Secondary Victimization

Mothers experience secondary victimization because of the ongoing relationship they have with the primary victim. The sexual abuse of a child presents with ongoing and perhaps life-long consequences to mothers, as well as child victims. Mothers observe and are pained by the current problems and grief reactions  their children experience after sexual abuse, and they fear future consequences. Schneider (2001) refers to mothers of sexually abused children as co-victims. The disclosure of sexual abuse in a child results in an identity crisis for the mother, affecting her self-esteem, sense of competence in parenting victims and siblings, and trust in her judgment. Because of this, decision-making, assertiveness, and sense of autonomy are negatively impacted.

The sexual abuse of a child can have a profound effect on the mother-child relationship, depending on the identity of the perpetrator and the length of the time over which the abuse occurred. This effect can occur long before the mother knows about the abuse. If the child thinks that the mother knows about the abuse, and it continues, the child will be angry with the mother without the mother's awareness. If the perpetrator is the father, and he has threatened the child with statements about the mother, this will affect the mother-child relationship. If the father has set up a dynamic of the child becoming the "adult partner" in the home and taking care of him, even if the mother is not aware, the child may grow to blame and hate her. Unfortunately, when the child believes that the mother should know and protect her, and the mother does not do this, the blame shifts away from the offender to the mother.

The manner in which agencies and professionals intervene with mothers and address family and victim issues is another source of revictimization. Mothers are often not viewed as suffering in any significant manner. The grief and painful reactions they experience as a result of their child's abuse is not honored and addressed. Expectations for their behaviors and coping abilities are high, and tolerance for stress and trauma responses low. Mothers may be judged as incompetent if they demonstrate reactions of acute stress or emotionality .

The losses to mothers are large and significant. Mothers may lose their children, families, extended  family members, homes, financial security, and self-esteem. Losses impact every area of the mother's life and may extend over time throughout the mother's life. She may perceive herself a failure in mothering, and if she finds meaning and purpose in mothering, she may experience despair and hopelessness. It is possible that the secondary victimization will continue long into the future if the child continues to experience long-term consequences of the sexual abuse. 


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