Primary Sources: Childhood Abuse and Relationship Violence – A Troubling Link

A happy family.

For survivors of childhood abuse, injury often adds itself to injury. Researchers have found that young people from abusive families may be more likely than their peers to have unhealthy romantic and sexual relationships as teens and adults.

Prevalence of Intimate Partner Violence Reported by Homeless Youth in Columbus, Ohio,” published in September in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, is the first study to make this link in homeless young people. The study examines relationship violence experienced by homeless youth throughout their lives rather than within a certain period of time, as previous research has done. The authors found that homeless youth with histories of childhood abuse are more than twice as likely as other homeless youth to have been hit, slapped, called names repeatedly, or otherwise physically hurt or verbally abused by a romantic or sexual partner. Among the 180 adolescents interviewed for the study, the link between childhood abuse and relationship violence did not differ by age, race or ethnicity, the authors write. Previous studies that did not determine whether youth were homeless have found that boys and girls experience relationship abuse at similar rates. But in this new study, girls were abused by a partner twice as often as boys. The authors suggest that youth workers might be able to help prevent future abuse by understanding which young people might be more at risk of being abused.

If childhood abuse is associated with teen relationship violence, organizations that work with families and youth may want to address both issues. Some evidence shows that educating parents about how to respond to their children nonviolently is one way to prevent child abuse. “ACT Against Violence Parents Raising Safe Kids Program: Effects on Maltreatment-Related Parenting Behaviors and Beliefs,” forthcoming from the Journal of Family Issues, evaluates a violence prevention program developed by the American Psychological Association. Parents of children up to 10 years old learn about the roots and consequences of violence, how to manage their anger and how to teach their children to do so as well. The program also teaches them about what behaviors to expect from children at different stages of their development and how to use positive discipline. After participating in the program, parents spanked or hit their children less frequently than did parents in the control group. Parents who took the program also developed a stronger belief in the importance of teaching children positive, nonviolent social skills than parents in the control group.

The National Resource Center on Domestic Violence’s Runaway and Homeless Youth and Relationship Violence Toolkit recommends the following tools for determining whether young people are victims of violence:

The following guides, published by the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, can help young people cope with the lingering effects of childhood abuse:

(Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of NCFY, FYSB or the Administration for Children and Families. Go to the NCFY literature database for abstracts of these and other publications.)

Primary Sources is a summary of recent research on youth and families. Got a research topic you want to learn more about? E-mail us and we may feature it in The Beat.<

9-5 pm Eastern