Victimisation (or victimization) is the process of being victimised or becoming a victim. The field that studies the process, rates, incidence, effects, and prevalence of victimisation is called victimology.

Peer victimisation

Peer victimisation is the experience among children of being a target of the aggressive behaviour of other children, who are not siblings and not necessarily age-mates.[1]

Secondary victimization


Secondary victimization (also known as post crime victimization [2] or double victimization [3]) refers to further victim-blaming from criminal justice authorities following a report of an original victimization.[2] Rates of victimization are high, with an estimated 5.7 million individuals experiencing at least one victimization in 2016.[4] Considering these are cases of criminal offenses, the reported rates of violent victimization are disproportionately low. Less than half (42%) report any violent crime of threatened or real force, such as physical assault, battery, or weapons offenses. Additionally, under a quarter (23%) report rape, childhood, or sexual assault to the police. Further, out of the portion that does report sexual assault or rape, about half describe the experience as upsetting, frustrating, and useless.[5][6] Despite efforts to increase criminal reports of victimization, authorities and law enforcement personnel often discount individuals’ violent experiences and fail to attend to both the necessary legal actions and interpersonal actions.[7]


When institutions or criminal justice system personnel fail to support the victimized individual, victims are vulnerable to secondary victimization.[8] While the appropriate and legal way to respond to primary victimization is to report the event, authorities often deny, do not believe, or blame the victim (Campbell & Raja, 1999; Campbell & Raja, 2005). In turn, up to 90% of victims report experiencing negative social reaction and attribute the incident as a “second rape” or “second assault”.[5]

Research suggests that victim of sexual violence or assault are the least likely to receive support or resources following reporting.[5] This may be due to perceived lack of evidence, social stigma, and overall discomfort when dealing with sexual incidences. In a study of rape victims undergoing prosecution for their assault, those who felt their detectives responded empathetically and with understanding were likelier to pursue prosecution, felt their experiences were important, and their cases deserved to be heard.[9] Empathetic and supportive responses from authorities could potentially improve mental and physical health in rape survivors and additionally, improve reporting rates and lessen judgmental attitudes from the criminal justice system. Because sexual violence is a sensitive subject for all parties, criminal justice personnel may avoid, ignore, or publicly misconstrue their opinions about the situation as an effort to separate themselves or cope with dangerous and uncomfortable situations. Studies suggest these misconceptions by the system may further damage individuals’ mental health and a safer world.[10] This could be combatted with accepting, non-accusatory perspectives, aiding in accuracy the sexual violence reports. Several authors speculate authorities’ supportive approach benefits the victim and promotes a just world.[10][11] In this way, previous victims might report and seek appropriate resources in the future.

Those exposed to traumatic victimization are vulnerable to experiencing secondary victimization. If social needs such as empathy, support, and understanding are not met, individuals are prone to this phenomenon. While anybody who has experienced victimization is susceptible to secondary victimization, prevalence rates are significantly elevated for some populations. This includes females, children, racial and sexual minorities, and those sexually assaulted by an acquaintance or stranger.[12][13] Moreover, those experiencing a certain type of violence are at increased likelihood to experience secondary victimization. These include physical assault, sexual assault, and domestic violence [14] Notably, rape victims are at highest risk of secondary victimization from the criminal justice system, with about half who report describing the process as distressing.[8][15]

Reporting victimization

As a consequence of social rejections and insensitivities to acknowledging trauma or violence, individuals are increasingly apt to continue not reporting.[7] This can be detrimental to victims’ mental health, as sexual violence often happens more than once and not reporting violence helps to maintain a repeated cycle of abuse.[16] Experiencing violence is associated with negative mental and physical outcomes, including shame, emotion dysregulation, psychological stress, loss of resources, and mental health pathology.[17] In a meta-analysis about sexual assault victimization and psychopathology, there was a medium-sized effect overall effect size was moderate after accounting for several mental health diagnoses including depression, anxiety, suicidality, disordered eating, and substance abuse.[16] This indicates that sexual assault victimization is significantly related to mental health distress even after controlling for other associated symptoms. Additionally, women who experience secondary victimization are likelier to have both adverse physical health and mental health implications and are also unlikely to seek services and treatment.[6][13] Given these individuals are likely in a troubled state, pressures of reporting are cognitively taxing. To report crime, especially sexual crimes, implicates a further level of vulnerability. When victims are met with hostile reactions, they are reinforced to not report. This is not only harmful to the individual, but to society, in that perpetrators are thus permitted to continue committing crimes and abuse. As a consequence of victim-blaming and other negative attitudes towards victims, reported rates of criminal abuse are low and distress in victims is high.[7]

Interactions with the criminal justice system

Despite high rates of secondary victimization, reporting rates are low. It is not unusual for criminal justice personnel to discourage victims from prosecuting their sexual assault cases due to victim-blaming behaviors and discounting victims’ traumatic experiences.[18][13][19] One incident that attracts much controversy in the criminal justice system is reporting violent crimes on one’s intimate partner. Women who report rape by an intimate partner are seen as less credible by the system and law enforcement are more likely to encourage dropping the case.[9] Societal standards of obeying an intimate partner and thus encompassing rape culture are prevalent in the criminal justice system.[9] Although it is a legal crime that is being reported, victims are often turned away feeling alienated, hopeless, and unworthy and have limited options for resources beyond the system.[17]

Fragmented memory

A possible explanation of why the criminal justice system is unlikely to believe many victims is due to victims’ fragmented memory. It is not uncommon for victims of sexual abuse to also have a traumatic brain injury or other neurobiological reactions due to assault.[20][17][13] In her work, Campbell explains how molecular changes occur in response to trauma, and how this can influence discrepancies in victims’ reports and recollections of the event. After a traumatic incident, chemical alterations in the brain change, impacting encoding and processing the memory [20]

Not only do neurobiological changes affect victims’ memories, but emotion dysregulation, repression, suppression, dissociation, and avoidance of the event are also common reactions in victims [21][22] These cognitive and neurobiological factors are rarely considered when a victim reports an assault.[23][20] During the time law enforcement personnel gather information about the event, they could be met with victims explaining their stories inconsistently due to a fragmented memory. Either by a neurobiological change or psychological response to particularly distressing trauma, victims may fall prey to the inability to coherently portray details of the event, thus taking away credibility and facilitating secondary victimization.[19]


The term revictimisation refers to a pattern wherein the victim of abuse and/or crime has a statistically higher tendency to be victimised again, either shortly thereafter[24] or much later in adulthood in the case of abuse as a child. This latter pattern is particularly notable in cases of sexual abuse.[25][26] While an exact percentage is almost impossible to obtain, samples from many studies suggest the rate of revictimisation for people with histories of sexual abuse is very high. The vulnerability to victimisation experienced as an adult is also not limited to sexual assault, and may include physical abuse as well.[25]

Reasons as to why revictimisation occurs vary by event type, and some mechanisms are unknown. Revictimisation in the short term is often the result of risk factors that were already present, which were not changed or mitigated after the first victimisation; sometimes the victim cannot control these factors. Examples of these risk factors include living or working in dangerous areas, chaotic familial relations, having an aggressive temperament, drug or alcohol usage and unemployment.[25] Revictimisation may be "facilitated, tolerated, and even produced by particular institutional contexts, illustrating how the risk of revictimization is not a characteristic of the individual, nor is it destiny."[27]

Revictimisation of adults who were previously sexually abused as children is more complex. Multiple theories exist as to how this functions. Some scientists propose a maladaptive form of learning; the initial abuse teaches inappropriate beliefs and behaviours that persist into adulthood. The victim believes that abusive behaviour is "normal" and comes to expect, or feel they deserve it from others in the context of relationships, and thus may unconsciously seek out abusive partners or cling to abusive relationships. Another theory draws on the principle of learned helplessness. As children, they are put in situations that they have little to no hope of escaping, especially when the abuse comes from a caregiver.[26] One theory goes that this state of being unable to fight back or flee the danger leaves the last primitive option: freeze, an offshoot of death-feigning.

Offenders choosing pre-traumatized victims

In adulthood, the freeze response can remain, and some professionals have noted that victimisers sometimes seem to pick up subtle clues of this when choosing a victim.[28] This behaviour can make the victim an easier target, as they sometimes make less effort to fight back or vocalise. Afterwards, they often make excuses and minimise what happened to them, sometimes never reporting the assault to the authorities.


Self-victimisation (or victim playing) is the fabrication of victimhood for a variety of reasons such to justify abuse of others, to manipulate others, a coping strategy or attention seeking.

Self-image of victimisation (victim mentality)

Victims of abuse and manipulation sometimes get trapped into a self-image of victimisation. The psychological profile of victimisation includes a pervasive sense of helplessness, passivity, loss of control, pessimism, negative thinking, strong feelings of guilt, shame, self-blame and depression. This way of thinking can lead to hopelessness and despair.[29]

Rates of victimisation in United States

Levels of criminal activity are measured through three major data sources: the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR), self-report surveys of criminal offenders, and the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS). However, the UCR and self-report surveys generally report details regarding the offender and the criminal offense; information on the victim is only included so far as his/her relationship to the offender, and perhaps a superficial overview of his/her injuries. The NCVS is a tool used to measure the existence of actual, rather than only those reported, crimes—the victimisation rate[30]—by asking individuals about incidents in which they may have been victimised. The National Crime Victimization Survey is the United States' primary source of information on crime victimisation.

Each year, data is obtained from a nationally represented sample of 77,200 households comprising nearly 134,000 persons on the frequency, characteristics and consequences of criminal victimisation in the United States. This survey enables the (government) to estimate the likelihood of victimisation by Rape (more valid estimates were calculated after the surveys redesign in 1992 that better tapped instances of sexual assault, particularly of Date rape),[31] robbery, assault, theft, household burglary, and motor vehicle theft for the population as a whole as well as for segments of the population such as women, the elderly, members of various racial groups, city dwellers, or other groups.[30] According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), the NCVS reveals that, from 1994 to 2005, violent crime rates have declined, reaching the lowest levels ever recorded.[30] Property crimes continue to decline.[30]

In 2010, the National Institute of Justice reported that American adolescents were the age group most likely to be victims of violent crime, while American men were more likely than American women to be victims of violent crime, and blacks were more likely than Americans of other races to be victims of violent crime.[32]

In employment law

Victimisation is a concept in employment law[33]

See also

  • Public Criminology


  1. Hawker D.S.J.; Boulton M.J. (2000). "Twenty years' research on peer victimisation and psychosocial maladjustment: a meta-analytic review of cross-sectional studies". Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. 41 (4): 441–455. doi:10.1111/1469-7610.00629.
  2. "post-crime victimization or secondary victimization". Comprehensive Criminal Justice Terminology. Prentice Hall. Archived from the original on 10 March 2013. Retrieved 9 January 2008.
  3. Doerner, William (2012). Victimology. Burlington, MA: Elseiver, Inc. ISBN 978-1-4377-3486-7.
  4. Bureau of Justice Statistics. (2016). Criminal victimization. U.S. Department of Justice.
  5. Filipas, H. & Ullman, S.E. (2001). Social reactions to sexual assault victims from various support groups. Violence and Victims, 6, 673-92.
  6. Monroe, L.M., Kinney, L.M., Weist, M.D. (2005). The experience of sexual assault: Findings from a statewide victim needs assessment. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 20, 767-776.
  7. Orth, U. (2002). Secondary victimization of crime victims by criminal proceedings. Social Justice Research, 15, 313-325.
  8. Campbell, R. & Raja, S. (1999). Secondary victimization of rape victims: Insights from mental health professionals who treat survivors of violence. Violence and Victims, 14, 261-275.
  9. Patterson, D. (2010). The linkage between secondary victimization by law enforcement and rape case outcomes. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 26, 328-347.
  10. Mendonca, R.D., Gouveia-Pereira, M., & Miranda, M. (2016). Belief in a just world and secondary victimization: The role of adolescent deviant behavior. Personality and Individual Differences, 97, 82-87.
  11. Stromwall, L.A., Alfredsson, H., & Landstrom, S. (2013). Blame attributions and rape: Effects of belief in a just world and relationship level. Legal and Criminological Psychology, 18, 254-261.
  12. Jackson, M.A., Valentine, S.E., Woodward, E.N., & Pantalone, D.W. (2017). Secondary victimization of sexual minority men following disclosure of sexual assault: ‘Victimizing me all over again…’. Sexuality Research & Social Policy, 14, 275-288.
  13. Campbell, R. & Raja, S. (2005). The sexual assault and secondary victimization of female veterans: Help-seeking experiences with military and civilian social systems. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 29, 97-106.
  14. Laing, L. (2017). Secondary victimization: Domestic violence survivors navigating the family law system. Violence Against Women, 23, 1314-1335.
  15. Ullman, S. E. (2010). Psychology of women (APA Division 35). Talking about sexual assault: Society's response to survivors. Washington, DC, US: American Psychological Association.
  16. Dworkin, E.R., Menon, S.V., Bystrynski, J., & Allen, N.E. (2017). Sexual assault victimization and pathology: A review and meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology Review, 56, 65-81. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2017.06.002
  17. Campbell, R., Dworkin, E., & Cabral, G. (2009). An ecological model of the impact of sexual assault on women’s mental health. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 10, 225-246.
  18. Campbell, R., Wasco, S.M., Ahrens, C.E., Sefl, T., & Barnes, H.E. (2001). Preventing the “Second Rape”: Rape survivors’ experiences with community service providers. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 12, 1239-1259.
  19. Ullman, S. E. (2010). Psychology of women (APA Division 35). Talking about sexual assault: Society's response to survivors. Washington, DC, US: American Psychological Association.
  20. Campbell, R. (2012). The neurobiology of sexual assault: Implications for first responders in law enforcement, prosecution, and victim advocacy. NIJ Research for the Real World Seminar. Retrieved from
  21. Dunmore, E., Clark, D.M., & Ehlers, A. (2001). A prospective investigation of the role of cognitive factors in persistent Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after physical or sexual assault. Behavior Research and Therapy, 39, 1063-1084.
  22. Ehlers, A., & Clark, D. M. (2000). A cognitive model of posttraumatic stress disorder. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 38, 319–345. doi:10.1016/s0005-7967(99)00123-0
  23. Venema, R.M. (2016). Police officer schema of sexual assault reports. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 31, 872-899.
  24. Finkelhor, D.; Ormrod, RK.; Turner, HA. (May 2007). "Re-victimization patterns in a national longitudinal sample of children and youth". Child Abuse Negl. 31 (5): 479–502. CiteSeerX doi:10.1016/j.chiabu.2006.03.012. PMID 17537508.
  25. Anderson, Janet (May 2004). "Sexual Assault Revictimization". Research & Advocacy Digest. The Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs. 6 (2): 1.
  26. Messman Terri L.; Long Patricia J. (1996). "Child Sexual Abuse and its Relationship to Revictimization in Adult Women". Clinical Psychology Review. 16 (5): 397–420. doi:10.1016/0272-7358(96)00019-0.
  27. Bjørnholt, M (2019). "The social dynamics of revictimization and intimate partner violence: an embodied, gendered, institutional and life course perspective". Nordic Journal of Criminology. 20 (1): 90–110. doi:10.1080/14043858.2019.1568103.
  28. Wheeler S.; Book A.S.; Costello K. (2009). "Psychopathic traits and perceptions of victim vulnerability". Criminal Justice and Behavior. 36 (6): 635–648. doi:10.1177/0093854809333958.
  29. Braiker, Harriet B., Who's Pulling Your Strings ? How to Break The Cycle of Manipulation (2006)
  30. "National Crime Victimization Survey Official web site". Archived from the original on 23 February 2008. Retrieved 24 May 2016.
  31. Doerner, William (2012). Victimology. Burlington, MA: Elseiver, Inc. ISBN 978-1-4377-3486-7.
  32. "Victims and Victimization". 20 September 2010. Retrieved 1 March 2013.
  33. "This section provides general information on employment law in the UK". UK Film Council. 2009. Retrieved 12 October 2009.

Further reading


  • Catalano, Shannan, Intimate Partner Violence: Attributes of Victimization, 1993–2011 (2013)
  • Elias, Robert, The Politics of Victimization: Victims, Victimology, and Human Rights (1986)
  • Finkelhor, David Childhood Victimization: Violence, Crime, and Abuse in the Lives of Young People (Interpersonal Violence) (2008)
  • Harris, Monica J. Bullying, Rejection, & Peer Victimization: A Social Cognitive Neuroscience Perspective (2009)
  • Hazler, Richard J. Breaking The Cycle Of Violence: Interventions For Bullying And Victimization (1996)
  • Maher, Charles A & Zins, Joseph & Elias, Maurice Bullying, Victimization, And Peer Harassment: A Handbook of Prevention And Intervention (2006)
  • Meadows, Robert J. Understanding Violence and Victimization (5th Edition) (2009)
  • Lerner, Melvin J.; Montada, Leo (1998). Responses to victimizations and belief in a just world. Critical issues in social justice. New York: Plenum Press. ISBN 978-0-306-46030-2.
  • Mullings, Janet & Marquart, James & Hartley, Deborah The Victimization of Children: Emerging Issues (2004)
  • Prinstein, Mitchell J., Cheah, Charissa S.L., Guyer, Amanda E. (2005). "Peer Victimization, Cue Interpretation, and Internalizing Symptoms: Preliminary Concurrent and Longitudinal Findings for Children and Adolescents" (PDF). Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology. 34 (1): 11–24. doi:10.1207/s15374424jccp3401_2. PMID 15677277.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  • Westervelt, Saundra Davis Shifting The Blame: How Victimization Became a Criminal Defense (1998)


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