Methods: Participants (N = 60; average age 19.4 years; 42% African American, 25% biracial, 18% White, 15% Latina; 97% receiving some form of public assistance) were recruited from five community sites that serve young mothers and interviewed about their experiences with victimization during childhood and adolescence, using the LHC. We adapted commonly-used measures to assess year-by-year for community/school violence (Things I Have Seen and Heard), witnessing IPV and physical maltreatment by a caregiver (Revised Conflict Tactics Scale, or CTS2), and sexual victimization (Russell’s Child Sexual Abuse Framework), all beginning at age 5, as well as IPV victimization (CTS2), beginning at age of first partner; we obtained an average of 15.7 years of data per participant. We used longitudinal MLM to estimate the effects of cumulative victimization, during childhood (by age 12) and over adolescence, on the participants’ IPV victimization at age 16 and over time, controlling for age at first partner and average number of partners; we defined individual participants as the Level 2 unit of analysis and repeated measurements nested within each young woman as the Level 1 unit.
Results: In the unconditional model, IPV victimization increased significantly over time. Our model was improved by adding cumulative victimization during childhood and over adolescence as predictors. Time continued to be a significant predictor of the trajectories of IPV victimization, with each year associated with a .13 increase in victimization; we found heterogeneity across participants in terms of their level of IPV victimization at age 16. Controlling for age at first partner, average number of partners, and cumulative victimization over adolescence, we found that higher levels of childhood cumulative victimization were associated with steeper upward trajectories of IPV victimization, in comparison to average levels of childhood cumulative victimization.
Conclusions: In this diverse sample of poor young mothers, cumulative victimization during childhood is a critically important predictor of their risk of adolescent IPV victimization over time. If we are serious about designing effective adolescent IPV prevention strategies and interventions —especially for those who are at high risk—we must intervene early and take cumulative victimization during childhood and its lingering effects into account.