Revictimization: The Hidden Truth Behind Childhood Sexual Abuse

In 2013 alone, a total of 60,956 child sexual abuse cases were confirmed in the US.1

As adults, children who’ve been sexually abused are at a greater risk for mental health problems, suicide attempts, and substance abuse.2 An eye-opening study published by the Boston University School of Medicine found childhood sexual abuse could even have biological implications, putting abused girls at a higher risk for developing uterine fibroids years later.3
An individual being attacked once is horrific. The thought of it happening repeatedly throughout a lifetime is unimaginable. But the often unspoken reality is this:

Children who are victims of sexual abuse are more than 3 times more likely to experience sexual victimization again as adults.3

This occurrence is referred to as revictimization. “Sexual revictimization occurs when a survivor of sexual abuse, such as childhood sexual abuse, is sexually victimized again,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. “Childhood sexual abuse survivors are more likely to experience adult sexual victimization compared to non-victims. Childhood sexual abuse is among the strongest predictors of continued victimization.”1

The connection between childhood sexual abuse and revictimization is multi-faceted. One theory is that children who are abused by people who are close to them associate love with sexual exploitation. Unable to create safe boundaries, sexual abuse may also lead to a belief pattern that sexuality is all an individual has to give and equates this with self-worth.4

Another mainstream belief surrounding revictimization involves an individual’s compulsion to reenact early abuse—not because a victim wants to be hurt—but to possibly regain control. In other instances, people who have been exposed to abuse as children learn to believe they have no control and come to accept this interaction as a way of life.4

The truth is, a victim of childhood sexual abuse could have a string of abusive episodes in their lifetime, but blame should never be placed on the victim. The violator is solely responsible for the attack.

According to Pandora’s Project, a support and resources online organization for survivors of rape and sexual abuse, “[Victim-blame] reflects a lack of knowledge about the workings of trauma: While some survivors may be overly cautious about everybody, other traumatized people actually have a harder time forming accurate assessments of danger.”4 Victim-blame will only perpetuate a dangerous environment where rape culture is considered acceptable.5 What’s more, a negative reaction to someone sharing her abuse experience may also lead to self-blame.6 And for some, it may mean choosing not to come forward at all.

A study published in the Journal of American College Health showed that among college women who experienced sexual abuse, the majority confided in someone close to them, but disclosure to formal support, law enforcement agencies in particular, was rare.7

Women have reported not formally coming forward because they fear their confidentiality will be at stake, they question the seriousness of their attack or don’t understand what constitutes as assault, or are afraid no one will believe them.7,8

If you’re a survivor of sexual abuse, confiding in someone you trust can help with recovery. There are also trusted organizations that provide support:

  • RAINN is the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization and leading authority on sexual violence. It offers phone and online Helplines, confidential support services, help resources, and consulting services. https://www.rainn.org
  • Pandora’s Project is an online support network for survivors of rape and sexual abuse. http://www.pandys.org
  • Planned Parenthood clinics provide crisis hotline services, in-person counseling, medical examinations, advocacy support during interaction with law enforcement, and community education programs for women, children and men who are survivors of sexual assault https://www.plannedparenthood.org
  • The National Sexual Violence Resource Center provides podcasts, eLearning opportunities, blogs, event calendars and other resources to improve sexual abuse education http://www.nsvrc.org
  • Take Back the Night offers online resources for abuse survivors and organizes community events around the globe to build awareness around sexual violence https://takebackthenight.org

April is both National Child Abuse Awareness Month and Sexual Assault Awareness month. If you want to become a voice for sexual abuse survivors, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center made 2017 the year of Engaging New Voices http://www.nsvrc.org/blogs/saam/announcing-2017-sexual-assault-awareness-month-theme-engaging-new-voices This month, and for the next 6 months, community leaders—especially members of campus Greek life, coaches, fathers, and faith leaders—are encouraged to come together and support Sexual Assault Awareness Month in their communities.

Because together we can put an end to attitudes that support sexual violence.

REFERENCES

  1. Ports, K., Ford, D., & Merrick, M. (2016). Adverse childhood experiences and sexual victimization in adulthood. Child Abuse Negl, Jan; 51: 313-322.
  2. Matta Oshima, K., Jonson-Reid, M, & Seay, K. (2014). The influence of childhood sexual abuse on adolescent

outcomes: the roles of gender, poverty, and revictimization. J Child Sex Abus, 23(4): 367-386.

  1. Boynton-Jarrett, R., Rich-Edwards, J. W., Jun, H. J., Hilbert, E. N., & Wright, R. J. (2011). Abuse inchildhood and risk ofuterine leiomyoma: the role of emotional support in biologic resilience. Epidemiology, 22(1): 6-14.
  2. Louise. (2009). Pandora’s Project. Revictimization. Retrieved from http://www.pandys.org/articles/revictimization.html