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Secondary Victimization


See also: Testimonials of secondary victimization and Honor killings


What is secondary victimization?

Secondary victimization is the re-traumatization of the sexual assault, abuse or rape victim. It is an indirect result of assault which occurs through the responses of individuals and institutions to the victim. The types of secondary victimization include victim blaming, inappropriate behavior or language by medical personel and by other organizations with access to the victim post assault. (Campbell et. al., 1999)


Online resources


Information about secondary victimization

Student Material to Victim Empowerment: Bridging The Systems Mental Health and Victim Service Providers


"After the trauma of a crime, many report being victimized by the very systems that were designed to help them. The media, health services and criminal justice system can respond to victims of crime in ways that make them feel traumatized again. A counselor can help to reduce the chances of secondary victimization by helping victims to understand their rights. "


Secondary injuries


"Victims not only have to struggle with primary injuries in the aftermath of the crime, but they must also battle with the "secondary" injuries. Secondary injuries are injuries that occur when there is a lack of proper support. These injuries can be caused by friends, family and most often by the professionals victims encounter as a result of the crime. Law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judges, social service workers, the media, coroners, clergy, and even mental health professionals can cause secondary injuries. Those individuals may lack the ability or training to provide the necessary comfort and assistance to the victim. Often, those individuals blame the victim for the crime. Failing to recognize the importance of the crime or to show sympathy can be damaging to the victim's self-worth and recovery process.

Perhaps the most agonizing experience for victims involves dealing with the criminal justice system if and when an offender is apprehended. At this level, the crime is considered to have been committed against the state, and victims become witnesses to the crimes."


Crime Victims and the Media*

"In its rush to be the first with the news, the media can often inflict a "second victimization" upon crime victims or survivors. Common complaints that victims have include: interviewing survivors at inappropriate times; filming and photographing gruesome scenes; searching for the "dirt" about the victim; seeking interviews with friends or neighbors', interviewing or photographing child victims; printing victims' names, addresses or places of employment; and scrutinizing victims' past. After a crime, victims are frequently physically and mentally numb. They are confused and disoriented.

A recent study shows that television news directors agree in principle that crime victims have privacy rights and the individual's right to privacy is not outweighed by the public's desire to know. However, directors are less likely to adhere to this principle if they know a competitor is going to break the story.

While victims have rights when dealing with the media, many yield to media pressures and answer questions that they would not consider answering under other circumstances. In most cases, there are no legal remedies if his or her rights are violated.

The National Victim Center developed this list of rights for victims:

To say "no" to an interview
To select the spokesperson or advocate of the victim's choice
To select the time and location for media interviews
To request a specific reporter
To refuse an interview with a specific reporter even though he or she
has granted interviews to other reporters
To say "no" to an interview even though the victim has previously
granted interviews
To release a written statement through a spokesperson in lieu of an
To exclude children from interviews
To refrain from answering any questions with which the victim is
uncomfortable or that the victim feels are inappropriate
To avoid a press conference atmosphere and speak to only one reporter
at a time
To demand a correction when inaccurate information is reported
To ask that offensive photographs or visuals be omitted from airing or
To conduct a television interview using a silhouette or a newspaper
interview without having a photograph taken
To completely give the victim's side of the story related to the
To refrain from answering reporters' questions during a trial
To file a formal complaint against a reporter
To grieve in private


Rape Coverage: Shifting the Blame

"Rape, and in particular acquaintance rape, has become something of a human interest story-of-choice for mainstream newspaper editors recently. But more coverage has usually not meant better."


Secondary Victimization from the Criminal Justice System and Society



Secondary victimization of rape victims: insights from mental health professionals who treat survivors of violence


Secondary Victimization



Journal articles

Ahrens, Courtney Elizabeth (2002). Silent and silenced: The disclosure and non-disclosure of sexual assault. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering, Vol 63(3-B), Sep 2002. pp. 1553. Find this journal title in a library


"Nearly one quarter of all women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, but prevalent myths and stereotypes prevent many victims from disclosing the assault to their friends, families, law enforcement officials, medical professionals, or social service providers. Although previous research has identified common reasons for non-disclosure, little is known about why some victims may initially disclose the assault, but then cease to talk about the assault for prolonged periods of time. For many victims, negative reactions from support providers may silence them, halting disclosure for a significant period of time... eight rape survivors who initially disclosed the assault within the first three days, received at least one negative social reaction, and stopped disclosing for at least nine months were selected from a larger sample of 102 rape survivors for further analysis. Qualitative analyses revealed three pathways to silence. Three survivors were silenced by blaming and insensitive reactions from formal support providers that heightened concerns about the effectiveness of disclosure and increased fears of negative reactions. Three survivors were silenced by inappropriate and ineffective support attempts by informal support providers that increased feelings of guilt and shame and led them to question the efficacy of disclosure. The remaining two survivors were silenced by both formal and informal support providers whose adherence to rape myths led these survivors to question whether their experiences qualified as rape. Further analysis suggested that negative reactions from support providers related to rape myths and stereotypes about "credible" assaults, "deserving" victims, and "appropriate" behavior. No matter how many stereotypical characteristics were met in a particular case, the violation of a single stereotype was sufficient for casting doubt on the legitimacy of victims' claims. When more than one stereotype was violated, the mismatch between victims' characters and stereotypes about "deserving" victims was the primary mechanism for discrediting victims. Implications of these findings for future research and practice are discussed."


Campbell R, Raja S. (1999) Secondary victimization of rape victims: insights from mental health professionals who treat survivors of violence. Violence Vict. 14(3):261-75. Link Find this journal title in a library


"Rape victims may turn to the legal, medical, and mental health systems for assistance, but there is a growing body of literature indicating that many survivors are denied help by these agencies. What help victims do receive often leaves them feeling revictimized. These negative experiences have been termed "the second rape" or "secondary victimization." If indeed secondary victimization occurs, then these issues may be raised in rape survivors' mental health treatment. In the current study, probability sampling was used to survey a representative sample of licensed mental health professionals about the extent to which they believe rape victims are "re-raped" in their interactions with social system personnel. Most therapists believed that some community professionals engage in harmful behaviors that are detrimental to rape survivors' psychological well-being. Implications for future research on secondary victimization are discussed."


Campbell, Rebecca (2006). Rape Survivors' Experiences With the Legal and Medical Systems. Violence Against Women, 12 (1), p30-45, 16p, 2 charts. link Find this journal title in a library


"This study used a naturalistic quasi-experimental design to examine whether rape survivors who had the assistance of rape victim advocates had more positive experiences with the legal and medical systems compared to those who did not work with advocates. Eighty-one survivors were interviewed in two urban hospitals about what services they received from legal and medical system personnel and how they were treated during these interactions. Survivors who had the assistance of an advocate were significantly more likely to have police reports taken and were less likely to be treated negatively by police officers. These women also reported less distress after their contact with the legal system. Similarly, survivors who worked with an advocate during their emergency department care received more medical services, including emergency contraception and sexually transmitted disease prophylaxis, reported significantly fewer negative interpersonal interactions with medical system personnel, and reported less distress from their medical contact experiences."



Golding, Jacqueline M.; Siegel, Judith M.; Sorenson, Susan B.; Burnam, M. Audrey; Stein, Judith A. (1989). Social Support Sources Following Sexual Assault. Journal of Community Psychology. 17 (1). p92-107, 16p. Find this journal title in a library


"Considerable research suggests that social support plays a crucial rote in coping with stressful life events. The present study used data from 3,132 randomly selected survey respondents to investigate the use and helpfulness of seven potential social support sources in coping with a particular life crisis: sexual assault. About two-thirds or the 447 sexually assaulted respondents had told someone about the assault. Over half had talked to a friend or relative (59.3%). Fewer respondents consulted police (10.5%), mental health professionals (16.1%), physicians (9.3%), clergy (3.9%), rape crisis centers (1.9%), and legal professionals (1.6%). Assault by a stranger, physical threat, fighting against the assailant, a high degree of sexual contact, and emotional distress concerning the assault were associated with talking about the assault, especially with police and physicians. Most of those who told someone found at least one person helpful (13.8%). Rape crisis centers (94.2%) and legal professionals (82.7%) were most frequently described as helpful, followed by mental health professionals (70.1 %), friends and relatives (66.6%). clergy (63.1%), physicians (55.6%). and police (38.2%). Results are compared to previous findings, and implications for research and intervention are discussed."


Hattendorf, J., & Tollerud, T.R. (1997). Domestic Violence: Counseling Strategies That Minimize the Impact of Secondary Victimization. Journal Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, 33(1), 14-23. Find this journal title in a library


"This paper reviews developmental factors associated with domestic violence, describes the processes of secondary victimization and traumatic response, and discusses the implications for intervening appropriately with battered women."


Mcauslan, Pamela (1999). After sexual assualt: The relationship between women's disclosure, the reactions of others, and health. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering, 60(1-B), pp. 0411. link


"negative social reactions were a strong predictor of negative health outcomes. These results are considered within the theoretical frameworks of the psychosomatic theory of inhibition and social support theory."

Winkel, F., (1991) Rape victims' style of self-presentation and secondary victimization by environment : an experiment. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. 6(1):29-40. Find this journal title in a library


"Rape victims differ in their style of communicating their experience to others in their environment. The present experiment tests the hypothesis that a numbed style of self-presentation, as compared an emotional one, will result more strongly in secondary victimization by those around her."

See also : Secondary victimization bibliography (more articles)




Madigan, L. and Gamble, N. (1991). The Second Rape: Society's Continued Betrayal of the Victim. New York: Lexington Books. Find this in a library

Websdale, N. (1998). Indigenous archaeology: American Rural woman battering and the justice system. Thousand Oaks, Calif: Sage Publications. Find this in a library


Resources to research this subject:

Journals and articles

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Online Libraries on sexual assault

Encyclopedias and Dictionaries

Search terms: revictimization, secondary victimization, Psychic trauma--Social aspects--Handbooks, manuals, Post-traumatic stress disorder--Handbooks, manuals,

Related links: Multiple victimization, Testimonials of secondary victimization, Hate crimes, Invisible community, Victim blame, Prevention,

See also : Secondary victimization bibliography (more articles)


Binder, Charles J. (2005). Sexual Assault: The Victims, the Perpetrators, and the Criminal Justice System. Corrections Today. 67 (7). p110-110. Review of a book of the same name.

Campbell R, Raja S. (1999) Secondary victimization of rape victims: insights from mental health professionals who treat survivors of violence. Violence Vict. 14 (3):261-75

Martin, P. Y., & Powell, R. M. (1995). Accounting for the second assault: Legal organizations' framing of rape victims. Law and Social Inquiry, 19, 853-890.

Williams, J. (1984). Secondary victimization: Confronting public attitudes about rape. Victimology: An International Journal, 9(1), 66-81.


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