Are women at greater risk of secondary victimisation?

A young survivor of sexual violence at a women...

A young survivor of sexual violence at a women’s and girl’s centre. (Photo credit: Amnesty International)


Over the years, numerous studies have revealed that secondary victimisation tends to be high among women, particularly those who are victims of sexual violence. This comes as no surprise at a time when recent statistic in India indicated that a woman is raped every 20 minutes. These frightfully high numbers are not just confined to India. In industrialised countries, sexual violence is much more common than people think. The numbers are equally high with rates in the UK indicating that at least 23% of women and 3% of men experience sexual violence as adults. This according statistics by the charity Rape Crisis.


The recent case of a young Indian woman who was sexually assaulted and eventually committed suicide because of the inappropriate reaction towards her after she reported the matter to police, shine a spotlight on a massive problem that victims of sexual assault face in many parts of the world. The insensitive way in which cases are handled by law enforcement officials often leads to survivors of sexual violence having feelings of re-victimisation which may replicate the rape itself.


The events in India have no doubt sparked a big debate about the institutionalised hyper-masculine attitudes that are endemic in some criminal justice departments, – in rich as well as poor countries – which lean towards “victim blaming“, and exacerbate the situation for women whose psychological well being has been affected. A good number of institutions are dominated by male values which create a climate that may intimidate victims.


The current problems are not just a law and order issue. Tackling endemic stereotypical views against victims of rape which permeate society and infiltrate institutions that provide public services is necessary. Many critics have argued that laws need to be backed up by leaders within law enforcement who model the right behaviour, a culture which reinforces the message that attitudes need to change and a criminal justice system which will prosecute unlawful acts. Institutional practices that place the needs of the organisation above the needs of the victim, get in the way of securing justice for victims.


Furthermore, numerous studies have shown that the use of victims advocates serves to ensure victims are treated with dignity. Safeguarding the interests of victims through the use of advocates has been known to empower victims traumatised by post-rape experiences. While it is fair to say that great strides have been made in some countries to provide support for victims, more still needs to be done in order to deal with the existing gaps. The importance of victims advocates can not be under estimated. Victims advocates often serve as a liaison between the victim and a variety of justice system departments. They help minimise the physical, psychological and emotional effects of the crime on the victim and help effect changes socially by educating the community.


Because attitudes which focus on victim blaming are intricately woven into the fabric of most patriarchal societies around the world, there is a mammoth task that lies ahead for women’s rights activists. There is a need to arrive at a concrete solution, that will bring about much needed collective understanding of the impact that “hyper-masculine” attitudes have on victims, who often regard it as not worthwhile to pursue cases because of a lack of support.





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