Research into childhood sexual abuse (CSA) has shown that there is often a correlation between CSA and adult revictimization. This means, victims of CSA are more likely to experience abuse again as adults. This abuse can take the form of sexual assault and intimate partner violence in adulthood. Evidence has shown that adult revictimization can occur for both males and females and can affect individuals regardless of their sexual orientation in adulthood.
It has been estimated that CSA survivors are anywhere from 2 to 14 times more likely to experience sexual revictimization in adulthood. The exact increase in risk can vary, based on the sex of the victim (it has been theorized that men who have experienced CSA may be at a higher risk of reporting sexual revictimization in adulthood), and the characteristics of the original abuse or abuse pattern.1,2
Not all CSA survivors will experience revictimization
It is important to note that experiencing CSA does not mean a victim will certainly experience revictimization. There is also no one specific “type” of individual who will experience sexual revictimization. Much more research needs to be done to further characterize the link between CSA and sexual revictimization, however, several possible characteristics of CSA survivors have been proposed to contribute to revictimization:3
- Impaired interpersonal relatedness skills: CSA may affect the way a survivor develops, especially socially. Impaired interpersonal skills or ability to detect potential danger may lead a previous victim to trust in untrustworthy individuals. This may also lead an individual to choose to remain with an abusive partner or around a future perpetrator in fear of needing to create and maintain new relationships that could be healthier.
- Impaired understanding of the nature of healthy relationships: Some CSA survivors may associate pain, punishment, and sexual violence with normal relationship qualities. This is especially the case if a former abuser manipulated the victim into feeling as though their abuse was a form of special treatment. A previous victim may also have a higher tolerance to coercion or unwanted advances.
- Unexplained compulsion to repeat traumatic events: Some theorists have proposed that survivors may put themselves into dangerous or potentially abusive situations as a pattern of habit, or in an attempt to experience a different outcome that is less painful. This concept is not as well understood, and needs more research and investigation.
- Low self-esteem or negative self-concept: Some survivors may experience feelings of shame, embarrassment, and self-blame, that may lead to feelings of low self-esteem. These notions may lead an individual to feel as though they deserve to be revictimized and to accept, and not report or leave, when they are in dangerous, violent, or sexually abusive situations in adulthood.
As mentioned, not all CSA survivors will experience sexual revictimization in adulthood, and those who do, may not experience it due to the characteristics listed. These are only a small sampling of potential reasons revictimization may occur. However, if you or a loved one is experiencing sexual revictimization, or any form of sexual abuse, please consider seeking help as soon as possible. Hotlines such as the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline (1-800-656-HOPE, 1-800-656-4673, or online at online.rainn.org) are available 24/7, and are staffed with trained professionals to help in any way possible.
- Trickett, P. K., Noll, J. G., & Putnam, F. W. (2011). The impact of sexual abuse on female development: Lessons from a multigenerational, longitudinal research study. Development and Psychopathology, 23(2), 453-476.
- Sexual Revictimization: Research Brief. National Sexual Violence Resource Center, U.S. Department of Justice. https://www.nsvrc.org/sites/default/files/publications_NSVRC_ResearchBrief_Sexual-Revictimization.pdf. Published 2012. Accessed December 15, 2017.
- Putnam, F. W. (2003). Ten-year research update review: Child sexual abuse. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 42(3), 269-278.