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

Main article: 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.


Main article: Victim playing

Self-victimisation (or victim playing) is the fabrication of victimhood for a variety of reasons, such as to justify real or perceived abuse of others, to manipulate others, as a coping strategy, or for attention seeking. In a political context, self-victimisation could also be seen as an important political tool within post-conflict, nation-building societies. While failing to produce any affirmative values, the fetishistic lack of future is masked up by an excess of confirmation of its own status of victimhood, as noted by the Bosnian political theoretician Jasmin Hasanović, seeing it in the post-Yugoslav context as a form of auto-colonialism, where reproducing the narrative of victimhood corresponds with the balkanization stereotypes, being the very narrative of the colonizer where the permanence of war is the contemporaneity of fear, affirming the theses on eternal hatred thus strengthening ethnonationalism even more.[29]

Self-image of victimisation (victim mentality)

Main article: 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.[30]

Victimisation in Kazakhstan

At the end of 2012, a first-ever victimisation survey of 219,500 households (356,000 respondents) was conducted by the State Statistics Agency at the request of Marat Tazhin, the head of the Security Council and a sociologist by training. According to the survey, 3.5% of respondents reported being a victim of crime in the previous 12 months, and only half of those said that they had reported the crime to the police. The presidential administration chose not to release any further details from this survey to the public.[31]

In May-June 2018, the first International Crime Victims Survey (ICVS) of nationally representative sample of 4,000 persons was conducted in Kazakhstan. It showed low levels of victimisation. The overall violent crime victimization rate among the population in a one-year period was 3.7%. Rates of violent victimization by strangers were somewhat higher among females (2.1%) than among males (1.8%). The rates of violence by persons known to them were as much as three times higher for women than for men (2.8% for females and 0.8% for males).[32] In a one-year period, the highest rates of victimisation were consumer fraud (13.5% of respondents), theft from the car and personal theft (6.3% of respondents), and official bribe-seeking (5.2% of respondents). In almost half of bribe-seeking cases the bribe-seeker was a police officer. Taking only the adult population of Kazakhstan into account, the ICVS police bribery figures suggest around 400,000 incidents of police bribery every year in Kazakhstan. These calculations are most likely very conservative in that they only capture when a bribe has been solicited and exclude instances of citizen-initiated bribery. The ICVS revealed extremely low levels of reporting crime to the police.[32] Only one in five crimes were reported to the police in Kazakhstan,[32] down from the 46% reporting rate recorded in the government-conducted 2012 survey.

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[33]—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),[34] 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.[33] 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.[33] Property crimes continue to decline.[33]

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.[35]

See also


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Further reading