Abstract: Relationships between Early Life Victimization, Antisocial Traits, and Sexual Violence: Executive Functioning As a Mediator (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

Relationships between Early Life Victimization, Antisocial Traits, and Sexual Violence: Executive Functioning As a Mediator

Friday, January 17, 2020
Liberty Ballroom K, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Jamie Yoder, PhD, Assistant Professor, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO
Melissa Grady, PhD, Associate Professor, The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC
Madison Precht, MSW, Doctoral Student, Colorado State University
The relationship between victimization and executive functioning has been explored in both the general youth population and the juvenile justice system (Davis, Moss, Nogin, & Webb, 2015; Nikulina & Spatz Widom, 2013). Trauma incidents can adversely impact neurological zones responsible for higher order thinking or executive function (Steinberg, 2008), which can contribute to a host of psychological and behavioral deficits (Jaffee & Maikovich-Fong, 2014). Yet, there is scant research on how the relationship between trauma and executive functioning can influence sexual offending behaviors among adolescents. The current study tests an adapted theory of sexual violence that includes executive functioning (Knight & Sims-Knight, 2004). Tested are the following: H1: There will be direct relationships between physical abuse, sexual abuse, and domestic traumatic events and executive function deficits. H2: There will be associations between early victimization and sexual violence, early victimization; and callousness, and executive function deficits and sexual violence. H3: Executive functioning deficits and callousness will mediate the relationship between early victimization and sexual violence.

            Youth residentially placed (N= 200) were asked to report early victimization experiences, meta-cognition features of executive functioning, antisocial characteristics, type of criminal behavior, and caregivers’ attachment characteristics. The measures included the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire (Bernstein et al., 1994), Domestic Trauma Experiences (Burton et al., 2011), Behavior Rating Index of Executive Function (Guy et al., 2004), and the Inventory of Callous and Unemotional Traits (Kimonis et al., 2008). This study employed a multiple mediated structural equation model (SEM) by first determining model fit using a confirmatory factor analysis to solidify the latent factors’ structures, and then conducted a path analysis between the factors.

Path analyses revealed we could partially accept H1: there were statistically significant direct pathways between experiences of sexual abuse and features of executive function including difficulties with working memory (ϒ = .307 (.13), p < .05), task completion (ϒ = .318 (.15), p < .05), organization of materials (ϒ = .397 (.14), p < .01), and planning and organizing (ϒ = .341 (.14), p < .05). However, physical abuse and domestic trauma experiences were not significant. We could partially support H2: there were bivariate associations between variables of interest indicating potential mediation. This was verified in H3: for each domain of executive function, there were either 1) linear associations between sexual abuse, executive function, callousness, and sexual violence or 2) a multi-mediated effect of executive function, and callousness in the relation between sexual abuse and sexual violence.

            The findings demonstrate that executive functioning is a significant mediator in the relationship between sexual abuse and sexual violence perpetration. For practitioners who work in prevention, these findings suggest that universal screenings are needed for differential forms of abuse among youth who exhibit symptomatology mirroring features of executive functioning impairments. Furthermore, conventional treatment programs can be adapted to include a neurological trauma-based component that considers the developmental timing of events, neurological processing, and amenability to treatment. Such trauma-based offender approaches can be delivered within a restorative justice framework that also builds empathy and emotional relatedness within relationships.