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Researchers: Child Abuse is Intergenerational, Female Victims Face More Obstacles

by on May 05, 2014 4:48 PM

Child abuse researchers say child abuse is intergenerational and female victims of child abuse face more obstacles as they get older and have their own children.

Researchers say parents with a history of child abuse are more likely to demonstrate poor parenting practices and abuse their children. Their children are at risk for disturbances in insecure attachment, self-development, moral development and emotion recognition.

Of parents who were abused as children, females face more obstacles, according to Laura Ann McCloskey, director of Indiana University's Center for Research on Health Disparities. McCloskey spoke Monday afternoon at Penn State's third annual conference on child protection and well-being held at the Nittany Lion Inn.

Married couples have the lowest rates of child neglect and the highest rate is among single women who have their partner living with them, McCloskey says.

One obstacle for women who suffered from child abuse is the growing income disparity between men and women with 14 to 15 percent of women living in poverty compared to 10 to 11 percent of men, McCloskey says.

"It is showing that there are fundamental disparities, that women are shouldering the burden of family formation and they're not getting much support in their society," says McCloskey.

Additionally, girls who are sexually abused are at great risk of running away and therefore becoming involved in prostitution. Female victims of abuse are also more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. Both factors increase the risk of teen pregnancy, says McCloskey, meaning the girl is likely unequipped to properly raise the child and lacks a solid support system to assist her with parenting.

"There's something unique about some of the forms of abuse that girls experience and how it influences and affects their lives," says McCloskey.

Furthermore, if a woman is in a violent relationship it was very likely that she was sexually abused in her past and that her own mother was battered. And girls who are sexually abused are more likely to be rejected by their mothers in their teenage years, eliminating a key tie to support.

"There seems to be a pretty strong root of transmission," McCloskey says.

Jennie Noll, a researcher with Penn State, says those who are abused do not necessarily become abusers, but they are more likely to fail to protect children and intervene to stop abuse.

Additionally, she says research shows mother's who suffered from child abuse are more likely to have a baby prematurely, which impacts their child's development. Women who suffered from child abuse and had a baby as a teenager are more likely to see that child go to protective services.

Noll says the knowledge that child abuse often results in teen pregnancy indicates part of the solution in preventing child abuse is preventing teen pregnancy. By addressing teen pregnancy, Noll says that can help stop the intergenerational transition of child abuse.

"It turns prevention on its ear a little bit," Noll says.

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Jennifer Miller is a reporter for She has worked in journalism since 2005. She's covered news at the local, state and national level with an emphasis on crime and local government.
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