The “Third-Victimization”: The Cybervictimization of Sexual Assault Survivors and Their Families

Publication Date01 August 2021
AuthorJordana Navarro,Shelly Clevenger
DOI10.1177/10439862211001616
Date01 August 2021
SubjectArticles
https://doi.org/10.1177/10439862211001616
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice
2021, Vol. 37(3) 356 –378
© The Author(s) 2021
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DOI: 10.1177/10439862211001616
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Article
The “Third-Victimization”:
The Cybervictimization of
Sexual Assault Survivors
and Their Families
Shelly Clevenger1 and Jordana Navarro2
Abstract
Sexual assault has a devastating effect on survivors as well as their family and friends
(i.e., secondary survivors). Research shows that survivors’ abilities to cope in the
aftermath of sexual trauma are particularly difficult in the “internet” age. This struggle
stems from the abilities of perpetrators to use cyberspace to abuse, harass, and
threaten survivors vis-à-vis various cybercrimes: cyberstalking, cybersexual abuse,
and cyberfraud. Indeed, a survivor in this study referred to the cybervictimizations
as the “third-victimization” because it followed the sexual assault (first) and the
“revictimization” experienced during the pursuit of justice (second). This article
presents the results of semistructured interviews about the third-victimization of 48
female survivors and 89 secondary survivors, the family of the survivor. These results
show that all primary and most secondary survivors (91%) experienced at least one
third-victimization, with a majority experiencing multiple forms.
Keywords
cybercrime, cyber domestic abuse, cyberfraud, cyber intimate partner abuse, cybersexual
abuse
Despite years of awareness and conscious raising, research continues to show that
sexual assaults are far from rare occurrences (Borrajo, Gámez-Guadix, & Calvete,
2015; Fedina et al., 2018; Smith et al., 2018). What is even more alarming is that the
1Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, TX, USA
2The Citadel, Charleston, SC, USA
Corresponding Author:
Shelly Clevenger, Associate Professor & Department Chairperson, Department of Victim Studies,
Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, TX 77340, USA.
Email: sxc167@shsu.edu
1001616CCJXXX10.1177/10439862211001616Journal of Contemporary Criminal JusticeClevenger and Navarro
research-article2021
Clevenger and Navarro 357
prior statement is based on reported cases, which only captures a fraction of actual
incidents given under-reporting (Sinozich & Langton, 2014). While the perpetration
of sexual assault is horrific and calls for continued attention, a much less-studied
area of sexual violence is what a survivor in this study referred to as the third-vic-
timization. This term, “third-victimization,” refers to the online retaliation by perpe-
trators after the actual crime (first-victimization) during the pursuit of justice where
a survivor might encounter revictimization (second-victimization) in the retelling of
their story. Given the accessibility and anonymity possible in cyberspace, this third-
victimization might include any or multiple of the following cybercrimes: cyber-
fraud, cybersexual abuse, and cyberstalking.
To bring light to this understudied area of cybercrime and sexual violence, we con-
ducted semistructured interviews at rape crisis centers throughout Illinois from 2013
to 2020. This manuscript presents the results of those interviews that involved 48
female sexual assault survivors and 89 of their loved ones whom we refer to as “sec-
ondary survivors.” These results underscore the point that sexual assault is not neces-
sarily bound in time and space; instead, perpetrators can continue abusing their targets
(i.e., primary survivors) and find new targets (i.e., secondary survivors) long after the
initial crime. We ground that statement in the overall finding of this study that most
survivors—both primary (100%) and secondary (89%)—experienced at least one type
of “third-victimization,” with many experiencing multiple forms. This manuscript
presents an in-depth discussion of these experiences, situates these critical stories
within the cybercrime and sexual assault fields, and concludes by suggesting improve-
ments to policies and procedures as pathways toward intervention and prevention.
Cyber Retaliation: Offenders’ Use of Cyberspace to
Punish Sexual Abuse Survivors
Nationally representative studies show that rape and sexual assault continue to occur
at alarming frequencies within the United States of America (Morgan & Kena, 2017;
Smith et al., 2017). Although these terms are often used interchangeably, there are
slight differences worth noting. The descriptor “sexual assault” refers to a wide array
of actions like the touching of intimate body parts without consent, which may (but not
necessarily involve) penetration (Burgess-Proctor & Urban, 2014). Unlike that broad
descriptor, the term “rape” refers to an event where physical interaction included pen-
etration, regardless of method (i.e., nonphysical or physical force) and mode (i.e.,
genitals, hand/object, oral), without consent of all involved (Burgess-Proctor & Urban,
2014).
One etiological pattern that presents across studies, regardless of geography and
time, is that a greater proportion of women are victimized compared to men (Cantor
et al., 2015; Conroy & Cotter, 2017; Fedina et al., 2018; Smith et al., 2017); however,
men are also not likely to report victimizations given prevailing heteronormative gen-
der norms (Turchik & Edwards, 2012). Another consistent pattern across studies is
that sexual abuse is usually perpetrated by individuals known to survivors: intimate
partners, loved ones, or acquaintances (Conroy & Cotter, 2017; Domino et al., 2020;

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