Skip to main content

Magnitude and factors associated with sexual re-victimization among adolescent girls and young women in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo: a retrospective multicenter study



Adolescent girls and young women are more exposed to sexual violence. A significant proportion of victims of sexual abuse are victims of sexual re-victimization. However, information on the burden of sexual re-victimization among AGYW in contexts other than conflict-affected areas in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is limited. The aim of this study was to assess the magnitude of sexual re-victimization among AGYW and to identify associated risk factors in the capital, Kinshasa.


We conducted a retrospective multicenter cohort study in which sexual violence records between 2015 and 2020 were used to extract and analyze victims’ sociodemographic and behavioral characteristics and profiles of sexual violence perpetrated. Multivariate logistic regression models were employed to identify factors associated with sexual re-victimization using the adjusted odds ratio (AOR) with its 95% confidence interval (95% CI) and p value < 0.05.


We found that 74 (31%) of the 241 AGYW included in this study had experienced sexual re-victimization. Sexual re-victimization was associated with being older (> 19 years), sexually active, and living in a single-parent family, and with perpetrator types, particularly intimate partners and family members.


Our findings provide tools for developing and implementing targeted prevention and intervention programs to reduce sexual violence in general and sexual re-victimization in particular.

Peer Review reports


Sexual violence remains a major global public health concern and a widespread violation of human rights. It refers to any forced sexual act, including attempted or completed rape, coercion and harassment, as well as other forms of sexual contact with force or threat of force by any person, regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any context [1]. Sexual violence damages the physical and psychological integrity of victims, and has harmful consequences such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, self-harm, poor school or academic performance and substance abuse [2,3,4,5].

Research shows that females are at higher risk for sexual victimization, particularly in adolescence and youth [6,7,8,9]. Globally, during the period 2000–2018, more than 641 million women aged 15 and over, including nearly one in four adolescent girls, reported having been victims of sexual violence [10]. The highest prevalence rates of sexual violence against adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) are observed in a few regions, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Several studies carried out in different countries of SSA report prevalence rates ranging from 25% to over 60% among AGYW [7, 11,12,13,14,15]. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), plagued by more than two decades of violence and recurrent socio-political crises, is one of the worst-affected countries [10].

It should be noted that previous victims of sexual violence are particularly vulnerable to sexual re-victimization [6, 16,17,18]. The risk of re-victimization is three to five times greater among AGYW who have reported sexual abuse histories [6, 16, 19, 20]. However, most of the existing literature, with a particular focus on Congolese AGYW, describes the extent of sexual violence in conflict-affected areas [21,22,23]. Sexual violence, let alone repeated sexual violence, among AGYW would therefore be under-reported and under-investigated in other contexts. As sexual re-victimization is associated with an exacerbation of subsequent physical and psychological abuse, it is crucial to study their risk factors in order to improve prevention programs and, consequently, psychosocial well-being. Accordingly, the aim of the present study was to assess the magnitude of the burden of sexual re-victimization among AGYW who have experienced sexual violence and to identify their associated factors in the city of Kinshasa, the capital of the DRC.


Study design, setting and period

A retrospective multicenter cohort study was conducted in governmental and non-governmental institutions dealing with gender-based violence, specifically medical, psychosocial, legal/judicial, and social reintegration facilities for victims of sexual violence located in the four districts of Kinshasa (Fig. 1; Table 1). The study covered the period from January 1, 2015 to December 31, 2020.

Fig. 1
figure 1

Administrative map of the study area

Table 1 Districts, institutions and facilities for dealing with sexual violence, and types of support

Study sample, participants and inclusion criteria

The study sample was obtained after analysis of intake records, counseling forms, court and medical records, and follow-up documentation of consecutive (serial) cases of sexual abuse among AGWY. The latter consisted in detecting the consequences of sexual violence on the victim’s physical and mental health, either within 72 h of the incident or beyond, in order to ensure appropriate medical, psychological and social care.

The study involved 300 females aged between 10 and 24 who had been victims of sexual violence and were being cared for in governmental and non-governmental facilities dealing with gender-based violence. Fifty-nine participants were excluded due to lack of usable information in the records or verbal informed consent to participate in the study, reducing the final sample size to 241.

Data collection

An ad hoc questionnaire was elaborated to collect information on sociodemographic and behavioral characteristics of the victims and the profiles of the sexual violence perpetrated. The following variables were recorded:

  • Sociodemographic and behavioral characteristics of victims: age, place of residence, educational level, marital status, family structure, sexual activity, and drug use.

  • Profiles of sexual violence perpetrated: place of occurrence, perpetrator type, and experience of sexual re-victimization.

The collected information was finally entered into Microsoft Excel® 2019 files for data management before analysis.

Operational definitions

  • Sexual re-victimization: experience of subsequent sexual victimization throughout the lifespan following initial sexual violence [17, 18, 24].

  • Place of residence: characterized as rural, peri-urban, and urban based on typology of communes in the urban-rural gradient according to their urbanization morphology [25]. The average population density in the areas represented by the communes of residence is low, intermediate and high, respectively [25].

Statistical analyses

Statistical analyses for this study were carried using R® version 4.2.0. First, we used descriptive statistics to describe the sociodemographic and behavioral characteristics of the study participants, as well as the profile of sexual violence perpetrated in terms of frequency and percentage. Second, we performed binary logistic regression models, with bivariate and multivariate analyses, to assess the association between covariates and sexual re-victimization among AGYW. Crude odds ratios (COR) and adjusted odds ratios (AOR) with their 95% confidence intervals (95% CI) were determined and statistically significant associations were declared at p value < 0.05. The final multivariate logistic regression model was built with a reduced number of predictor variables in order to improve the explanatory model through automatic selection using a step-by-step top-down procedure based on minimization of the Akaike information criterion (AIC).


Sociodemographic characteristics of AGYW included in this study

A total of 241 AGYW were included in this study. Their mean age was 15.3 (± 3.07) years. The majority of AGYW were aged between 15 and 19 (50.2%), lived in urban areas (61.8%), had completed formal secondary education (68.9%), and were single (95%). However, 21.6% and 12.0% of these AGYW were sexually active and using drugs, respectively (Table 2).

Table 2 Sociodemographic and behavioral characteristics of AGYW

Characteristics of sexual violence and magnitude of sexual re-victimization among AGYW

Table 3 shows that more than half of all sexual assaults were committed in the abuser’s own home (52.7%). The majority of sexual assaults were perpetrated by an acquaintance (31.1%), followed by an intimate partner (21.6%) and a stranger (20.3%). In addition, 74 (31%) of the AGYW included in this study had experienced sexual re-victimization.

Table 3 Characteristics of sexual violence perpetrated

Factors associated with sexual re-victimization among AGYW

Table 4 presents the results of bivariate logistic regression analysis on the association of victim characteristics and sexual violence profile with sexual re-victimization among AGYW in Kinshasa. It revealed that variables such as age, sexually active, and perpetrator type showed statistically significant associations with sexual re-victimization.

Table 4 Bivariate logistic regression analysis of the association of victim characteristics and profile of sexual violence with sexual re-victimization status among AGYW in Kinshasa, 2015–2020

Figure 2 shows independent predictors of sexual re-victimization identified at the final multivariate logistic regression model. Sexual re-victimization among AGYW in Kinshasa was significantly associated with being aged 20 to 24 years (AOR = 3.20, 95% CI [1.04–10.16]), being sexually active (AOR = 14.98, 95% CI [6.68–36.86]), and living in a single-parent family (AOR = 2.84, 95% CI [1.17–7.41]). Moreover, AGYW were more likely to be exposed to sexual re-victimization perpetrated by a family member (AOR = 12.01, 95% CI [2.97–54.02]) and an intimate partner (AOR = 8.07, 95% CI [2.56–28.62]).

Fig. 2
figure 2

Factors associated with sexual re-victimization among AGYW identified by the final multivariate logistic regression model


The present study showed that, of all AGYW who had been sexually abused, three out of ten had experienced sexual re-victimization. This finding is in line with the literature, which has shown an increased risk of re-victimization in AGYW with a history of sexual abuse [6, 16, 19, 20]. The relatively high magnitude of sexual re-victimization among AGYW observed in this study may be explained by the fact that sexual violence has a lasting negative impact on the victim’s mental health, in terms of perception of herself, of events, and others. Thus, adolescents and women who suffer from mental disorders precipitated and maintained by sexual violence continue to be exposed to further sexual violence [26].

This study highlighted that the risk of sexual re-victimization was higher in AGYW who were likely to be older (> 19 years) and sexually active. These results are consistent with other research suggesting that sexual abuse in childhood or adolescence increases the risk of future victimization in adulthood [6, 18, 27]. Moreover, women who experience an episode of childhood sexual abuse are engaged in a vicious circle that includes more self-blame, higher levels of PTSD, and riskier sexual behaviors. This potentiates the tendency to have a greater number of partners, increasing the risk of further episodes of sexual victimization in adolescence and adulthood. As the more partners they have, the more likely they are to be assaulted [28, 29].

We also found that AGYW who lived in a single-parent family were more likely to be exposed to sexual re-victimization. In the light of other studies suggesting plausible effects of family structure on exposure to sexual violence and abuse [30, 31], this finding could be related to the fact that AGYW living in single parent households may be exposed to a greater number of adult males than those living in two-parent households, putting them at greater risk of further sexual victimization.

In this study, AGYW were eight times more likely to be re-victimized by sexual violence perpetrated by an intimate partner than by a stranger. Our findings are consistent with other studies that have indicated that women who have experienced violence on one occasion in an intimate partner relationship are at higher risk of being assaulted again by the same partner and in further relationships [32]. This association may be explained by the fact that re-victimization in the form of an intimate partner violence (IPV) is mediated by PTSD in female survivors of sexual abuse [33, 34]. It should be noted that the experience of multiple episodes of IPV has more severe and longer-lasting psychological and emotional consequences than an occasional episode of violence [34,35,36].

Furthermore, AGYW were 12 times more likely to experience re-victimization of sexual violence perpetrated by a family member than by a stranger. The possible explanation for this finding could be that the frequent presence of a non-caregiving adult in the home, such as an extended family member, can facilitate the occurrence of childhood sexual abuse at an early age [17], which may increase vulnerability for further episodes of victimization in adolescence and youth [37].

Strength and limitations of the study

To our knowledge, this study is the first to address the issue of sexual re-victimization among AGYW who have experienced initial sexual violence in non-conflict areas of a Sub-Saharan country plagued by recurrent socio-political violence such as the DRC. Interestingly, the fairly high frequency of sexual re-victimization experienced by AGYW found in the present study is almost similar to that reported in the literature. However, this study has some limitations. Firstly, the retrospective design and recruitment of a limited sample size mean that the results can only be generalized to AGYW who have been supported in governmental and non-governmental care facilities for victims of sexual violence. Further community surveys are needed for greater representativeness at subnational and national levels. Secondly, other factors of interest were not considered in this study either. Indeed, specific elements such as mental health outcomes [18], types of re-victimization [38], relationship types [39] have been suggested to play a role on trends and prediction of sexual re-victimization. There is need for future studies to evaluate them and include them (Additional file 1).


The overall magnitude of sexual re-victimization among AGYW in Kinshasa was relatively high. Being over 19, sexually active, and living in a single-parent family were significantly associated with sexual re-victimization. Intimate partners and family members were the main perpetrators of sexual re-victimization among AGYW. Our findings provide a basis for policymakers to develop and implement evidence-based prevention and intervention programs that can further reduce sexual violence in general and revictimization in particular as major public health concerns to improve the overall well-being of AGYW. In addition, these findings can serve as a baseline for future community-based cross-sectional and longitudinal studies to determine the true burden of sexual re-victimization among AGYW.

Availability of data and materials

All data generated or analyzed during this study are included in this published article.


95% CI:

95% Confidence intervals


Adolescent girls and young women


Adjusted odds ratios


Crude odds ratios


Democratic Republic of the Congo


Intimate partner violence


Posttraumatic stress disorder


Sub-Saharan Africa


  1. World Health Organization. Violence against women. 2021.

  2. Balsam KF, Lehavot K, Beadnell B. Sexual revictimization and mental health: a comparison of lesbians, gay men, and heterosexual women. J Interpers Violence. 2011;26(9):1798–814.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  3. Daigle LE, Fisher BS, Cullen FT. The violent and sexual victimization of college women: is repeat victimization a problem? J Interpers Violence. 2008;23(9):1296–313.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  4. Krebs CP, Lindquist CH, Warner TD, Fisher BS, Martin SL. The differential risk factors of physically forced and alcohol- or other drug-enabled sexual assault among university women. Violence Vict. 2009;24(3):302–21.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  5. Krebs CP, Lindquist CH, Warner TD, Fisher BS, Martin SL. College women’s experiences with physically forced, alcohol- or other drug-enabled, and drug-facilitated sexual assault before and since entering college. J Am Coll Health. 2009;57(6):639–47.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  6. Barnes JE, Noll JG, Putnam FW, Trickett PK. Sexual and physical revictimization among victims of severe childhood sexual abuse. Child Abuse Negl. 2009;33(7):412–20.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  7. Ajayi AI, Mudefi E, Owolabi EO. Prevalence and correlates of sexual violence among adolescent girls and young women: findings from a cross-sectional study in a South African university. BMC Women’s Health. 2021;21(1):299.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  8. Ngidi ND. I feel scared of being a girl: adolescent girls’ conversations about heteropatriarchal sexual violence in South African townships. Geoforum. 2022;134:40–7.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Saeed Ali T, Karmaliani R, Mcfarlane J, Khuwaja HMA, Somani Y, Chirwa ED, et al. Attitude towards gender roles and violence against women and girls (VAWG): baseline findings from an RCT of 1752 youths in Pakistan. Glob Health Action. 2017;10(1):1342454.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  10. World Health Organization. Violence Against Women Prevalence Estimates. 2018. 2021.

  11. Reza A, Breiding MJ, Gulaid J, Mercy JA, Blanton C, Mthethwa Z, et al. Sexual violence and its health consequences for female children in Swaziland: a cluster survey study. The Lancet. 2009;373(9679):1966–72.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Ward CL, Artz L, Leoschut L, Kassanjee R, Burton P. Sexual violence against children in South Africa: a nationally representative cross-sectional study of prevalence and correlates. Lancet Glob Health. 2018;6(4):e460-8.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  13. De Veauuse Brown NF, Annor FB, Swahn MH, Self-Brown SR. Sexual violence experience among Nigerian girls and young women: what are the roles of early sexual debut, multiple sex partnerships, and traditional gender role beliefs? J Interpers Violence. 2022;37(5–6):NP2747-67.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  14. McClinton Appollis T, Jonas K, Beauclair R, Lombard C, Duby Z, Cheyip M, et al. Early sexual debut and the effects on well-being among South African adolescent girls and young women aged 15 to 24 years. Int J Sex Health. 2022;34(2):242–53.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Steele SJ, Abrahams N, Duncan K, Woollett N, Hwang B, O’Connell L, et al. The epidemiology of rape and sexual violence in the platinum mining district of Rustenburg, South Africa: prevalence, and factors associated with sexual violence. PLoS ONE. 2019;14(7):e0216449.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  16. Conley AH, Overstreet CM, Hawn SE, Kendler KS, Dick DM, Amstadter AB. Prevalence and predictors of sexual assault among a college sample. J Am Coll Health. 2017;65(1):41–9.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  17. Pittenger SL, Pogue JK, Hansen DJ. Predicting sexual revictimization in childhood and adolescence: a longitudinal examination using ecological systems theory. Child Maltreat. 2018;23(2):137–46.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  18. Cusack SE, Bourdon JL, Bountress K, Saunders TR, Kendler KS, Dick DM, et al. Trends in sexual revictimization among college students. J Interpers Violence. 2021;36(17–18):8494–518.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  19. Noll JG, Horowitz LA, Bonanno GA, Trickett PK, Putnam FW. Revictimization and self-harm in females who experienced childhood sexual abuse: results from a prospective study. J Interpers Violence. 2003;18(12):1452–71.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  20. Wekerle C, Avgoustis E. Child maltreatment, adolescent dating, and adolescent dating violence. Adolescent romantic relations and sexual behavior: theory, research, and practical implications. Mahwah, NJ, US: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers; 2003. pp. 213–41.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Verelst A, De Schryver M, Broekaert E, Derluyn I. Mental health of victims of sexual violence in eastern Congo: associations with daily stressors, stigma, and labeling. BMC Women’s Health. 2014;14(1):106.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  22. Stark L, Sommer M, Davis K, Asghar K, Baysa AA, Abdela G, et al. Disclosure bias for group versus individual reporting of violence amongst conflict-affected adolescent girls in DRC and Ethiopia. PLoS ONE. 2017;12(4):e0174741.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  23. Iyakaremye I, Mukagatare C. Forced migration and sexual abuse: experience of Congolese adolescent girls in Kigeme refugee camp, Rwanda. Health Psychol Rep. 2016;4(3):261–71.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Messman TL, Long PJ. Child sexual abuse and its relationship to revictimization in adult women: a review. Clin Psychol Rev. 1996;16(5):397–420.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Sambieni KR, Messina Ndzomo JP, Biloso Moyene A, Halleux JM, Occhiuto R, Bogaert J. Les statuts morphologiques d’urbanisation des communes de Kinshasa en République Démocratique Du Congo. Tropicultura. 2018;36(3):1–11.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Rai R, Rai AK. Sexual violence and poor mental health of women: an exploratory study of Uttar Pradesh, India. Clin Epidemiol Global Health. 2020;8(1):194–8.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Walker HE, Freud JS, Ellis RA, Fraine SM, Wilson LC. The prevalence of sexual revictimization: a meta-analytic review. Trauma Violence Abuse. 2019;20(1):67–80.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  28. Arata CM. From child victim to adult victim: a model for predicting sexual revictimization. Child Maltreat. 2000;5(1):28–38.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  29. Castro Á, Ibáñez J, Maté B, Esteban J, Barrada JR. Childhood sexual abuse, sexual behavior, and revictimization in adolescence and youth: a mini review. Front Psychol. 2019;10:2018.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  30. Finkelhor D, Baron L. Risk factors for child sexual abuse. J Interpers Violence. 1986;1(1):43–71.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Stritzel H, Gonzalez CS, Cavanagh SE, Crosnoe R. Family structure and secondary exposure to violence in the context of varying neighborhood risks and resources. Socius. 2021.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  32. Ørke EC, Vatnar SKB, Bjørkly S. Risk for revictimization of intimate partner violence by multiple partners: a systematic review. J Fam Viol. 2018;33(5):325–39.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Messing JT, La Flair L, Cavanaugh CE, Kanga MR, Campbell JC. Testing posttraumatic stress as a mediator of childhood trauma and adult intimate partner violence victimization. J Aggress Maltreatment Trauma. 2012;21(7):792–811.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Iverson KM, Litwack SD, Pineles SL, Suvak MK, Vaughn RA, Resick PA. Predictors of intimate partner violence revictimization: the relative impact of distinct PTSD symptoms, dissociation, and coping strategies. J Trauma Stress. 2013;26(1):102–10.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  35. Kuijpers KF, van der Knaap LM, Lodewijks IAJ. Victims’ influence on intimate partner violence revictimization: a systematic review of prospective evidence. Trauma Violence Abuse. 2011;12(4):198–219.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  36. Bellot A, Izal M, Montorio I. The role of women’s resources in the prediction of intimate partner violence revictimization by the same or different aggressors. Front Psychol. 2022;13:1014683.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  37. McCloskey LA, Bailey JA. The intergenerational transmission of risk for child sexual abuse. J Interpers Violence. 2000;15(10):1019–35.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Relyea M, Ullman SE. Predicting sexual assault revictimization in a longitudinal sample of women survivors. Violence Against Women. 2017;23(12):1462–83.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  39. Gagné MH, Lavoie F, Hébert M. Victimization during childhood and revictimization in dating relationships in adolescent girls. Child Abuse Negl. 2005;29(10):1155–72.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

Download references


We would like to thank all the staff of the facilities providing care for victims of sexual violence for their participation in this study, particularly: ABEF-ND: Isabelle Makiro; Hôpital Général de Référence de Kintambo: Ms. Edith; LIZADEEL: Innocent; PEPVS: Col. Mimie Bikela; Hôpital Saint Joseph: Bénédicte Bosana; Centre Mère et Enfant de Ngaba: Dr. Serge Ankulu; Centre Féminin Marie Antoinette: Benjamin; UMOJA: Ms. Wabeno; Hôpital Général de Référence de Ndjili: Dr. Anaclet Nsingi.


The authors received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



FB and HCK equally contributed in study design, data collection, data analysis and interpretation, and writing manuscript. DB participated to data analysis and interpretation. BZ, BLM, EB, GK and FM contributed in study design.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Harry César Kayembe.

Ethics declarations

Ethics approval and consent to participate

Ethics approval for the study was obtained by the Ministry of Public Health’s National Health Research Ethics Committee (N°219/CNES/BN/PMMF/2020) in accordance with the Declaration of Helsinki. Before data collection, victims of sexual violence or parents/guardians of child victims provided their verbal informed consent to participate in this study, which was approved by the National Health Research Ethics Committee. Provisions were made during data collection to preserve their anonymity and confidentiality.

Consent for publication

Not applicable.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary Information

Additional file 1.

Dataset S1.

Rights and permissions

Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated in a credit line to the data.

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Biluala, F., Kayembe, H.C., Batumbo, D. et al. Magnitude and factors associated with sexual re-victimization among adolescent girls and young women in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo: a retrospective multicenter study. Reprod Health 20, 179 (2023).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • DOI: