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10 Reasons Why Abuse Keeps Happening to You

If you've ever been the victim of violence or another kind of interpersonal abuse, you know how awful it can be. If you’ve been victimized more than once, that awfulness can feel exponentially greater.


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Meredith Kirby

4 months ago | 9 min read
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Understanding and destigmatizing revictimization

If you've ever been the victim of violence or another kind of interpersonal abuse, you know how awful it can be. If you’ve been victimized more than once, that awfulness can feel exponentially greater.

It can be easy to blame yourself for the abuse, especially when it’s happened to you multiple times. You may ask yourself: “why does this keep happening to me?”

The truth is that revictimization is incredibly common and that it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Being a victim of abuse makes you statistically more likely to be abused again, for a variety of reasons. There are also many other things that can make a person more vulnerable to abuse in general.

If you have a combination of these variables going on in your life, they can combine to form a perfect storm. Remember: Abuse is never your fault. Abuse happens because abusers decide to abuse, and it is the responsibility of individuals to hold themselves to a higher standard of behavior.

Repeat victimization even occurs with property crimes like robbery, burglary, and vehicle theft. If any of these things have happened to you, it’s actually more likely that they will happen to you again.

For example, larger percentages of burglaries occur at houses that have already been burglarized. There are explanations for this, like that some of these houses are clustered in higher crime areas, and that apartments with sliding glass doors are easier to break into.

Another example is how having a job like delivering food or driving a taxi can make you more vulnerable to robbery. Even banks are more likely to be robbed again after being robbed the first time.

It’s the same for crimes like rape, assault, and domestic violence. While these patterns are easily observable, they are often disregarded when it matters most. Here a few factors that may have contributed to your multiple abuse experiences:

1. You were abused as a child

Child sexual abuse victims are more likely to experience multiple kinds of abuse later in life, including sexual assault, physical assault, threats of violence, and stalking. 

About half of all CSA victims report experiencing further sexual violence later in life. Of women who report being raped before age 18, one-third also report being raped as an adult.

It’s estimated that over half of children who witness domestic violence in the home grow up to experience further domestic violence. Being victimized as a child can influence your mental health, your opportunities, and your personality. These changes can make you more vulnerable.

2. You’re Black or indigenous

Black and indigenous women experience domestic violence at 30 to 50% higher rates than white, Hispanic, and Asian women. More than 40% of Black women have experienced some form of intimate partner violence.

Black women who live in impoverished areas are three times more likely to experience domestic violence. Black women are also less likely to report domestic violence, often having to weigh the threat of interpersonal violence against the threat of police violence.

Indigenous women are murdered ten times more often than the general population. Cases of missing indigenous women (and people of color in general) are less likely to receive significant media attention and often receive less attention from law enforcement.

Indigenous women often also experience abuse by law enforcement, causing a greater distrust of law enforcement and making it less likely that they will report violence.

3. You’re LGBTQIA

LGBT people are four times more likely to be violently victimized than the general population. Lesbian and bisexual women experience rape, assault, and stalking by intimate partners at significantly higher rates than heterosexual women.

Gay and bisexual men experience the same at significantly higher rates than heterosexual men.

Transgender people have higher rates of violent victimization than cisgender people. Transgender men and women are equally likely to be the victim of violence. Because of the stigma against transgender people, they are less likely to report violence to law enforcement.

LGBT people are also more likely to experience hate-motivated violent crimes, which may manifest as sexual assault. Abusers may try to prevent LGBT people from reporting abuse or seeking support, by threatening to “out” them or by using their sexual or gender identity to justify the abuse.

LGBT domestic abusers use the same strategies as heterosexual abusers to maintain power and control over their victims.

4. You have a mental illness

A common stereotype associated with the mentally ill is that they are violent. While it’s true that someone with a mental illness is more likely to be violent than the average person, they are still far more likely to be a victim of violence than a perpetrator.

People with mental illness are eleven times more likely to be victims of violent crimes. The problem is worse for women than for men, and also worse for people who have substance abuse issues in addition to mental illness.

Of women with severe mental illness who were surveyed for a 2014 study, 40% reported being the victim of rape or attempted rape. Twelve percent of the men surveyed in the same study reported the same.

The rates reported for the general population are about 7% and 0.5%, respectively. In addition to sexual violence, mentally ill people are more likely to be the victims of other crimes, like assault and robbery.

A San Francisco study of people with bipolar and schizophrenia found that one-third of people with bipolar and one-fifth of people with schizophrenia had been violently victimized in the past year. Women were victimized at nearly twice the rate of men. 

A Los Angeles study of schizophrenics living in stable housing found that 34% of them were the victim of either a robbery, a rape, or an assault over a three-year period.

The mentally ill also face barriers to reporting violence, like the fear that they will not be believed due to their history of mental illness, or that they will be perceived as the aggressor.

5. You have low self-esteem, guilt or shame

People have low self-esteem for a variety of reasons, but it’s no secret that abuse can destroy your confidence and your sense of identity.

Once you’ve been abused, you might begin to feel bad about yourself. You might believe that you deserved the abuse. You might feel compelled to settle for relationships with people who treat you with less respect than you deserve.

You might think that no one else will want you. You might internalize the negative things that the abuser said about you, and start to believe that those things are true. You might feel ashamed of the abuse, or guilty for allowing it to happen.

You might feel like you are permanently damaged in some way, devalued, or tainted by the abuse.

There’s many good reasons to focus on your personal healing, but this is one of the best ones. Caring for yourself can help improve your self-esteem and reduce feelings of guilt and shame.

Still, you not making “enough” of an effort to heal is no excuse for anyone to take advantage of your injured state.

6. You’re more likely to end up in dangerous situations

People who have been abused are more prone to engage in risky behaviors, which can create more opportunities for victimization. This is especially common among victims of rape and sexual abuse.

Abuse victims are more likely to abuse substances, to commit crimes, and to have unprotected or intoxicated sex. Risky behaviors may become normalized for abuse victims. These behaviors may feel compulsive and impossible to avoid or stop.

Having a lower sense of self-worth due to past abuse might cause you to become less concerned about your own safety.

You might be so used to being abused that you can’t reasonably identify which situations are dangerous and which are not. If you have been victimized more than once, or if you were victimized at a young age, you may be even more prone to engage in risky behaviors.

7. You’ve learned to placate abusers

A good way to remember common ways that people respond to trauma is the four Fs: Fight, Flight, Freeze, and Fawn. If you have a fight response, you might push back against the abuse.

If you have a flight response, you might run from the abuse or try to ignore it. “Freeze” is just what it sounds like; you might do nothing in response to the abuse, and stay “frozen” instead.

The “Fawn” response is all about pleasing the abuser. Some victims will learn to do whatever is necessary in order to make their abuser happy.

This is how people often survive abuse situations, and this method of surviving often sticks with them later in life. You might feel compelled to do whatever the abuser says or to walk on eggshells to avoid angering them.

You may also experience learned helplessness. An abuser might make you feel like they have total power over you, or that you have to depend solely upon them.

This can make you feel totally helpless, and that might make it more difficult for you to leave the situation.

Abusers increase this feeling of helplessness by causing you to become financially dependent on them, isolating you from friends, family, and other support systems, threatening and intimidating you, or abusing the legal system.

When you feel helpless, it can become more important to you that you keep the abuser happy. The abuser might convince you that you need them and would be lost without them. Remember: that’s not true!

8. Abuse feels normal

When you’ve been abused in the past it can be hard to judge if a relationship or situation is normal or safe.

You might subconsciously gravitate towards people, situations, and behaviors that feel familiar to you. You may suffer from repetition compulsion, and develop a pattern of placing yourself in situations that remind you of your past trauma.

This can be a way that survivors try to process their trauma or to change the narrative by responding differently or feeling more in control of the situation.

If you grew up around abusive people or have had it normalized for you in other ways, it can be easy to overlook the red flags that alert you to a dangerous situation.

You may come to accept that abuse is just a reality that you have to deal with, and be unable to realize that abuse isn’t something that you’re obligated to tolerate.

9. Abusers seek out survivors

Predators can smell a wounded animal from a mile away.

If you have low-self esteem or mental health issues due to past abuse, abusers will notice things like that and mark you as an easy target for their abuse. Abusers know that people with low self-esteem are more likely to tolerate abuse.

Abusers also know that it can be easier to manipulate someone who has already had someone else messing with their head because they have learned to doubt themselves.

Choosing to abuse a survivor can also give cover to an abusive person’s behavior, because they can use the survivor’s past trauma against them. They might blame their victim’s trauma entirely on their past abuser.

Worse still, an abuser might use a survivor’s history of abuse to try and discredit their current claims of abuse. They might say something like: “Hey, look at this person, they accuse everyone of abusing them. Clearly, they must be lying.”

10. Others don’t believe you

It’s scary to come forward with an abuse story, and one of the biggest reasons why is that not everyone will believe you.

If you report abuse or speak about abuse publicly you can also become the victim of character assassination, counter-accusations, lawsuits, and further violence.

Our society already has a serious problem with victim-blaming, and this problem gets worse when the victim who is being blamed has been repeatedly victimized. In these situations it becomes easier to blame the victim, to believe that the victim is at fault for the abuse, or, worse still, that they enjoy being abused.

It may be easier to think these things than it is to accept the unpleasant reality that it is not only possible, but likely that revictimization will occur. If survivors aren’t believed, they often will not get the help and support that they need, which makes it more likely that they will be hurt again.

You may think: “I was worried that they didn’t believe me the first time, how could they possibly believe me again?”

This can be difficult, because sometimes the opinions of others can impact your life, like if you lose a friend or a job over an abuse claim, or if law enforcement doesn’t take your accusations seriously.

You can’t make other people believe you, so it’s important to try and detach yourself from their opinions as much as possible. Remember: you were there. You know what happened.

No matter what, please remember these four words:

It’s not your fault.

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