Understanding Victimization

Victimization is the event or incident leading to a victim state. Victimizing events tend to be of high intensity and short duration (e.g. robbery, assault, serious accident, sudden death). Essentially, there are three stages of victimization:

1. Impact – Initial Reaction

  • Signs and symptoms of stress to traumatic events such as shock, numbness, helplessness, vulnerability, disorientation, perspiration, physical agitation, disbelief, anger, fear, frustration, confusion, guilt, grief, etc.

2. Recoil

  • Cognitive attempts to deal with the event
  • Denial – trying to go on as though nothing has happened
  • Blaming others
  • Self blame – “I must have deserved this”
  • Obsessive – repeated return to the event and its ramifications
  • Compensatory fantasies and planning – phobic reactions

3. Reorganization

  • Return to a state of equilibrium
  • Victim calls upon supports for help
  • Focus on life-enhancing rather than simply existing
  • Obsessive fears and reactions are modulated
  • Victim is better able to cope with occasional flashbacks
  • Victim moves toward making life better rather than simply living day-to-day

Secondary victimization may occur because the victim is subjected to someone who:

  • Cannot comprehend what the victim is struggling with
  • Minimizes or disparages the experience and feelings of the victim
  • Is in denial of their own losses and therefore it is difficult to recognize someone else’s suffering
  • Lacks relevant information about post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Believes in the “Just World Theory” that says the world is rational and the consequences are in accordance with justice (people get what they deserve)