The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Exposure to Intimate Partner Violence and the Experience of Immigration Among Mexican Heritage Youth: An Ecological Perspective

Saturday, January 19, 2013: 9:00 AM
Seabreeze 1 and 2 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Lela Rankin Williams, PhD, Assistant Professor, Arizona State University, Tucson, AZ
Background and Purpose:

Latino adolescents, particularly those from low-income urban communities, experience higher rates of violence than non-Latino youth. Immigrant youth are at greater risk for violence exposure due to risk factors associated with the migration and postmigration process (Jaycox et al., 2002) and when they settle into urban US communities marked by crime and poverty. The majority (92.4%) of Latino immigrant youth report at least some exposure to violence in the last 6 months (Gudino et al., 2011). Less is known about Latino immigrants’ exposure to intimate partner violence (IPV) across the ecosystem and how this is experienced by level of acculturation and immigration generation.


Mexican American adolescents (N=279; 15-17 years, M=16.17, SD=.81) from an urban area in the Southwest participated in an online survey. The sample was 22.7% 1st generation (Mexican born), 53.3% 2nd generation (parent(s) Mexican born, adolescents US born), and 24.1% 3rd generation or higher (parents and adolescents US born). Higher acculturation (Acculturation Rating Scale for Mexican Americans—Short Form; 10 items, Dawson et al., 1996) indicated greater Anglo- (relative to Mexican)-orientation. Adolescents recalled incidents of IPV violence they witnessed in the past two weeks, including: physical (e.g., hitting, throwing objects), emotional/verbal (e.g., name-calling, being controlled), relational (e.g., spreading rumors), threatening behavior (e.g., threatening to destroy something/hurt), and sexual (force/pressure to participate in unwanted sexual activity). Each incident included follow-up questions on the perpetrators/victims, the location, and the severity (from minimal to extreme on a 5-point scale).


In the prior two weeks, 53.7% of adolescents had witnessed at least 1 incident of IPV violence. Specifically, 35.0% witnessed emotional violence, 22.9% witnessed physical violence, 10.6% witnessed relational violence, 5.6% witnessed threatening behavior, and 6.9% witnessed sexual violence. Across generational status, 1st generation adolescents witnessed the least (44.7%), followed by 2nd generation (50.9%), and then 3rd+ generation (67.3%), χ2(2)= 5.99, p < .05. Higher acculturated adolescents were more likely to witness violence, r = .144, p < .05, and rated sexual violence incident(s) as more severe, r = .542, p < .05, than less acculturated youth. The majority of violence involved their peers (59.7%), followed by parents/guardians (18.1%), unknown adults (10.4%) and known adults from their neighborhood/community (7.6%), and other (4.2%, e.g. soap opera). Violence took place across the ecosystem, including in their: home (21.4%), partners/friends home (21.4%), school (20.2%), neighborhood (9.8%), work (6.4%), and other public places (20.8%).


Immigrant youth are more exposed to violence, including IPV, across the ecosystem. This risk increases as youth acculturate to US norms. Increased exposure to IPV, combined with an increased acceptance of violence in romantic relationships (Coker et al., 2008), has significant implications for adolescents health and well-being. First, home and school-based interventions are recommended: these contexts are where youth spend the majority of their time and where IPV is witnessed (63% of incidents). Second, interventions that include a socio-emotional component that challenge unhealthy behaviors modeled by the individuals closest to youth (i.e., peers and parents/guardians) yet are culturally grounded (i.e., incorporate familismo) are needed.