Testing Secondary Victimization: No more perpetrator-victim reversal

Victims of racist violence often feel unfairly treated by the police and the judiciary. Scientists are currently conducting the first research on this topic.

The memory of the victims of racist violence in Hanau Photo: Sasha Rheker

LEIPZIG here | What experiences with the police and the judiciary have people affected by right-wing, racist, anti-Semitic or sexual violence? Researchers at the Institute for Democracy and Civil Society (IDZ) want to find out through a large study, which will run until 30 July. It is the first nationwide study on this subject.

“As part of the study, we investigate the phenomenon of secondary victimization of victims in the context of criminal investigations and proceedings,” says Daniel Geschke of IDZ, who leads the study. The onerous term “secondary victimization” comes from social science and means that a victim of an act of violence becomes a victim again, including family and friends: or police officers, judges or prosecutors react inappropriately to the act – For example, do not believe the victim or not blame her for the crime.

“Classic example: a woman is sexually abused in a park and well-meaning relatives ask why she even walked in the park alone or why she wore such a short dress,” says Geschke.

Such questions give the person concerned the feeling that he himself is guilty of the attack. This could further aggravate the negative effects of the act of violence itself.

Many affected people feel that they are not being taken seriously

However, the study does not look at secondary victimization by relatives, but by the police and the judiciary. There is only one study on this topic in German-speaking countries. It dates from 2014, but only refers to Thuringia and the experiences of people suffering from right-wing violence with the police, not with the courts or prosecution service. Daniel Geschke, head of the current study, also worked on this study, which was led by Jena’s right-wing extremist expert Matthias Quent.

“A 2014 study found that second-hand police victimization is systematic, so it is not an isolated incident,” says Geschke. “Many people affected by right-wing violence feel that the police are not taking them seriously and are facing prejudice from officials,” says Geschke. The results of the survey show that more than half of the 44 respondents had the impression that the police were not interested in explaining the political motives of the crime. Only in a few cases did officials inform victims of all the rights and claims they had.

However, the study also has shortcomings, says Geschke. “It wasn’t done in the whole country, it was in Thuringia, and the sample was small.” Many people were unable to attend as the survey was only available in German due to lack of funding.

Thanks to a nationwide study, Geschke and his team build on a 2014 study. In contrast, the questionnaire is also available in English, French, Turkish, Kurdish, Vietnamese, Serbian, Arabic, Persian, and Tigris. Geschke is counting on several hundred participants. Anyone who has experienced right-wing, racist, anti-Semitic, sexual or other bias-motivated violence since 2016 and then came into contact with the police or the judiciary is welcome to participate.

Police training needs to raise awareness

Franz Zobel from Turin’s Ezra Victim Counseling Center emphasizes the importance of empirical data on second-hand victimization by the police and the judiciary. Zobel and his colleagues have repeatedly experienced that victims have had bad experiences with police officers, judges, prosecutors or the opposing party’s lawyers. “Victims regularly tell us about discriminatory questions at hearings and court hearings, about turning the perpetrator into a victim, about trivialization by officials or the fact that they refuse to accept the charges,” says Zobel.

Secondary victimization is often even more stressful for victims than the offense itself, as the expectation for help is not met. “It is only when empirical data is available that authorities can no longer talk about individual cases and are forced to take action,” says Zobel.

Calls for greater empathy and sensitivity in the training and further education of police officers and lawyers, and for targeted action against prejudice. In addition, misdemeanors by police officers, judges, prosecutors and lawyers should be punished. Since not recognizing right-wing, racist or anti-Semitic motives is particularly stressful for victims, Zobel suggests officials must always investigate in this direction whenever victims suspect a political motive.

The ezra Counseling Center, where Franz Zobel works, and the Federal Counseling Association for Victims of Right, Racist and Anti-Semitic Violence (VBRG) support the IDZ in conducting the study. The results are expected to be published in early 2023. “Our goal is to sensitize the public to this problem and to ensure that those affected by prejudice motivated violence are treated by the police and the judiciary in the same way as everyone else: namely fairly and without prejudice,” says Daniel Geschke, study leader.

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