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The forgiveness process in primary and secondary victims of violent and sexual offences


Dianne McKillop, PhD, School of Psychology and Social Science, Edith Cowan University, 207 Joondalup Dr, Joondalup, WA 6027 Australia. Email:


It is possible that the physical and mental health of crime victims might be improved by forgiving those who have offended against them. To date, no research has been undertaken to examine the processes that influence victims' forgiveness. The goal of this project was to examine the forgiveness process in primary and secondary victims of violent and sexual crimes. In Study 1, qualitative data were collected by interviewing 21 people who had been affected by sexual or other violent crime. Data analysis identified five themes that were common to both primary and secondary victims, namely benefit of forgiveness, self-forgiveness, perspective taking, offender behaviour, and time. An empowerment theme was unique to primary victims, and a principal victim theme was unique to secondary victims. To further explore these qualitative findings, a quantitative survey of 60 primary and secondary victims was conducted. Results confirmed that primary victims are pragmatic forgivers who are internally focused and forgive because that will benefit their healing. Conversely, secondary victims did not think forgiveness benefited, or would impact on, their own or the primary victim's recovery process. Neither group saw forgiveness as a moral issue, nor thought that forgiveness should influence whether an offender should face court.