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Family Violence Carries
from Youth to Adulthood

Excerpt By Alan Mozes, Reuter's Health

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Boys and girls who grow up either witnessing or being subjected to violence in their childhood homes appear to be more likely to suffer from or bring such violence into their own homes as adults--perpetuating, researchers say, a cycle of violence.

"Child abuse perpetration and partner abuse perpetration and victimization...increases the risk for adulthood family violence," said lead author Dr. Richard E. Heyman of the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

Heyman and his colleague Amy M. Smith Slep examined data on more than 6,000 American men and women collected by the 1985 National Family Violence Survey.

All the participants were heterosexual and over age 18. More than 80% were married at the time of the survey, while the rest were cohabiting, widowed, divorced, separated or single with a child younger than 18.

The participants were asked whether and how often they had witnessed serious physical abuse between their parents or had themselves been abused by a parent in childhood. In addition, study participants were asked whether they had engaged in any violent behavior "with a high potential for harm" directed at either their spouse/partner or their child.

The researchers found clear evidence for a "cycle of violence" among men and women--with childhood exposure to family violence increasing the likelihood of either instigating or being the victim of violence as an adult. However, in the current issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family, the authors point out that gender appeared to affect how this cycle played out.

Women who had both witnessed violence between their parents and were victims of parental abuse themselves were twice as likely to abuse their partner or children than mothers exposed to only one or the other.

Women appeared to be most greatly influenced by their mother's behavior. The likelihood a woman would abuse her child rose, they noted, with every witnessed incident in which their mother had attacked their father. Also, the investigators found that each incident increased the likelihood that a woman would abuse her partner by 6%.

In the case of men, however, Heyman and Slep observed that while exposure to childhood violence was also associated with current partner and child abuse, the likelihood of such abuse was not diminished if the father had witnessed only one form of parental abuse.

On the other hand, exposure to multiple forms of childhood violence did increase the likelihood that men would become victims of partner abuse. Each act of abuse by the man's father and mother raised the likelihood of being the victim of current partner abuse by about 10%.

This violence association held for women as well, with every act of abuse by the woman's mother raising the likelihood of being the victim of current partner abuse by 35%, the report indicates.

Men appeared to be most greatly influenced by their father's behavior. Each time a man had witnessed his father attacking his mother, the likelihood he would abuse a child or partner rose by 13% and 8%, respectively.

The researchers stressed, however, that despite the possibility of cyclical family violence, most boys and girls exposed to childhood violence don't grow up to be victims or instigators of violence themselves.

"We don't know whether childhood exposure to parental violence and childhood physical victimization are causal variables, or whether they are just part of a constellation of factors that may be increasing risk--such as poor parenting (or) family conflict," Heyman told Reuters Health. "Future studies should investigate both exposure to parental violence and physical victimization when investigating the 'cycle of violence."'

SOURCE: Journal of Marriage and Family 2002;64:864-870.

Reference Source 89


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