Revictimization Effect: What it is and Why to Avoid it

Revictimization occurs when a person has to relive their trauma in an unempathetic way. This situation usually occurs during certain legal processes and interviews. However, it may also occur in other settings. Learn how to help prevent it in this article!
Revictimization Effect: What it is and Why to Avoid it
Andrés Carrillo

Written and verified by the psychologist Andrés Carrillo.

Last update: 27 May, 2022

When a person has been a victim of some type of abuse and society intervenes for their protection, the revictimization effect can take place. This means that the victim is subjected to processes by which they relive the suffering they had to endure previously. For example, this may include extensive interrogations concerning the trauma.

Some of the most notorious consequences of this double victimization are stress and anxiety. In this sense, people may develop double post-traumatic stress: firstly towards the original trauma and secondly towards the legal proceedings to which they have been subjected in a distressing way.

Vulnerability to memories of negative experiences is a natural response in all human beings. However, some subjects have an easier time overcoming trauma than others, which decreases the likelihood of double victimization.

When does the revictimization effect occur?

A woman crying
These people tend to suffer more than usual.

This situation can occur in a variety of settings, with legal proceedings being one of the most frequent. For example, when a victim of abuse must testify in court and is asked unempathetic questions in which they must relive unpleasant events, the revictimization effect occurs.

Based on the above example, we can understand that double victimization occurs when officials of some public or private institution subject a person who has been a victim of trauma to public scorn or pressure them to relive critical moments of the traumatic experience during some interrogations.

The victim’s own family members or friends may also be the ones who make hurtful comments. Ultimately, it’s the lack of empathy when talking about the traumatic events that cause a person to be a victim of a negative situation twice.
Social networks are platforms that have the facility to quickly expose people to these types of negative situations. Such is the case of viral news; when the news that a person was raped or murdered begins to circulate on social networks, the victim or the victim’s family members suffer intensely.

Possible psychological consequences of revictimization

The psychological sequelae after being victimized twice generate a higher level of vulnerability in those affected. In other words, there’s an increase in the intensity of the initial symptoms, and new maladaptive behaviors may emerge.

In most cases, people who have suffered some type of abuse or traumatic experience develop post-traumatic stress behaviors; irrational fears of situations related to the trauma.

Post-traumatic stress in subjects who have been exposed to dual victimization is often related to institutions. For example, a person develops a fear of court proceedings because they were the victim of an unempathetic interrogation where they had to relive their original trauma.

In addition to post-traumatic stress, revictimization conditions people to think that it’s impossible to get help. There’s then learned hopelessness about legal or judicial processes; people don’t go to institutions again because they don’t see it as beneficial.

A stressed woman in a car
Negative memories can cause these individuals to flee from institutions.

Read: Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms

Measures to avoid revictimization

Institutions can adopt a more humane approach when dealing with victims of traumatic events. Therefore, we raise awareness among officials in charge of interviewing vulnerable people. Other measures to take into account would be:

  • Offer psychological care. It would be beneficial for victims to have the opportunity to meet with a mental health professional before discussing their traumatic experiences with others.
  • Avoid starting the dialogue with questions related to the trauma. It’s never a good idea to approach a person directly with uncomfortable topics; you must establish a degree of trust first.
  • Practice active listening. An indispensable aspect of empathy is knowing how to listen when we’re spoken to; ideally, allow the other person the freedom to tell us about their situation without pressure, at the pace they need, and taking the pauses required to validate their emotions.
  • Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Being empathic is premised on having the ability to put oneself in the other person’s situation to understand their pain; avoid value judgments and don’t downplay the importance of other people’s emotions.

Are some people immune to revictimization?

Some individuals possess certain personality characteristics that make them less prone to the revictimization effect. Above all, resilience plays a determining role when someone can be affected by other people’s comments.

When a person is resilient, they have the capacity to overcome adversity and obtain significant learning. In other words, in the future, they’ll be able to face any adverse situation in a less traumatic way. In this sense, the most resilient people don’t usually have problems talking about vulnerable topics.

This doesn’t mean that subjects with a higher resilience index are immune to memories of trauma causing bad effects. However, they’re able to cope with adverse situations.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Bezanilla, José Manuel, Ma. Amparo Miranda, and Jorge Humberto González Fabiani. “Violaciones Graves a Derechos Humanos: Violencia Institucional y Revictimización.” Cuadernos de crisis y emergencias 15 (2016): n. pag. Cuadernos de crisis y emergencias. Web.
  • Mantilla, Saida. “La Revictimización Como Causal de Silencio de La Víctima.” Revista de Ciencias Forenses de Honduras 1.2 (2015): 5. Revista de Ciencias Forenses de Honduras. Web.
  • Quintero Rojas, Karen Lizette. “Los Integrantes de La Fuerza Pública Como Víctimas Del Conflicto y La Revictimización.” Revista Científica General José María Córdova 16.24 (2018): 109–127. Revista Científica General José María Córdova. Web.
  • Dias, Aida et al. “Maltrato Infantil, Revictimización y Trastorno de Estrés Postraumático En Adultos de Una Muestra Comunitaria.” International Journal of Clinical and Health Psychology 17.2 (2017): 97–106. International Journal of Clinical and Health Psychology. Web.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.