Revictimization In Interpersonal Violence Survivors
By: Jessica Anderson
Updated January 31, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Kelly L. Burns, MA, LPC, ATR-P
Content/Trigger Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include sexual assault & violence which could potentially be triggering.
Interpersonal violence (IPV) is when someone is taken advantage of by a person who has power over them. The person in power could be a boss, a teacher, or an elder. This violence can often include physical, emotional, and/or sexual abuse. If you've been harmed in this way, you've been through one of the hardest things in life. You've been hurt by someone, who you should have been able to trust. You may feel resentment, anxiety, fear, or depression, and you may even be experiencing an anxiety disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder. These are common, and they are expected results of the trauma you've endured. However, this does not mean that you need to live with these challenges. Even if you haven't gone through these struggles, you likely know people who have. Because of this, it's beneficial for everyone to be informed on the topic of revictimization.
What Is Revictimization In Interpersonal Violence Survivors?
Revictimization in interpersonal violence survivors occurs when the people who were harmed are harmed again in the future. Revictimization is extremely common, with 66% of individuals who experience sexual assault experiencing physical, sexual, or psychological abuse in the future. The Department of Justice reports that every 98 seconds, someone in America is sexually assaulted. Out of these survivors, over half develop PTSD and are at risk for revictimization. These numbers show that if you have experienced this challenge, you are not alone.
You can move forward and escape the cycle. Whether or not you have experienced revictimization, educating yourself on the topic can allow you to bring positive change in your life or in the life of someone you know.
Understand the Victims
IPV is often hard for the people who are outside of the situation to understand. It simply seems like an event that no one should ever let happen. It can be easy to blame the victim or tell them they should have left at the first red flag. However, these actions can put the victim at a higher risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. Abuse alters the victim's decision-making processes, clouding their judgment when it comes to trusting the people around them or judging how dangerous a situation is.
The Neurocircuitry of Trauma and PTSD Study, conducted by Dr. Josh Cisler at the University of Wisconsin - Madison, has shown that women exposed to trauma, when compared to women who have not experienced these challenges, rate threatening situations as less dangerous and are more likely to continue progressing through threatening scenarios that can escalate to sexual assault. "The more bad things happen to you, the more likely you are to have [other] bad things happen to you," Cisler said in an interview for The Daily Cardinal, a UW-Madison student newspaper. "So, if we can stop that cycle of violence, or victimization, then we can decrease that risk."
Source: pressfoto via freepik.com
Victim blaming only makes revictimization more likely, and it is becoming more of a problem in our society today. By perpetuating the belief that the victims are at fault, survivors are more likely to develop the symptoms of PTSD and depression that can lead to revictimization, as we mentioned earlier. "Avoiding victim-blaming is really important so women who have been victimized by sexual assault do not internalize [the blame]," says Karyn Esbensen, the Research Specialist under Dr. Cisler (The Daily Cardinal).
It's Not Only a Women's or Heterosexuals' Issue
Many people think of victims as only women, and most research has been centered on women. However, IPV occurs in the lives of all types of people. As many as 1 out of 10 rape victims are male, yet there is a lack of research on IPV in male survivors. This stems from two reasons: First, men are constantly told they cannot be assaulted in intimate partnerships. Second, stigma prevents men from expressing their emotions during stress. Male survivors of IPV can internalize their trauma because they lack the necessary societal support to process their trauma appropriately. We, as a society, need to recognize and remember that men deserve equal support.
Trans and nonbinary individuals, as well as those in same sex relationships, have a higher rate of interpersonal violence occurence, though this problem is often overlooked. According to one source, 21% of transgender, genderqueer, and gender non-conforming college-aged students have been sexually assaulted, which is 3% higher than cisgender females and 17% higher than cisgender males. Additionally, bisexual women are twice as likely to have PTSD as the result of interpersonal violence. Preliminary investigations show that IPV increases the risk of PTSD in the LGBT community; however, research on non-heterosexual, trans, and non-binary populations is extremely limited. The lack of studies and information is another sign that our society is falling behind in both studying and supporting a significant portion of society. More data is needed on these populations, just as more information is needed for men, in order to understand how revictimization occurs in each population. Additional data can give us better insight into how we can support these individuals and treat their symptoms.
What Can You Do To Help?
- Provide Support
The best way to prevent revictimization from occurring is to provide a strong support group for the survivor. When a survivor feels comfortable disclosing experiences and emotions in a group, the risk of PTSD is reduced, future instances of IPV are lessened, and depressive and PTSD symptoms decrease. If someone you know has experienced IPV or other trauma, be empathetic. Be sure to be available not only in the immediate aftermath of trauma but in a long-term capacity as well.. The survivor still has a full life ahead of them, and their trauma does not define them or their life in any way. Treating the violence as an event- and not as a part of who they are- is vital for survivors to process their trauma and realize that they do not need to continue living as victims.
- Educate Yourself to Help with Prevention
Our society needs improved support for all individuals who have experienced traumatic events, as well as education on this topic in order to increase prevention. Rape culture has become so integrated into our society, that systematic changes are needed. Change should start by teaching children to treat every person with respect, and from a young age, we should be encouraged to express our emotions, regardless of gender or gender identity. This, along with more general education surrounding IPV and how to intervene, is vital to decreasing the prevalence of IPV and the revictimization that occurs within it.
What Can You Do To Prevent Revictimization in Yourself?
If you have experienced IPV of any type or experienced revictimization, therapy can be an extremely beneficial tool. When you have someone to talk to openly, who knows how to help you in research-backed ways, you can begin to educate yourself, heal, and learn strategies to help you avoid revictimization and live with the trauma you have faced.
Consider speaking with a licensed therapist from BetterHelp for added convenience and privacy. Our counselors are available to you from the comfort and privacy of your own home or wherever you have an internet connection. They can meet with you in a variety of ways, all for an affordable price. Below are some reviews of BetterHelp counselors, from people who are overcoming similar traumas.
"Dr. Thiem is extremely caring and knowledgeable. She has helped me work through my trauma with such patience. Dr. Thiem uses a variety of therapy techniques and is truly supportive. I didn't think that I would ever feel okay again until I started working with her. I'm grateful for her kindness and skill. She's wonderful!"
"Hilary is just amazing. I have been working with her for a few months now and she has helped me so much dealing with anxiety and past abuse. I would absolutely recommend her to anyone thinking about counseling."
Revictimization in IPV is an extremely difficult challenge to face, as well as a topic that we as a society need to be more aware of. If you haven't faced this challenge, remember the facts you have read today. Be present when someone you know is recovering from violence and help to support them, so they are not brought back into the cycle through revictimization. If you're experiencing cycles of violence in your life, remember that you are not alone, and you can reach out for help today. You are strong enough to live a healthy and happy life. No matter what you've experienced, with the right tools, you can move forward to a safe and healthy life. Take the first step today.
Written & Submitted By: Kyrie Sellnow