In 1982 a study by Marquette University in Wisconsin introduced the term “secondary victimization.” Secondary victimization can occur in people who are exposed to the primary victims trauma, from being exposed to and knowing the details of the trauma, from trying to help the victim, and from being exposed to the symptoms of a victims PTSD. Since the early eighties, those who work with victims have become more aware of the existence of secondary victimization and the need for counseling and advocacy for the family and friends of the victim.
The term “vicarious traumatization” was coined by McCain and Pearlman (1990). Researchers have noted that continuous exposure to the traumatization of a victim, that those exposed to the dark side of humanity vicariously, can often develop the same or similar symptoms as those experienced by the victim.
Remer and Ferguson (1995) said that victimization can have a “ripple effect”. That the damage to the primary victim can spread out in waves and have an effect on those with whom they have intimate contact, resulting in stress and trauma related symptoms in the person trying to help. Dealing with the primary victim can awaken emotions in the secondary victim that need to be dealt with, and it can also be emotionally draining for the person, resulting in “compassion fatigue”.
The secondary victim may find themselves questioning their own beliefs about other people and the world, and may have fears about their own safety and vulnerability. Female family and friends of a rape victim may develop a heightened fear of being raped. Children who are exposed to violence between their parents often have similar reactions and developmental problems as children who are growing up in war zones. (Berman 2000). Studies have found that parents of a child who has been sexually abused suffer three times the level of clinical distress than the general population.
A person who has been victimized needs the support of their family and friends. If the victim feels she or he can trust family and friends to respond to them in a positive manner, they may open up more about their victimization, disclosing further details that will help them heal. Providing positive support for a person who has been victimized can be a rewarding experience, often resulting in forming a closer and stronger relationship. However, those in close contact with a victim may need to seek assistance in helping them deal with their own emotions, and in coming up with healthy and productive ways to help both themselves and the victim.