The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Childhood Trauma in a Sample of Prisoners in China

Thursday, January 16, 2014: 2:00 PM
HBG Convention Center, Room 003A River Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Jeffrey Shook, PhD, JD, Associate Professor, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Amy L. Ai, PhD, Professor, Associate Dean for Research, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL
Hyejin Kim, MA, Doctoral Candidate, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL
Background and Objectives: The behavioral consequences of early-life traumatic experience have drawn growing attention in the West over the last several decades. Evidence has associated childhood maltreatment with physical health issues, sexual difficulties, and mental and behavioral health problems, including decreased self-esteem, adulthood personality disorders, and subsequent criminality. Little is known about its prevalence and consequences in China, especially the relationship between such trauma and criminal behaviors in adulthood. Clearly, there is a lack of awareness of the modern conception of maltreatment in the Chinese cultural context and short of legal definition of maltreatment. The aims of this study were twofold: (1) to explore the prevalence of self-reported childhood maltreatment in a large incarcerated adult sample there, and, (2) to examine relationships between childhood maltreatment and offense types.

Methods: The survey was initially conducted in all eleven prisons in Beijing, China. Three hundred participants from each prison were randomly chosen for the survey and received several work-points as compensation. A retrospective self-reported survey was administered to a sample of 2,690 incarcerated adults (2,410 male and 280 female) in all eleven jails in Beijing, the capital of China. Participants completed a self-reported survey that included Childhood Trauma Questionnaire assessing five types of childhood maltreatment (emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional neglect and physical neglect). Analysis of variance (ANOVA) and logistic regression were conducted to identify the relationship between childhood maltreatment and crime types with the male subsample with the available data on crime type records.

Results: Approximately 98% of the participants reported experiencing at least one form of childhood maltreatment. The prevalence of maltreatment ranged from 16.5% for emotional abuse to 91.2% for physical neglect. Almost 90% participants reported more than one form of childhood maltreatment. Men and women had significantly different rates of physical abuse, sexual abuse and emotional neglect. Chi-square tests indicated that men reported high levels of physical abuse, whereas women reported high levels of emotional neglect. Of the subgroup, ANOVA analyses found that physical abuse was the only maltreatment type that was significantly related to an offense type (p<.05). The simultaneous logistic regression analyses indicated that childhood physical abuse significantly predicted violent crime (OR=1.088), whereas sexual abuse was inversely related to violent crime (OR=.921).

Implications: This study is the first to report on child maltreatment among a large sample of incarcerated individuals in China. Findings indicate that the prevalence of childhood maltreatment among this population is extremely high, and that there is a relationship between childhood physical abuse and commitment to jail for violent crimes in adulthood. These findings are generally consistent with those from the United States and other western countries that show that high percentages of individuals involved in the justice systems experienced childhood maltreatment (Johnson et al., 2006; Sappington, 2000).  The data clearly indicate the importance of developing appropriate interventions in order to prevent childhood maltreatment that may lead to social deviation in China, where Confucianism that defined the socio-moral value system has being strongly influenced the conventional parenting pattern in the society.