When you hear the word victim, what comes to mind? A person? An act? Is becoming a victim something that happens only once or something that happens again and again? Polyvictimization refers to the multiple victimizations of a person who suffers abuse. Social scientists have found that victims of abuse are in many cases polyvictims.
You are a family therapist. You have been selected to join a team of social scientists who are developing a model for responding to polyvictimization
Your team wants to understand the forms of and pathways to polyvictimization so that you can design better treatments for polyvictims.
Your team must first decide what types of victimization to include in the model. Team members disagree about whether to include all or only overt types of victimization.
You have voted to define polyvictimization broadly. Strengths of this approach are that you will identify multiple types of suffering, as well as the connections between types of victimization and risk factors for victimization. The majority of the team votes to define polyvictimization broadly.
Social scientists have tended to define polyvictimization broadly.
Current models of polyvictimization take into account physical abuse, child neglect, sexual abuse, bullying, neighborhood violence, and the witnessing of violence.
Next, your team must identify which population it will study for evidence of polyvictimization.
One of the key findings about polyvictimization is that it is cumulative, building up over time and creating vulnerability to poor mental and physical health over the life course. Limited resources have thus far mostly focused on identifying and treating child polyvictims in the hopes of limiting this long-term damage.
Early exposure to adverse childhood experiences—including physical, sexual, and emotional abuse; neglect; parental substance abuse; and violence—predicts later health problems and early mortality.
In other words, polyvictimized children grow up to live shorter lives in poorer health than children who are not polyvictimized.
It is estimated that 20% of American children are polyvictims. Among children who are victimized, 66% are polyvictimized. Thirty percent experience five or more types of victimization, and 10%, eleven or more.
The most common types of victimization experienced by children are neglect, physical abuse, and bullying.
Growing up a polyvictim is also linked to adult vulnerability to further victimization.
For example, multiple studies have established a strong link between childhood sexual and/or physical abuse and later involvement in sex work.
Sex work, in turn, is strongly linked to high rates of violence and assault, homelessness, social isolation, and other drug-related and sexual harms.
Your team has voted to limit your study population to children. You will examine evidence of polyvictimization among children and adolescents under 18 years of age.
You are now theorizing about the pathways to polyvictimization. Two hypotheses are suggested by team members.
Hypothesis #1: Children who grow up in violent households are more likely than children growing up in nonviolent households to experience polyvictimization.
Hypothesis #1 (continued): Child health status, family socioeconomic position, and type of neighborhood do not impact risk of polyvictimization.
Hypothesis #2: Children who have disabilities and who grow up in violent households, families with a low socioeconomic status, and dangerous neighborhoods are more likely to experience polyvictimization.
Hypothesis #2 (continued): In comparison, able-bodied children in nonviolent households, safe neighborhoods, and financially secure families are less likely to experience polyvictimization.
This is a single-pathway model
You have endorsed a single-pathway model of polyvictimization. A risk associated with a single-pathway model is that human services professionals may overlook risk factors for victimization and thus fail to identify and help victims.
Polyvictimization researchers have found evidence of multiple pathways to victimization. For example, children who live in dangerous neighborhoods are more likely to be polyvictimized
Likewise, children who have existing disabilities or mental health problems, have dysfunctional and/or violent parents, and are experiencing great family adversity are more likely to be polyvictimized
Your team investigates and finds evidence for a multiple-pathway model of polyvictimization.
Finally, your team must decide what strategy for the identification and treatment of polyvictimization to recommend to practitioners: either a holistic approach or an approach focusing on one victimization at a time.
To take a holistic approach, practitioners should assess for many types of victimization. They should prioritize polyvictims and develop therapeutic approaches that address multiple types of victimization.
To support the holistic approach, policymakers should address underlying vulnerabilities, such as poor parenting skills, poverty, and neighborhood instability.
Practitioners should likewise use therapeutic approaches that address one type of victimization before moving on to the next. This way, victims are not overwhelmed by their victimization.
A holistic approach is preferred
David Finkelhor, a leading polyvictimization researcher, endorses a holistic approach. Practitioners should assess and treat multiple types of victimization concurrently and, because of their later-life vulnerabilities, prioritize polyvictims for treatment. Policymakers should address underlying factors, such as poverty and neighborhood instability.
1. Name three things you learned about polyvictimization from this simulation. Did anything surprise you? Why or why not?
2. Based on your experiences with the simulation, what are two potential benefits of using a holistic approach when studying and treating polyvictims? What are two potential pitfalls of studying only one type of abuse (or only overt types of victimization)?
3. The simulation claims that “policy makers have a role in solving underlying vulnerabilities” of polyvictims, “such as family poverty and neighborhood instability.” What are three possible vulnerabilities that policy makers could attempt to solve? What policy solutions hold promise for solving these problems?
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