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.