Fact Sheet: Secondary Victimization

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About the author: This article is part of the Undergraduate Author Series, which means that it was written by an undergraduate university student. This article was written as a guest post by Mayling Fennell, a third-year psychology student at the University of British Columbia, Canada.

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Secondary Victimization

Secondary victimization is characterized by engagement in victim-blaming attitudes, behaviors, and practices, which result in additional trauma for sexual assault survivors (Campbell & Raja, 1999). Secondary victimization minimizes the significance of a crime, which leads to apathetic and discriminative attitudes. Far-reaching political, legal, and social implications result from these attitudes, ranging from low conviction rates for sexual assault cases, to victims’ hindered psychological recovery (Fox & Cook, 2011). This factsheet provides a brief overview of some of the elements that influence secondary victimization including hyper-mascinity, gender-traditionality (GRT), relationship closeness, the participant gender, level of belief in a just world (BWJ), and religiosity on victim blame attribution. In order to combat secondary victimization it is vital to understand and then challenge these prejudicial attitudes.


One factor that influences secondary victimization is attitudes around hyper-masculinity and gender-role traditionality. Research has found that males are more likely than females to blame a victim (Ståhl, Eek, & Kazemi, 2010). An explanation is that females tend to empathize with victims, whereas males often fail to relate with victims (Burn, 2009). Male’s lack of empathy is often product of hypermasculine attitudes that endorses hostile beliefs. Crucial to hyper-masculinity is the idea that female victims are weak and male victims are deviant (Flood & Pease, 2009). In addition to hypermasculine attitudes, enforcement of gender-role traditionality (GRT) also helps explain secondary victimization (Yamawaki, 2007). Advocates of GRT state that sexual violence is simply an assertion of extreme stereotypical gender roles, with males being aggressive and females being submissive (White & Yamawaki, 2009). This mode of understanding is used to rationalize both female and male victimization. Individual’s high in GRT beliefs also endorse homophobic prejudices. Advocates of GRT label male victims as deviant because they do not meet the stereotypical construction of heterosexual masculinity (Sleath & Bull, 2010).

Relationship closeness

A second factor contributor to secondary victimization is relationship closeness between the victim and perpetrator, as well as the victim’s sexual orientation. Victim blame has been found to be higher in instances of acquaintance scenarios versus stranger scenarios. When sexual assaults occur in a close relationship, the assault is often doubted or judged as less violent (Flood, 2009). Another factor affecting secondary victimization is the victim’s gender and sexual orientation. This is identified in how both homosexual and heterosexual male victims are blamed more than female victims (Davies, Rogers, & Whitelegg, 2009). Furthermore, homosexual male victims are blamed more than heterosexual victims (White and Yamawaki, 2009).

Belief in a just world

Belief in a Just-World (BJW) is another factor contributing to secondary victimization. BJW refers to people's tendency to believe that the world is just and people get what they deserve (Bos & Maas, 2009). Individual’s high in BJW rationalize crime by assuming the victim might have done something to deserve it. Individual’s high in BJW are less likely to identify an assault as a legitimate crime (Strömwall, Alfredsson & Landström, 2012).  Studies also show that people with high BJW consider the actions of a perpetrator to be less blameworthy, attributing more blame to the victim (Strömwall, et al. 2012).


Religiosity has also been shown to influence secondary victimization. The level religion has on victim blaming is mixed, suggesting that blame attribution differs by religious groups and spiritual orientation (Lea & Hunsberger, 1990). For example, members of conservative orthodox religions perceive victims as being more responsible, compared to those who are not members of orthodox religions (Pichon & Saroglou, 2009). Victim blaming is also correlated with whether an individual’s identification with religion is intrinsic or extrinsic. Intrinsic religion refers to a genuine and devout faith, whereas extrinsic religion is more of a utilitarian principle with religion seen as a tool for achieving one’s goals (Kahoe, 1985). Extrinsic religion has been found to correlate with prejudice, whereas intrinsic does not (VanDeursen, et al 2011).  The reasons for this correlation between religiosity and victim blaming are not completely understood (VanDeursen, Pope, & Warner, 2011).


Secondary victimization is linked to oppressive and hostile beliefs (Suarez & Gadalla, 2010). Regardless of the contributing factors, the effects of secondary victimization are serious and have long-term consequences. Survivors’ experiences with the legal system, medical professionals, and the community at large highlight that many victims lack support services and are treated negatively (Campbell, 2005).  The product of victim’s lack of social acknowledgement and legal representation further intensifies victim’s trauma (Fox & Cook, 2011). The remedy to combat sexual violence is complex, but involves challenging prejudicial attitudes in order to offer victims support and to ensure prevention of further victimization.

Quick summary

    • Secondary victimization results in additional trauma for sexual assault survivors
    • Hyper-masculine attitudes predict victim blame attribution.
    • Homosexual and familiar victims are blamed more than heterosexual victims and victims who are acquaintances.
    • Religiosity also influences victim blaming.


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  13. Ståhl, T., Eek, D. & Kazemi, A. (2010). Rape victim blaming as system justification: The role of gender and activation of complementary stereotypes. Social Justice Research, 23, 239–258. Retrieved from http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=81043853-50b3-48c6-a975-c012ce6dbff5%40sessionmgr15&vid=2&hid=10
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  15. VanDeaursen, M. , Pope, A., & Warner, R. (2011). Just world maintenance patterns among intrinsically and extrinsically religious individuals. Personality and Individual Differences,6, 755-756.  Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0191886912000025
  16. White, S. &Yamawaki, N. (2009). The moderating influence of homophobia and gender-role traditionality on perceptions of male rape victims. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 39, 1116-1136. doi: 10.1111/j.1559-1816.2009.00474.x
  17. Yamawaki, N. (2007). Rape perception and the function of ambivalent sexism and gender role traditionality. J Interpers Violence, 22, 406-423. doi: 10.1177/0886260506297210

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