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Child abuse: a 'cycle of violence'?

Child abuse: A "cycle of violence'?

Researchers are increasingly questioning the popular notion that abused or neglected children often become abusive parents and violent criminals. In fact, says psychologist Cathy Spatz Widom of Indiana University in Bloomington, new data suggest the relationship between child abuse and later crimes of violence is neither straightforward nor certain.

Widom identified 908 cases of child abuse (physical and sexual) or neglect in county court records from a midwestern metropolitan area during the years 1967 through 1971. County birth records from the same time period provided a control group of 667 children, matched with the sample for age, sex, race and social class. Most subjects are now between 18 and 32 years old.

Nearly 29 percent of those abused and neglected as children were arrested for a criminal offense as an adult, compared to 21 percent of the controls, reports Widom in the July AMERICAN JOURNAL OF ORTHOPSYCHIATRY. While arrests for violent crimes were greater among abused or neglected subjects, particularly males, the difference was not statistically significant. Arrests for child abuse were comparable in the two groups. Seven out of 10 of the abused and neglected subjects had no record of adult crimes, Widom points out.

The findings apply only to the most extreme cases of abuse that come to the attention of juvenile or adult courts, she notes. Nevertheless, the evidence underscores the need to study factors deterring many abused and neglected children from carrying out a "cycle of violence." Less obvious psychological consequences of early abuse (SN: 4/22/89, p.246) also deserve more attention, Widom says.
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Title Annotation:Behavior
Publication:Science News
Date:Jul 22, 1989
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