Why are Some Trauma Victims More Vulnerable to Re-Victimization


For those who have not suffered a chronic trauma reaction it can sometimes be hard to understand how a victimized person gets situations where re-victimization can happen. Wouldn’t one trauma at the hands of another cause you to be vigilant against any subsequent danger?

You might think so, but here’s how it happens in simplistic terms:

  1. Interpersonal Trauma leads to confusion, self-doubt (and hatred), loss of voice.
  2. Vigilance against one kind of victimization leads to making decisions to give up other values/interests to avoid the trauma
  3. That decision (or impulse) leads to opportunity for exploitation

Still doesn’t make sense? Consider how a societal trauma preps a community or country for re-victimization. Dave Zirin writes about the use of “Shock Doctrine” in his 2014 book, Brazil’s Dance with the Devil: The World Cup, the Olympics, and the Fight for Democracy. Shock doctrine is opportunist moves by governments interested in taking advantage of a traumatized population

Left to their own devices, people tend to vote for things that make their lives better, like sharing wealth and resources and ensuring quality health care and education for all. Nobody wins elections by promising to turn the country into a sweatshop zone. So in order to put neoliberal policies in place, the world’s elite need a strategy—some clever sleight of hand to get what they want before anyone can object. Enter the shock doctrine

The idea is simple: people who are traumatized are more likely to agree to authoritarian measures, to suspending democracy, to doing whatever it takes. The trauma can be unexpected, like a natural disaster or a terrorist attack, or planned, like a massive budget cuts or a military coup—anything that

‘puts the entire population into a state of collective shock. The falling bombs, the bursts of terror, the pounding winds serve to soften up whole societies much as the blaring music and blows in the torture cells soften up prisoners. Like the terrorized prisoner who gives up the names of comrades and renounces his faith, shocked societies often give up the things they would otherwise fiercely protect…’

While people are reeling, trying to figure out how to survive, corporations and the corporationist state walk through the open door and take what they please.” (p 73-4)

Zirin illustrates this by pointing to countries who take privacy rights or freedom of speech from citizens in the name of protecting the people (state) from outside attack. Or corporations who find ways to take land from poor citizens after a natural disaster—to use for their own benefit.

My point is not to attack political ideologies, corporations, or governments. Rather it is to show that trauma sets us up to give up rights and boundaries more easily in order to avoid a terror. That same willingness is more easily exploited by one who sees the vulnerability. The authority will protect us we think. But if the authority is only interested in its own protection, the victim is prone to re-victimization.

3 Comments

Filed under Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

3 responses to “Why are Some Trauma Victims More Vulnerable to Re-Victimization

  1. liztinnea

    So true. Thank you for sharing this.

  2. Tom

    Phil, this is pretty convoluted and I wonder if it is really helpful to conflate psychosis with social manipulation? Historically, what Zurin is talking about was called “fascism.” People buy into fascist-type manipulation for lots of mostly selfish, myopic, xenophobic reasons, but generally we don’t excuse that kind of behavior. That’s probably not where you wanted to go with re-victimization, however…

    • Psychosis and social manipulation? Fascism? Neither. Zirin is actually talking about George Bush after 9/11 (as well as actions in Brazil). In fact, I have spoken to many who agree to release individual rights for the sake of protection against feared trauma returning. They are not psychotic nor are they xenophobic or selfish. They wish to avoid ethnic cleansing and so agree to give up certain freedoms. But some of those choices may lead to risk of re-victimization by someone looking to take advantage.

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