The Cycle of Victimization: A Main Effect, Moderation, and Mediation Study
While basic research over the past several decades has generated considerable insight into the cycle of victimization, several limitations of this work persist. First, few longitudinal studies assess early victimization with prospective measures, particularly among at-risk samples. Second, considering the outcome of adult victimization, little is known about the long-term influence of deleterious family dynamics other than direct child abuse. Third, while theorists have proposed several psychosocial pathways leading to later victimization among maltreated children, investigators have yet to thoroughly examine mediators linking early victimization to later (re)victimization.
Consequently, we addressed the following three research questions primarily with a prospective measurement design. First, does early exposure to sexual or physical abuse and/or frequent family conflict increase risk for violent crime victimization in young adulthood? Second, does gender moderate this relationship? Third, does the presence of any adolescent depressive symptom mediate this relationship?
Methods: Data originated with the Chicago Longitudinal Study (CLS), a panel investigation of 1,142 low-income, minority participants who graduated from kindergarten in 1986. Multiple parent- and self-assessments along with ongoing administrative record searches yielded measures spanning childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood. For instance, files from the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services and the Cook County Juvenile Court informed official indicators of abuse. Items from an adolescent self-report survey contributed information about depression symptoms, while an adult self-report survey administered to participants during the ages of 22 to 24 produced a retrospective measure of frequent family conflict and a measure of adult violent crime victimization.
Results: Applying logistic regression with controls for key demographic characteristics and environmental risks, we found that early exposure (ages 0-11) to abuse and/or frequent family conflict significantly predicted later violent crime victimization. This main effect association was more evident for females than for males according to subgroup analyses; however, gender did not emerge as a significant moderator in a subsequent full-sample analysis. Using simple hierarchical logistical regression confirmed by structural equation modeling (in LISREL), we discovered that the presence of any depressive symptom in adolescence significantly mediated the main effect relationship of interest. Nevertheless, the magnitude of mediation was modest.
Conclusion and Implications: These results suggest that the prevention of child abuse as well as other conflictual or violent processes within the family could potentially decrease a child’s likelihood for victimization later in life. For those children who have been exposed to violence and/or persistent conflict in the home, reduction of depressive symptoms that manifest in adolescence could help prevent experiences or patterns of subsequent victimization. Theory and research highlight a number of developmental domains relevant to the emergence, treatment, or prevention of youth depression to which practitioners should attend, e.g., self-concept, emotion regulation, and social skills. Last, future research should explore gender differences in the cycle of victimization.