Reenacting Past Abuse–Identification with the Aggressor and Sexual Revictimization

Yael Lahav*, Anat Talmon, Karni Ginzburg, David Spiegel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Childhood sexual abuse (CSA) poses a risk for sexual revictimization. Additionally, according to theory CSA may lead to identification with the aggressor, expressed by adopting the perpetrator’s experience concerning the abuse; identifying with the perpetrator’s aggression; replacing one’s agency with that of the perpetrator; and becoming hyper-sensitive to the perpetrator. Although clinical impressions suggest that identification with the aggressor underlies reenactment of trauma, this linkage between identification with the aggressor and sexual revictimization remains largely uninvestigated. This study assessed (a) the relationship between identification with the aggressor (total score and four subscales) and sexual revictimization; (b) the unique associations between identification with the aggressor (total score and four subscales) and sexual revictimization, above and beyond chronicity of abuse and PTSD symptoms. Participants were Israeli women students who reported a history of CSA (n = 174). Analyses indicated significant correlations between two subscales of identification with the aggressor–replacing one’s agency with that of the perpetrator and becoming hyper-sensitive to the perpetrator–and sexual revictimization. These subscales of identification with the aggressor were associated with sexual revictimization, above and beyond the effects of chronicity of the abuse and PTSD symptoms. Nevertheless, these associations were in opposite directions–while replacing one’s agency with that of the perpetrator was related with higher occurrence of sexual revictimization, becoming hyper-sensitive to the perpetrator was related with lower levels of revictimization. These results imply that identification with the aggressor may serve as a multifaceted phenomenon in the context of sexual revictimization, comprised of both adaptive and maladaptive aspects.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)378-391
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Trauma and Dissociation
Volume20
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - 8 Aug 2019

Keywords

  • Childhood sexual abuse
  • PTSD
  • identification with the aggressor
  • sexual revictimization
  • trauma

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