Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

17053 Pathways In the Victim-to-Victimizer Relationship: A Comparison of Incarcerated Juvenile Sexual Abusers and General Delinquents

Thursday, January 12, 2012: 2:00 PM
Arlington (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Adam Brown, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Kevin Tan, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
David L. Burton, PhD, Asst Professor, Smith College, Northampton, MA
Purpose: The purpose of this study is to test a proposed pathway from childhood trauma to sexually abusive behavior. Sexual offending and general delinquency has partly been explained by childhood victimization (Burton, Miller & Shill, 2002). Moreover, youthful sexual abusers not only commit nonsexual crimes (Brown & Burton, 2010), but they are also more likely than their counterparts to continue on a path of nonsexual criminality into adulthood (Bullens, van Wijk & Mali, 2006). Executive functioning is used to describe higher-order cognitive processes: processing new information, planning, memory, following-through on tasks, and impulse control. Deficits in executive functioning have explained some behaviors among sexual abusers and delinquents (McCann & Lussier, 2008), but have yet to be linked with trauma. Positive parental attachment, which is a well-established protective factor against negative behaviors in youth (e.g., Mortimer & Larson, 2002), is explored to determine whether differences in the role of this factor exist between groups. Path analysis is used to test three relationships: 1) Trauma- Antisocial Behavior- Attachment to Parents- Offender Type, 2) Trauma-Executive Functioning- Attachment to Parents- Offender Type, and 3) Trauma- Offender Type.

Methods: Surveys were administered to 332 male adolescent sexual abusers and 170 general delinquents, placed in six residential facilities in a Midwestern state. Type of offender was dummy-coded. Different types of trauma were measured with The Childhood Trauma Questionnaire (Bernstein & Fink, 1998). Delinquent behaviors were measured using Elliot, Huizinga, and Ageton's (1985) Self-Reported Delinquency (SRD) scale. A 10-item scale was created to measure deficits of executive functioning. Parental attachment was measured using the revised version of the Inventory of Parent and Peer Attachment (Armsden & Greenberg, 1987). Variables were entered into two path models. In the first model, all hypothesized pathways were tested. In the second model, only pathways that were statistically significant from the first model were included. Path coefficients from the second model are used for further discussion and have acceptable model-fit statistics.

Results: Path analysis showed two significant pathways from childhood trauma to sexual abusing. The first pathway is a direct causal relation between childhood trauma and sexual abusing, moderated by executive functioning (p ≤ 0.001). The second pathway showed executive functioning to have a mediating effect in the relationship between childhood trauma and sexual abusing (p ≤ 0.001). Finally, a third pathway was discovered from childhood trauma to negative parental attachment, mediated by delinquent behavior (p ≤ 0.001). Although this final pathway is an unsurprising finding, it is interesting that the path ended with negative parental attachment, showing no significant relationship with being a sexual abuser.

Implications: Findings provide an important step forward in understanding the problem of youth sexual abuse. Executive functioning as both a mediator and moderator in the relationship of trauma and sexual abusing might explain why most youth who are victimized do not go on to repeat the cycle of violence. Implications for intervention and further research include focusing on the early screening and treatment of executive functioning, particularly for victims of abuse.