or the person who committed the aggression against the survivor of sexual abuse, other people, groups, or structures can contribute to reliving the survivor’s pain. Questioning what the survivor says, inquiring into too many intimate details, and being tactless in dealing with the sexually abused person, are some of the many forms of revictimization.
After-effects of revictimization
In addition to the physical consequences of sexual abuse, the psychological impact is enormous. Reliving and perpetuating the facts in the mind of a survivor of sexual abuse can cause, in addition to negative emotions and thoughts, self-blame, isolation, as well as trigger psychological problems and psychophysiological disorders such as:
– Post-traumatic stress.
– Substance abuse.
– Loss of motivation and self-esteem.
– Depressive symptoms.
– Difficulties concentrating.
– Constant fear.
– Feelings of anger and injustice.
– Isolation or avoidance behavior.
– Suicidal ideation.
– Sleep disorders.
– Psychosomatic illnesses.
– Cardiovascular and/or gastrointestinal effects.
There are countless effects that it can have on the life of a person facing a situation as painful as sexual abuse. And if additionally, this person is exposed to suffer guilt, stigmatization, and sees their dignity violated again and again, the healing process becomes more difficult and even because of this, many survivors of sexual abuse prefer to remain silent and carry heavy emotional burdens alone.
How to reduce victimization?
Often, as a society, we tend to fall into prejudices and commonplaces that, although they do not seek to harm, can end up destroying a person who has had such a painful experience as sexual violence. Learn some ways in which it is possible to protect survivors of sexual abuse from revictimization.
Respect the victim’s identity. When a case of sexual abuse becomes highly publicized in the media, it is common that the victim’s identity is not protected, and the victim’s privacy and that of the victim’s family are not respected. It is important that both the media and the authorities, in response to their ethical duties, preserve the victim’s rights to the maximum and protect her information and privacy.
Avoid justifying the violent act. Expressions such as: What were they doing alone in the street late at night? How were they dressed? Why were they so drunk? Or “they must have done something to deserve that something happened to them” are some of the many phrases we say as a society when faced with cases of abuse. We seem to forget that under no circumstances is sexual violence justifiable and that those who suffer it are not to blame. It is essential that we never lose sight of the fact that the only one to blame is the perpetrator and nothing justifies his actions.
Never doubt what a victim says. One of the most difficult steps for a person who has been sexually abused is to talk about their experience, something that can take many years. If you add to this the fact that people in their environment, health personnel, or authorities begin to doubt their story, the chances are very high that a survivor of sexual abuse will avoid reporting or talking about what they experienced. Believing in their words and providing the support they need is the best way to avoid revictimization of a survivor of sexual abuse.
Validate the emotions of the abuse survivor. Understanding what a person who has suffered sexual abuse is feeling, avoiding judgment, and welcoming their needs helps strengthen bonds of trust and provide them with a space where they feel safe and can talk about their experience.
Reduce the length of legal proceedings. One of the most frequent forms of revictimization takes place during judicial processes that are prolonged for a long time and resort to frequent interrogations that lead the survivor to relive his or her pain and also lead to confrontations between the victim and perpetrator. It is essential that these processes be rethought in order to protect and provide greater guarantees to the survivor who has the courage to report this type of aggression.
Adding more pain to a person who has faced the most traumatic experience that can be lived can have very serious repercussions in their life. If you know of a case of sexual abuse in your close environment, listen to that person, believe them, help them seek help, and avoid reliving their pain.
In the #YoDigoNoMas Movement, we are aware of how painful the experience of sexual abuse is and how frequent revictimization is. Today we want to invite you to be more empathetic with survivors of sexual abuse and avoid comments, questions, and actions that cause them more suffering. Learn more about our Movement and join our cause.