An exploration of factors influencing forgiveness in primary and secondary victims of violent and sexual offences

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Psychology


School of Psychology and Social Science


Faculty of Computing, Health and Science

First Advisor

Professor Alfred Allan

Second Advisor

Dr. Ricks Allan


Forgiveness is a concept which is gaining recognition in psychology, particularly due to the positive correlation between forgiveness and individual's physical and mental health (Enright, Rique & Coyle, 2000). Findings in a study by Allan, Allan, Kuminer, and Stein (2006), focusing on human rights violations, led to the hypothesis that people who are directly affected by an offence (primary victims), may find it easier to forgive an offender than individuals who have a family member violated, so called secondary victims. The current study, comprised of two stages, was undertaken to explore this hypothesis by identifying and comparing factors which impact on the development of forgiveness in primary and secondary victims of violent and sexual offences. Stage One of the current study consisted of 21 community members who had either been directly or in-directly affected by a violent or sexual offence. Due to the focus on the participant's experiences relating to forgiveness, an empirical phenomenological approach was used. The participants, recruited through n variety of methods, took part in a semi-structured interview and completed the Enright Forgiveness Inventory (EFI, Enright, Rique, & Coyle, 2000). The findings of the Stage One indicated that the majority of the primary victims identified as having forgiven the offender, in contrast to the majority of secondary victims stating that they had not forgiven the offender. Through content analysis of the interview data, three main themes common to the two groups were identified, namely, internal factors, factors relating to the offender and factors relating to the offence. Additionally, secondary victims appeared to be impacted on by the process of primary victims. While the main themes identified by the two groups were similar, the primary md secondary victims had distinct approaches to forgiveness. Specifically, the primary victims appeared to have a self-focus, with little reliance on external influences on forgiveness. In contrast, the secondary victims appeared to have an external focus, thereby making forgiveness more difficult to achieve. Based on the differences identified through Stage One, Stage Two of the current study explored seven main areas, predominantly relating to the ways in which the participants conceptualised forgiveness. A convenience sample of 60 primary and secondary victims were invited to complete a survey either by email, mail, telephone or face-to-face. Consistent with Stage One, the results from Stage Two indicated that primary victims were significantly more likely to develop forgiveness toward the offender. Furthermore, they had a more positive view of forgiveness, viewing it as being of benefit to their own well-being and recovery. In contrast, secondary victims were significantly more likely to indicate that they had not forgiven the offender. They generally viewed forgiveness as having no benefit to any individual involved and as having no impact on their own or the primary victim's recovery process. Furthermore, the secondary victims expressed the view that they were not entitled to forgive the offender for their actions toward the primary victim, and that forgiving the offender would be a betrayal of the primary victim. The practical implications of this difference is discussed, particularly in relation to the different approach which may be needed in interventions aimed at increasing forgiveness in these two groups.

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