As animals we see patterns. In fact, it is the ability to see patterns that helped us learn, that helps all living things learn. But we do not always understand the patterns and we draw false patterns such as with conspiracies, stereotypes, and superstitions. We draw false beliefs concerning patterns and when your mind and your society are already riddled with fallacies concerning sexual assault, you’re like triple screwed.
We are taught that lightening does not strike the same spot twice. However, with sexual assault it turns out the opposite is true. In fact, “sexual victimization in adolescence and childhood significantly increases the likelihood of sexual victimization in adulthood.” The statistics range from 2 times as likely to 13.7 times as likely to experience revictimization.
How do we deal with this? How does society deal with this? How do survivors not blame themselves? How do we prevent this? How do we end this concrete cycle of abuse?
One assault is wrong. One assault is the worst thing that has ever happened to you. One assault already leaves you increasingly vulnerable to mental illness and suicidal ideation. One assault already changes your life forever. What happens when someone is assaulted more than once? Not only more than once by the same offender but more than once by different predators? How do you cope then?
Well I can tell you from personal experience, sometimes you do not cope. Sometimes you do blame yourself. In fact, sometimes is an understatement and society does not help. “We don’t believe you. That’s too coincidental. You must have done something to cause it to happen again, it must be your fault. Either it is your fault or you are lying. Maybe you are crazy and imagining them all. Lightning doesn’t strike twice…”
They do not want to believe it. I do not want to believe it, I cannot blame them for this gut reaction. It does seem “far beyond probability.” (I do blame them for not educating themselves, for projecting their disbelief and horror on victims, and for their general rape culture vibes.)
However, “even victims of robberies and burglaries seem to to be self-propogating.” If you are robbed once “you [are] at a nine times higher risk of being robbed again” being burgled “you have four times more reason to lock up your house.”
So no, it is absolutely not beyond probability and it happens to both female and male victims of sexual assault. In fact, it is telling that while women and men continue to have a large gender disparity in experiencing sexual violence (even counting both sex’s underreporting) men and women are both likely to be assaulted again if they were previously victimized.
But why? Why the hell does this happen?
And how? How the hell are survivors supposed to cope with this?
And what? What the hell is the solution?
A surprisingly, worryingly common, incredibly harmful belief concerning revictimization is that “women like rape.” In fact, Bernie Sanders wrote a revolting piece on this that was supposedly “satire” but read like no satire I have ever read before (either he’s terrible at satire or he’s a creep). Now it may not be said so black and white but there is certainly a misleading belief that women are raped and continue to be assaulted because they enjoy it. This is horrifying. This not only excuses the rapists from actions that they alone committed and places the blame squarely on the survivor, it also feeds into a rape culture that says women want this. Women want to be forced. Women want to be hurt. Women like being hurt. Women like being aggressively pursued. Women are attracted to this.
This is false.
And considering that men face the same issues of revictimization makes absolutely no sense.
The real reasons are complicated and unfortunately they do have something to do with the behaviors of the victimized. This can easily lend itself to victim blaming. Especially in a society where we already blame both women and men for their abuse. In fact, when I first learned about the revictimization phenomenon (I had already experienced it) I was horrified with myself. I felt like flypaper to rapists. Like a light on a porch surrounded by mosquitos. Like a magnet, forever drawing the worst elements of mankind. A divining rod for evil. I wondered what was wrong with me to make this keep happening.
However, the clear thing from everything I have read is that these behaviors are not “crazy,” they do not cause the sexual assault, they do not invite the sexual assault, and most of all these behaviors do not exist because these survivors liked rape.
So why the hell does this happen?
“There are several theories, and it varies” from person to person. Every experience and story, though linked by the commonalities of the experience, are different. They create unique and often unpredictable reactions in both the person’s behavior, their experience, and their mental health.
- Learned Silence
The first theory expands on the silence that women and men are taught. When women report rape, society says it is their fault because they provoked it or wanted or should have done more to stop it. When men report rape, society says it is their fault because they are men they should have been able to prevent it or they must have wanted it.
Regardless of sex, survivors are taught to be silent by the way the world reacts to what happened to us. Additionally, adolescents and children are taught to be silent because abusers often threaten them and those they love to keep them silent. Silence is necessary to survive as a rape victim in our culture. I say this as someone breaking my own silence. It is dangerous to do this.
Speaking out against rape can, itself, lead to revictimization by society. Whether it is revictimization by the courts, the medical field, the mental health field, family and friends, or online rape and death threats from cyber bullies and trolls.
You learn to be silent and thus you are vulnerable. You have been taught to be silent and thus you become the perfect opportunity. You do not speak out and thus they will not be caught. You “may be unable to enforce appropriate boundaries” because you are unsure what they look like or you are silent in the face of an aggressor.
This does not make it your fault. You do not deserve to be ruthlessly aggressively pursued just because you have a hard time saying “ummmm no, no means no, and I will report your ass to the cops.” Survivors are dealing with real trauma, often PTSD, that can actually physically change the composition of your brain over time. It is not your fault you were taught to be silent.
- Familiar Patterns
Additionally, “traumatization may cause some to revert to familiar patterns.” You may find yourself being drawn to people who are similar to those you have grown up around. This is true for everyone. After all, science says we all end up married to our parents right?
I mean, part of that is a joke but it absolutely has evidence behind it. We seek out what we grew up around because it is familiar. Because it is comfortable, even if it is uncomfortable. Let’s take a non-assault view of this.
Say one of your parents was neglectful. They abandoned you, or made you feel abandoned. You may end up with partners that repeat this behavior because you feel comfortable around them, even if it eventually makes you unhappy. You may even subconsciously believe this problem is easier to deal with than other problems. This problem you grew up with, you have experience with it, it will be fine.
This is a crux of therapy. People repeat behaviors. It is even Einstein’s non-specialist opinion about insanity “it is doing something over and over and expecting different results.” But we are either all insane or this is not insanity. It is just a part of how the human mind works. We seek out patterns, we are drawn to those patterns, we repeat behaviors.
So a woman or a man may be drawn to an abusive person. That person, as I will discuss later, is likely equally drawn to them and targets them. Consequently, that person becomes a victim once more. All for enacting the same behaviors that we all do.
That does not make the survivor blame-worthy. It makes them human. It makes them no different than literally any of us, except that they also likely have trauma causing real mental health issues making this cycle more difficult to recognize and treat.
- Sex = pain
Oooph. This one is a hard one. I dealt with all these things, I now realize in hindsight, but this phenomenon makes me feel the dirtiest because it often gets linked to the idea that “women like rape.”
This pattern goes as such. You are raped as a child or adolescent. You were abused and mistreated. You were taught you were worthless and that your rapist was doing nothing wrong. Your predator told you this over and over. Your predator told you this was just sex and you were young, vulnerable, and traumatized and a part of you, however small or subliminal, believed it.
Sex became something awful. The lines between consensual and unconsensual, coercion, force, abuse, and healthy sex did not just become blurred they were erased. They were erased because you were told this was okay and this was likely affirmed by our society if you ever even thought about speaking out.
Sex becomes associated with pain and force. Sex no longer is sex. It is interlaced with things that are rape but that you are now hesitant to identify as rape or are confused about. You are less likely to be able to defend yourself from rape and abuse because you can no longer see the clear delineations between healthy sexual relationships and abusive ones.
This is not your fault. Our entire global society has trouble separating these two things because of rape culture. For a survivor to struggle with this not only is common, it makes sense. Especially as, again, you are dealing with trauma and its likely mental health issues such as anxiety, PTSD, depression, and suicidal ideation. It is not your fault.
- Victim blame
The stigma against rape contributes to rape. It contributes to revictimization. Here’s how it goes (and it relates to all the theories above):
You were raped. You blame yourself for that rape, thus you may not even consider it rape the majority of the time. I know I told myself over and over it was your fault therefore it cannot be raped, drop it Meghan. Now, your definition of what is rape, what is your fault, and what are unhealthy behaviors is now skewed.
“One recurring theme throughout his research… was that women were likely to take responsibility for the original assault. They were so full of self-blame and shame from the original assault that they felt unable to act on their own behalf during the later sexual assault victimization.”
I mean… if anything points to why we should eliminate rape culture, a culture which innately blames the survivor, it is that this practice actually leads to more assault.
I blamed myself constantly for what happened with Will. You can read about it. I then blamed myself with Trey. I blamed myself with Trey even when I did act on my own behalf and threatened him with the police. I blamed myself with every person. Now, it turns out, that blame only makes us all more susceptible.
- Serial Rapists
Lastly, most importantly, you were targeted. We have real predators among us. You did not cause this. They were looking for this. Honest to god, it is not your fault.
Most rapists are serial rapists. In a study published in the 1987 issue of the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, “126 admitted rapists had committed 907 assaults on 882 victims.” That is 7.2 assaults and 7 victims, on average, for each admitted rapist. They are predators. It is not “chance,” or rather the worst luck possible, that you have been targeted. They are hunting. The same is true for pedophiles and other abusers.
Worse still, predators are often absolutely free to do it again: “15 of 16 rapists will never spend a day in jail.” Additionally, you cannot simply “avoid” these people. These people are invisible in day to day life. There is not a “rapist look” or a “rapist type.” In fact, 93% of juvenile victims knew their perpetrator and 3/4 of sexual assault victims are raped by an acquaintance: be they a partner, a friend, a casual date, or even just a passing acquaintance.
To completely avoid rapists, in light of these statistics, you would have to never be alone with anyone you know. Never vulnerable around anyone you know. Never drink or do drugs in front of anyone you know. Even then, rape does not just happen when you are completely alone. I have been assaulted in public spaces in front of people.
You cannot live distrusting everyone you know and see. I know this from experience because that is how I am living now, with CPTSD (complex post traumatic stress disorder). I do not trust anyone. I am one trigger away from feeling unsafe even with my husband.
The odds are stacked against potential victims. How can we blame them for an assault they would have to live in constant paranoia to even anticipate? How can we expect people to not be raped, and then mock those people so traumatized by what has happened they do live in constant paranoia?
With real predators, who are overwhelmingly our acquaintances, who actively hunt for their victims repeatedly and take advantage of any perceived vulnerability, how is it our fault if they sense our vulnerability and exploit it?
So how do we prevent this from happening over and over? How do rape victims cope with this?
I have to tell you I am not sure. But I’ll tell you one part of it I am absolutely positive about: this will not stop until rape culture stops.
All these things are related to victims not being able to get treatment. Having to be silent. Feeling like its their fault. Feeling like “oh well that’s just sex.” All these things are related to the high amount of serial predators we have actively looking for these vulnerable people.
How do we stop this? We stop thinking this is not an issue.
Research and the Resources