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Term of the Month

Defining Criminal Justice Research

Welcome to NIJ’s Term of the Month. Each month we are featuring a term from our scientific research portfolios informing significant American justice system issues and solutions.

March 2023 - Polyvictimization

Polyvictimization can generally be defined as the experiences of multiple, distinct types of violence, abuse, mistreatment, and other adversities. Although polyvictimization has been defined and operationalized in different ways across the literature, it typically refers to two or more different types of victimization — such as sexual violence, physical abuse, or exposure to family and community violence — rather than multiple episodes of a single type of victimization.

The polyvictimization framework has recently been used to study the abuse of older adults. According to one NIJ-funded study with a nationally representative sample of community-residing older adults in the United States, approximately 2% of older adults experienced polyvictimization in the past year. This translates to over 970,000 older adults. Risk for polyvictimization was greater among older adults who experienced problems accomplishing activities of daily living (for example, shopping for groceries or medicines, bathing), those with low social support, and those who had experienced a past traumatic event. Another NIJ-funded study found that multiple types of polyvictimization in older adults are related to poor physical and mental health outcomes and mortality.

Polyvictimization among children and youth has also been examined and can occur in a variety of settings, including families, schools, communities, and online. Children may be repeatedly traumatized as they are victims and witnesses of multiple abusive experiences, including child abuse, neglect, domestic violence, sexual exploitation, school violence, trafficking, gun violence, hate crimes, dating violence, or bullying.

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Date Created: January 28, 2021