Victimization is a very personal and individual phenomenon.
People respond differently, even in similar situations. The cost of victimization is multifaceted, and includes physical, financial, and emotional consequences. These primary costs that the victims suffer will vary depending on the severity of the crime and the individual victim, but are a direct consequence of the crime. The toll that victimization can take on an individual can be overwhelming, to say the least.
In addition to suffering from physical injuries and property loss or damage, victims report financial difficulties due to losing time from work and medical bills. They also experience emotional trauma, interpersonal difficulties within their relationships, and disruption of their normal routines. The fear and anxiety that often follow criminal victimization can affect all aspects of a victim’s life, including a decline in their overall quality of life and other potential intangible harms brought on by these events.
If and when a victim decides to report a crime to authorities, a number of other costs may ultimately result. This is referred to as secondary victimization. These secondary costs are not a direct result of the criminal act, but instead occur through the response of institutions and individuals towards the victim. A variety of supports and interventions are in place to help victims recover and move beyond the incident, but if that aid is not fully provided to the victim, he or she may experience these secondary costs.
Victims may feel they are victimized for a second time because important resources and support were not provided to them.
Institutional practices and values that put the needs of the agency or organization above the needs of the victim are directly implicated in this problem.
The disregard of victims’ needs may so closely emulate the victims’ experiences at the hands of the offender that secondary victimization is sometimes referred to as “the second assault,” “the second insult,” and “the second rape.”
It is important to explore this phenomenon because the nature of the criminal act leaves the victim vulnerable and in need of assistance. Victims are often, for the first time, involved in the criminal justice system, interacting with police, lawyers, judges, etc. This process can be confusing and overwhelming for the victims, especially if these parties—instead of protecting, informing, and helping—end up further victimizing them through their behavior and actions.
Frequently, this includes placing blame on the victim, stigmatizing responses, and general negative treatment. This can further traumatize the victim and lead to a loss of faith and confidence in the criminal justice system.
Instead of turning to those who are supposed to help and protect, victims may carry out a logical cost-benefit analysis, ultimately deciding to reduce further losses by avoiding participation in the criminal justice system. Where some may view the lack of participation as a sign of apathy on the part of victims, it is probably more realistic to view it as a rational choice. In other words, victims may be making a conscious decision after determining that the additional costs of system participation just aren’t worth it. While avoiding the initial victimization may not be possible, they can decide to avoid interaction with the various institutions and agencies of society in an attempt to minimize any additional losses.
The entire process of the criminal investigation to the trial, and even concern regarding the eventual release of the offender, can lead to secondary victimization.
Secondary victimization through the criminal justice process may occur because of challenges in balancing the rights of the victim versus the rights of the accused or convicted offender. More often, however, it likely occurs because those responsible for assisting in criminal justice processes and procedures do so without taking the victim’s perspective into account.
Sometimes, the attitude of other individuals can also contribute to secondary victimization. In some cases, they may view the victim’s behavior as having contributed to, or even caused, the victimization. They may deny the impact and urge the victim to forget and move on. Family members can be a particularly powerful influence in this respect.
With the primary victimization being the criminal event against the victim, victims often feel as though they are victimized all over again when participating in the criminal justice process. In an attempt to minimize secondary costs, victims are making deliberate, rational decisions to bypass the criminal justice system. In a time when individuals may be overwhelmed and at their most vulnerable, the system put into place to help victims might actually be doing the opposite in many cases.
Until this is addressed, victims will continue to avoid having their cases processed in the criminal justice system, leaving no justice to be served.
Maryann S. White, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor at Georgia Gwinnett College. She is also a social science researcher with progressive experience in qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods research where she applies her skills to better understand human behavior.
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