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Why are some people more likely to be abused?

This video explains some of the theories of revictimization and solutions to overcome them.

To learn more about this topic, here are four resources that were particularly helpful to me:

Here is a link to our episode on SIGNS OF SEXUAL VIOLENCE:

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Dr. Lindsey Doe: I've been stumped about something, lately. Why is it that people who have been abused are more likely to be abused again? 2-13.7 times more likely.

-- Intro Cut Scene --

I remember the first time I learned this someone said that a twelve-year-old girl I knew was at a higher risk of being sexually abused because she'd already been abused.

In my head I was like "how do you know that?" It didn't make any sense to me. Wouldn't she, and everyone around her, do everything possible to avoid it? Always having friends nearby, carrying mace and a whistle, and knowing how to spot the early signs someone's the villain? This is messy thinking, I know; but I was baffled, uneducated and completely distraught.

No one should be harmed, but it seems like a particularly cruel world for the same person to be targeted again and again and again, which she was - multiple times within the year. Why? There's quite a bit of research on this. It's super clinical language, so I'm going to do my best to explain, because i think the awareness is important for all of us.

Theory 1: Re-enactment

Basically the victim compulsively seeks out situations like the original trauma to see if they can get a different result. A study by Horowitz and colleagues found this behavior in 57% of traumatized adults. They stage a similar course of events to figure out which move they could have done differently. 

One man instigated cops to shoot at him by staging bank robberies, a reenactment of being shot at by a Vietcong sniper. For 17 years he did this, until a health professional explained compulsive reenactment to him. That if you seek to repeat a negative situation, you're likely to get a negative outcome.

Theory 2: Underdeveloped Detection of Danger

Experiencing abuse, especially as a child, can interfere with development. Victims tend to have a harder time with relationships, like knowing how to get along with people and it's more difficult for them to regulate their emotions. So there may be signs of danger, but rather than deterring it or seeking help, they disassociate. Which you probably recognize, makes them more susceptible to reoccurring abuse.

Theory 3: Revictimization is Like a High

I'm going to use a graphic for this one. The cycle of abuse. The first violent episode is usually pretty small. Maybe name-calling. But the honeymoon following it, where the abuser apologizes and begs for forgiveness and takes the victim on a fancy nice date with gifts, is huge. That honeymoon feels awesome, but over time the violent episodes get larger, and the honeymoons get smaller. By the time we get down here, the violent episode is bruises and blood, maybe weapons, compared to a honeymoon which is like "I'm sorry, I said I was sorry."

According to victimology researcher GM Erschak, the individuals are as powerless as junkies to break free. They're addicted to the hyper-aroused state of tension building called an "arousal jag" and the calm feeling of safety after the violence. Plus, just like a drug addiction, while the high diminishes over time, they keep at it, because the stress of withdrawal is so overwhelming. 

I've been there. So have many strong, intelligent people. It's not because we're weak, it's because trauma is incredibly powerful.

Theory 4: Neophobia

People who have been victimized early in life, avoid newness. You know how young kids in healthy homes are all curious and want to try new things and go to new places and get new toys? Well the opposite is the case for kids who've undergone trauma. When under stress, they will choose the familiarity of abuse over the potential pleasure of novelty.

Mice in a T-shaped maze, will actually take the path to getting shocked rather than go the other direction toward the unknown. For human victims, this looks like an attraction to perpetrators rather than someone who will care about and respect them, because they know what they're going to get, and that's less terrifying to them than the mystery.

Ok, two more theories for today.

Theory 5: Counterphobia

This is another fear response. But in this one, the victim goes towards what's scary rather than away from what's new. Like if there's this woman I suspect might sexually abuse me, I'm going to flirt with her and draw that abuse right out into the open. Because at least being re-victimized will be on my terms, and I don't have to feel powerless in addition to feeling traumatized. Relationship experts note counterphobia is a quote "significant force in the choice of a mate" and a major cause of marital disharmony. As in some of us choose people in our lives because we're afraid of them being in our lives.

Last theory

Theory 6: Flag and Boost

Some offenders are attuned to the traits of victims like the ones I've already mentioned. They're like flags that catch the abusers attention. but there are also victims that don't signal. They don't do anything at all, and that makes it just as easy to re-victimize them.

Take for example, children abused by their caregivers. They face this conflict: "Mom is supposed to protect me, but mom is hurting me." To reconcile the mixed messages, kiddos blame themselves, and this allows the perpetrator to abuse again and again, with a boosted confidence that they'll get away with it. 

So now what?

Some solutions for sexual revictimization include:

  • Awareness of victim tendencies - Recognize what you do to attract harm, and be gentle with yourself. You may have contributed to it, but you did not cause it.
  • Self Help Groups
  • One-on-one therapy, and
  • Healthy loving Relationships - they're great places to build a new sense of normal, and address the victimization.
  • Take really good care of yourself - I tend to reach out to unhealthy people when I'm: Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired. So I have to HALT, take care of the unmet need, then proceed.
  • Treamtment and Medications - can offer relief too.

Lastly, Stay Curious.

Thank you to everyone on Patreon and our subscribers who make it possible for us to discuss sexuality openly and honestly. Hopefully by being able to recognize how revictimization happens, we can stop it in the future.