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Home > Public Resources > Trauma Blog > 2022 - April > Risk and Resilience: Revictimization among US Military Veterans

Risk and Resilience: Revictimization among US Military Veterans

Scoglio, Molnar, Lincoln, Griffith, Park, & Kraus

April 1, 2022

Unfortunately, individuals who have experienced abuse in childhood have a heightened risk of being victimized again in adulthood (Walker et al., 2017). This phenomenon is termed “revictimization” and refers to the experience of a similar type of victimization happening two or more times at different life stages. Revictimization has also been more broadly defined as experiencing any type of victimization in childhood, followed by physical or sexual victimization in adulthood. 

In previous research, revictimization has been associated with negative physical and mental health outcomes. Our study aimed to identify factors related to revictimization over time in a group of US military veteran men and women. Identifying risk and protective factors can aid in prevention and intervention work with veterans. Our study sample was a longitudinal cohort (from the Survey of Experiences of Returning Veterans [SERV]) of 673 Post-9/11 military veterans. Post-9/11 veterans may be particularly vulnerable to the impacts of cumulative victimization experiences. These veterans are unique because they volunteered to serve (unlike drafted veterans) and are likely be exposed to traumatic events before and during the course of their military service (compared to civilians) (Blosnich et al., 2014).

We found that women, Navy veterans, and veterans with higher posttraumatic stress symptoms were more likely to report revictimization. Social support during military service protected against revictimization following military discharge. The rate of revictimization in our sample was lower than expected, given rates reported in the general population. The lower rate we found could have multiple explanations. It may be related to how we defined our victimization experiences- in broader terms than some prior research. Another potential explanation could be the vast underreporting of sexual assault for military veterans, possibly due to  stigma, fear of retaliation or demotion, and masculine ideals promoted in military service (Turchik & Edwards, 2012). A final potential explanation could be the resilience of this population. Although military veterans are frequently exposed to repeated traumatic experiences and adversity, many veterans do not develop PTSD and successfully reintegrate back into civilian communities (Bonanno et al., 2012).

Our findings have important implications for prevention and intervention work. Ensuring strong social support for servicemembers while they are serving in the military may be critical to improving long term health outcomes for veterans. Also, our study highlights the importance of resiliency training for military servicemembers. For this era of military servicemembers, they are likely to enlist in the military with a trauma history already, and so fostering skill gains prior to deployment into combat zones is especially important. Skills trainings, combined with psychoeducation about traumatic experiences and common effects, may reduce cumulative impacts of trauma and support health over time. 

In addition, screening for traumatic experiences and provision of support is needed at multiple time points: upon enlistment in the military, during military service, and after discharge. Increased support should be particularly targeted at women and Navy servicemembers, as these groups may be particularly at risk for revictimization. We recommend the US military take proactive steps during recruitment, training, and deployment to ensure women and Navy servicemembers feel supported by their units, commanding officers, and the military institution in general.

We have seen that childhood abuse experiences are highly prevalent in Post-9/11 US military veterans. Among veterans with such experiences, characteristics such as gender are related to increased risk of revictimization during and after military service. These victimization experiences are related to serious mental health consequences. A potential beacon of hope lies in the social connection garnered during military service, which may help those who are victimized to cope with the trauma. 

Reference Article

Scoglio, A. A. J., Molnar, B. E., Lincoln, A. K., Griffith, J., Park, C. E., & Kraus, S. W. (2022). Sexual and Physical Revictimization in US Military VeteransJournal of Traumatic Stress.

Discussion Questions 

  1. How can future research further work in this area?
  2. What factors differentiate Navy veterans from other branches of the military in terms of revictimization?
  3. How can the military facilitate different types of social support for women servicemembers?

About the Authors 

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Arielle A. J. Scoglio, PhD
 is a post-doctoral research fellow at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health in Psychiatric Epidemiology. Her research on functioning, psychopathology, and resilience following interpersonal violence, particularly in vulnerable populations. She is also interested in the role of social connection in resilience following adversity. Dr. Scoglio can be contacted at [email protected] or followed on Twitter @ArielleScoglio
 
Beth E. Molnar, ScD is a social and psychiatric epidemiologist and an Associate Professor in the Department of Health Sciences at Northeastern University. She is the Director of the Population Health PhD Program at Northeastern University. Her research focuses on violent, traumatic experiences and how they affect children and effects on responders (i.e. vicarious trauma).
 
Alisa K. Lincoln, PhD is a Professor of Sociology and Health Sciences at Northeastern University. She serves as the Director of the Institute for Health Equity and Social Justice Research and Associate Dean of Research in the College of Social Sciences and Humanities. Her research examines social exclusion, marginalization, and health with a focus on mental health and well-being.
 
John Griffith, PhD is a Biostatistician and Teaching Professor of Health Sciences at Northeastern University.
 
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Crystal Park, PhD
 is a Professor of Psychology at University of Connecticut. Her research focuses on multiple aspects of coping with stressful events, including the roles of religious beliefs and religious coping, the phenomenon of stress-related growth and the making of meaning in the context of traumatic events and life-threatening illnesses.
 
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Shane W. Kraus, PhD
 is a clinical psychologist and Assistant Professor at University of Nevada at Las Vegas. His is interested in the study of psychopathology, sexual trauma, substance use disorders, gambling disorder, and compulsive sexual behavior disorder. He uses multi-disciplinary methods to assess factors that contribute to the development of addictive behaviors and co-occurring psychiatric disorders among US military veterans.

References 

Blosnich, J. R., Dichter, M. E., Cerulli, C., Batten, S. V., & Bossarte, R. M. (2014). Disparities in            adverse childhood experiences among individuals with a history of military service.            JAMA psychiatry, 71(9), 1041-1048. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2014.724

Bonanno, G. A., Mancini, A. D., Horton, J. L., Powell, T. M., Leardmann, C. A., Boyko, E. J.,     Wells, T. S., Hooper, T. I., Gackstetter, G. D., Smith, T. C., Millennium Cohort Study,        T., & For the Millennium Cohort Study, T. (2012). Trajectories of trauma symptoms and resilience in deployed U.S. military service members: prospective cohort study. The      British journal of psychiatry: the journal of mental science, 200(4), 317-323.          https://doi.org/10.1192/bjp.bp.111.096552

Turchik, J. A., & Edwards, K. M. (2012). Myths about male rape: a literature review. Psychology            of Men & Masculinity, 13(2), 211-226. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0023207
Walker, H. E., Freud, J. S., Ellis, R. A., Fraine, S. M., Wilson, L. C., & A. (2017). The     prevalence of sexual revictimization: A meta-analytic review. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse. https://doi.org/10.1177/1524838017692364
 

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