Secondary victimization is characterized by engagement in victim-blaming attitudes, behaviors, and practices, which result in additional trauma for sexual assault survivors. Secondary victimization minimizes the significance of a crime, which leads to apathetic and discriminative attitudes. Far-reaching political, legal, and social implications result from these attitudes, ranging from low conviction rates for sexual assault cases, to victims’ hindered psychological recovery. In order to combat secondary victimization, it is vital to understand and then challenge these prejudicial attitudes.
Some of the elements that influence secondary victimization including hyper-masculinity, gender-traditionality (GRT), relationship closeness, the participant gender, level of belief in a just world, and religiosity on victim-blame attribution are explored below:
Hyper-Masculinity. One factor that influences secondary victimization is attitudes around hyper-masculinity and gender-role traditionality. Research has found that males are more likely than females to blame a victim. An explanation is that females tend to empathize with victims, whereas males often fail to relate with victims. Males’ lack of empathy is often a product of hyper masculine attitudes that endorses hostile beliefs. Crucial to hyper-masculinity is the idea that female victims are weak and male victims are deviant. In addition to hyper masculine attitudes, enforcement of gender-role traditionality also helps explain secondary victimization. Advocates of GRT state that sexual violence is simply an assertion of extreme stereotypical gender roles, with males being aggressive and females being submissive. This mode of understanding is used to rationalize both female and male victimization.
Relationship Closeness. This is associated with relationship closeness between the victim and perpetrator, as well as the victim’s sexual orientation. Victim-blame has been found to be higher in instances of acquaintance scenarios versus stranger scenarios. When sexual assaults occur in a close relationship, the assault is often doubted or judged as less violent.
Belief in a just world. BJW refers to people’s tendency to believe that the world is just and people get what they deserve. Individuals high in BJW rationalize crime by assuming the victim might have done something to deserve it. They are less likely to identify an assault as a legitimate crime. Studies also show that people with high BJW consider the actions of a perpetrator to be less blameworthy, attributing more blame to the victim.
Religiosity. The level religion has on victim-blaming is mixed; suggesting that blame attribution differs by religious groups and spiritual orientation. For example, members of conservative orthodox religions perceive victims as being more responsible, compared to those who are not members of orthodox religions. Victim-blaming is also correlated with whether an individual’s identification with religion is intrinsic or extrinsic. Intrinsic religion refers to a genuine and devout faith, whereas extrinsic religion is more of a utilitarian principle with religion seen as a tool for achieving one’s goals. Extrinsic religion has been found to correlate with prejudice, whereas intrinsic does not. The reasons for this correlation between religiosity and victim-blaming are not completely understood.
Secondary victimization is linked to oppressive and hostile beliefs. Regardless of the contributing factors, the effects of secondary victimization are serious and have long-term consequences. Survivors’ experiences with the legal system, medical professionals, and the community at large highlight that many victims lack support services and are treated negatively. The product of victims’ lack of social acknowledgement and legal representation further intensifies victims’ trauma. The remedy to combat sexual violence is complex, but involves challenging prejudicial attitudes in order to offer victims support and to ensure prevention of further victimization.
Adapted from EAPL-S: European Association of Psychology and Law – Fact Sheet: Secondary Victimization