Past studies show that those who have been sexually abused at a young age have a significantly higher chance of being revictimized during adulthood. With as many as 31% of young girls being sexually abused, revictimization during adulthood is a societal problem.

Estelle Bockers, a psychologist and researcher at the Freie Universität Berlin, specializes in dealing with grief and trauma. In her latest publication in PLOS ONE, Bockers examines women who have been sexually or physically abused during childhood to see if they have any identifiable characteristics that can be used to predict future revictimization. Bockers hypothesized that “risk recognition, guilt, shame, attachment anxiety, sensation seeking, state dissociation, assertiveness, and self-efficacy would predict revictimization."

Assessing an Individual's Ability to Deal with Danger

Bockers divided 85 women ages 21 to 64 into three groups: 22 victimized women, 34 revictimized women, and 29 nonvictimized women. Those who qualified for the victimized group experienced one instance of sexual abuse of physical maltreatment under the age of 18. The revictimized women had two or more cases of sexual abuse of physical maltreatment.

Risk recognition is defined as the ability to assess a situation and identify the potential danger one may be getting into. To measure the participants' risk recognition abilities, Bockers created a triggering audio of a man and woman and measured how quickly the participants would react to the content. The recording is full of alcohol consumption, sexual comments, verbal persuasion, ignoring the woman's refusal, isolation, threats, and physical pressure: all risk factors of a potential date rape. As the recording played, and the situation escalated, the participants would push a button to indicate that they felt uncomfortable. Women who pushed the button later have lower risk recognition abilities. The participants “strongly agreed that the scenario was realistic and that the risk for victimization increased over time."

In addition to the audio recording, the women were asked to complete the following assessments:

  • Form V of the Sensation Seeking Scale (SSS-V): A 40-item scale measuring one's affinity towards thrill and adventure seeking.
  • General Self-Efficacy Scale (GSE): A 10-item self-report used to assess perceived self-efficacy.
  • Dissociation-Tension-Scale Acute (DSS-Acute): A 21-item questionnaire used to measure dissociation and assess inner tension.
  • Test of Self-Conscious Affect (TOSCA-3): An 11-item list of situations that have gone wrong. Participants then rate how likely they are to feel guilt and shame in response to each situation.
  • Trait Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire (TEIQue-SF): A 30-item form assessing 15 facets of emotion. Bockers focused on the assertiveness part of the questionnaire.
  • Experiences in Close Relationships Inventory (ECR): A 36-item list measuring attachment anxiety and avoidance in relationships.
  • Multiple Choice Vocabulary Test: A test used to measure verbal intelligence.

Four Variables Can Be Used to Predict Revictimization

The response times from the date-rape exercise identified that low risk recognition abilities distinguished between the victimized and revictimized group, but not between the revictimized and nonvictimized group. It's possible that the victimized group had a stronger sensitivity to danger cues than the revictimized group.

The sociodemographic data retrieved from the assessments showed that attachment anxiety, state dissociation, and self-efficacy were all variables that helped differentiate the victimized, revictimized, and nonvictimized women. It was found that:

  • Revictimized individuals showed higher levels of attachment anxiety.
  • Lower self-efficacy predicted a higher likelihood of revictimization.
  • Higher state dissociation predicted a higher likelihood of revictimization.

Contrary to Bocker's hypothesis, sensation seeking, assertiveness, guilt, and shame were not predictors of revictimization. “Our findings suggest that lower risk recognition ability in victimized individuals in combination with higher attachment anxiety, higher state dissociation, and lower self-efficacy may further increase the risk of revictimization," concludes Bockers.

Date of original publication:
Updated on: October 23, 2015