Revictimization: What It Is and Why It Happens

Content Warning: Sexual Violence

 

First, let’s define “revictimization”: the idea that people who have experienced sexual violence once, particularly in childhood, may be at increased risk of experiencing sexual violence again in the future.

Now, let’s look at some stats. (“CSA” here means “child sexual abuse.”):

  • Women who experienced CSA were twice as
    likely to report adult sexual victimization as
    women who did not experience CSA.
  •  Women who experienced both CSA and
    childhood physical victimization were three
    times more likely to report physical or sexual
    victimization in adulthood.
  • Women who experienced CSA were twice as
    likely to experience intimate partner physical
    victimization. However, women who experienced
    CSA were not more likely to have experienced
    sexual violence by an intimate partner in adulthood than women who had not
    experienced CSA.
  • Men who experienced CSA were almost six
    times more likely to experience adult sexual
    victimization than men who did not
    experience CSA.
  • Men who experienced both physical and sexual
    victimization in childhood were six times more
    likely to experience sexual victimization.
  • Men who experienced CSA were thirteen times
    more likely to experience adult intimate partner
    sexual victimization. Men who reported both
    CSA and physical victimization during childhood
    were 10 times more likely to report adult intimate
    partner sexual victimization

So we can see that the rates of revictimization for people who experience sexual abuse in childhood are extremely high, and crazy high for men.

I am one of those people that was victimized over and over again. First, the physical abuse, the neglect, and the psychological and sexual torture from my father was really at it’s worst from ages 3-9. From ages 8-12 I had a gymnastics coach who was your generic perv, flashing the girls, making lewd comments, borderline inappropriate touching, etc. There were rumors that he molested some girls, and a few years later he was arrested, I had to speak to a detective, a DA, it was a a mess. When I was 16, I was raped at Abilene General Hospital when a Shades of Hope counselor dropped me off there and left me alone. He was a radiology tech, and when he took me upstairs for a chest x-ray, he locked the door, got on top of me, and said, “I won’t hurt you as long as you shut up and don’t move.” I had been given a drug down in the ER, and I couldn’t move, so he raped me, and I never said a word about it until three years later. When I was 19, I was on a date, and the guy attacked me in his car. I managed to escape before he actually raped me. When I was 20, my college professor called me into his office, smashed his mouth against mine, and shoved his hands up my shirt. I didn’t even consider this sexual assault until my therapist said so ten years later. When I was 29, another professor sexually harassed me so badly that I had to report it to the dean. (The only time I’ve ever reported anything.)

I used to believe that life was an endless cycle of trauma. That, like a girl in a therapy group I was in once said, “What, do I have the words ‘FUCK ME’ stamped on my forehead?” It really feels like that. Like there is something inherently wrong with you that attracts this violence, and you believe what you’ve been told: you are a slut, a whore, worthless, just a fuckable object for men to use and abuse.

There are many theories as to why revictimization occurs, but mine is actually that the above line of thinking has a lot to do with it. When you think of yourself this way- I’m worthless, I’m nothing, etc.- that is a victim mentality. You are thinking of yourself as a victim, and you expect to be abused. You walk around with the expectation that any man could be your next rapist. Which means that you act like prey.

And guess what? Predators pick up on that.

Now, let me be clear: I am not blaming victims. What I’m describing is completely unconscious behavior, that is a conditioned response to sexual abuse/violence. You act like a victim because you’ve been a victim. You act like prey because you’ve been preyed upon. The problem is that people who want to hurt others, people who commit sexual violence, are predators. And like any predator in the wild, they hunt by scanning for and attacking weakness. They recognize people who are hypervigilant, dissociated, depressed, anxious, people who lack self-worth, carry shame, or excessive guilt. Even if the predator’s general intelligence is low, they are highly skilled in seeing through to this victim mentality and hooking into it.

Why was I raped at 16? Because that guy was a predator, and he saw easy prey. Why did my date, my professors attack me? Because they could see the ability to get to me.

It’s as simple and as complicated as that.

There are many other factors I could describe, involving neurobiology, family templates, and a bunch of other things. But for me, this is the one that sticks out. And what I noticed was that when I really found my self-worth, when began to heal in earnest, and when I stopped carrying myself like a victim; well, I haven’t been sexually attacked or harassed since.

This is about a fundamentally changing a belief system that gets embedded when you’re abused as a child. The system that tells you that you’re worthless, you’re nothing, you’re responsible for the sexual abuse, you deserve harm to come to you, and all that bullshit. When you heal, you change that belief system to reflect reality: that you are worthy of life and love, that you were innocent, you were not responsible for any of the things that were done to you, and that you deserve every good thing just like anyone else. When you really come to reality, predators don’t have a chance, because you are strong in yourself, and they don’t attack the strong.

Because of the chronic nature of the violence I encountered, I still deal with Complex PTSD today. However, I don’t worry about getting attacked anymore, outside of normal caution. Because now I believe that while I was victimized, I am not fundamentally a victim, and I do not have to live my life as one. I hope people who have suffered similar things come to understand that changing that belief system is something that’s completely withing your control. You have the power to do this. With the right support, victimhood can become a thing of the past for you. And how amazing does that sound?

 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

 

 

 

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Being In My Body: PTSD and Exercise

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Gym selfie: no makeup, no filter, no problem!

Today I went to the gym for the first time since last August. It was good. I did twenty minutes of cardio (walking on an incline on the treadmill) and some core strength exercises. I’m starting small.

Exercise is an issue for me for a number of reasons. A former eating disorder is obviously one of them. My chronic pain is another. One that I don’t really talk about, though, is my PTSD.

The way that PTSD makes exercise difficult for me is a little difficult to explain. I suppose first I have to explain something about how I survived my original trauma.

One of the most common survival mechanisms in sexual and physical abuse is called dissociation. Dissociation occurs along a spectrum, but in its most simplistic terms, it’s a way for the mind to kind of separate itself from the body during a trauma so that it’s not experiencing it. For example, a good portion of my traumatic memories are remembered not from my perspective as I was there, but as if I were viewing them from above. This is one aspect of dissociation; the sensation as if one were floating outside one’s body. Another aspect, for me, is feeling detached from my body, even now. I’d say that, in order to function with the level of pain I live with, I have to live at about 2% dissociation all the time. I keep things pretty cognitive, focus on what’s going on in my mind and keep my body an afterthought. It’s the only way I can get up and do the stuff I have to do without taking major painkillers or crying some days.

As a trauma victim, I grew up dissociating from my body. I had to, to survive. As an anorexic, I dissociated from my body in order not to feel hunger or pain as I starved and abused myself. When I cut and beat myself, I was again dissociating from my body. I avoided touch. I abused pills. I did everything I could to basically not even have a body. 

As I’ve grown and healed, I have become better friends with my body. Even so, I have a hard time feeling present in it. When I decided to start exercising again I had some significant anxiety, and when I really explored that I realized that some of it was because I didn’t want to feel my body.

Exercising means moving, feeling, existing in the physical presence of yourself. I fear doing this because when I’m in my body, I open myself up to the presence of the traumas that still live in it. Being in my body makes me aware of my physical self, the self that was beaten, raped, choked, tortured. My body holds so many memories, and when I’m really in it I’m vulnerable to feeling those things. When it comes to PTSD, body memories are really the fucking worst. It’s not seeing what happened, it’s feeling what happened; as if his hands are still on you, as if he’s still forcing himself inside you, as if you still can’t breathe, in this moment.

The worst.

In the past, I have literally tried to rid myself of even having a body through starvation and self-mutilation. I’ll never do that again, but my connection to my body is still not what I’d like it to be. I think being grounded and comfortable in your body is something you have to learn as a child. It’s something I never had the chance to learn; after all, I was only three when the sexual abuse began. When you start dissociating from yourself at that young of an age, it probably takes a lifetime to build the connections that never formed. I’m continuing to try, through therapy and energy work, and now, through physical exercise. I hope that by being more present in my body more often, I can begin to heal the disconnect that’s still the norm. I hope that I can process that trauma energy out, so I no longer have to feel like the ghosts of the past are haunting my body.

Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.

Mark 5:38