Background: Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a significant social problem in the U.S. and the most prevalent among college students than in any other population. Factors embedded in individuals have been widely explored. However, much less is known about the contribution of the community environment, such as community cohesion and safety during childhood, to childhood family violence (e.g., child abuse and neglect and witnessing parental IPV) and later IPV experience. This study aims to 1) understand the effect of childhood community environment on childhood family violence experience and later IPV perpetration and victimization; 2) assess the mediating effect of childhood family violence experience between childhood community environment and IPV victimization and perpetration; and 3) distinguish the effect of direct vs. indirect family violence.
Methods: Survey data used in this study were collected at six universities in the U.S. and one university in Canada (N=4,723). The four variables measuring the experience of violence included in the model – IPV perpetration, IPV victimization, childhood abuse and neglect, and witnessing parental domestic violence - were dichotomized to address the issues related to normality. The community environment, which was measured by a 7-item questionnaire about community cohesion and safety in childhood, was used as a continuous variable. Logistic regression path analysis was performed to test the association among these variables.
Results: Among current college students, 3,193 students who responded to all variables used in the study were selected as final study participants (mean age of 21.71). We found that community cohesion and safety in childhood are negatively associated with direct (β=-.221, p<.0001) and indirect (β=-.179, p<.0001) family violence experiences in childhood, and IPV perpetration (β=-.060, p=.001) and victimization (β=-.047, p=.010) of college students. In addition, the direct and indirect experience of family violence in childhood had a positive relationship with the IPV perpetration (direct:β=.103, p<.0001 ; indirect: β=.089, p<.0001) and victimization (direct:β=.108, p<.0001; indirect:β=.083, p<.0001 ) experience of college students and mediated the path between the community cohesion and safety and the IPV perpetration (β=-.038, p<.0001) and victimization (β=-.038, p<.0001). Additionally, the effect of direct childhood family violence experience showed a more substantial magnitude on IPV victimization and perpetration than the indirect experience of family violence.
Discussion: The findings of this study demonstrate that childhood community environment matters for later IPV perpetration and victimization experiences and childhood family violence experience mediates those relationships. It can also be suggested that the magnitude of influence on IPV may be different depending on the type of childhood family violence. Based on the results of this study, effective IPV prevention and intervention may be possible by identifying the unsolved traumatic events in childhood among college students with IPV experiences. In addition, in the case of childhood violence experiences, by distinguishing the effect of direct harm and indirect exposure, it can contribute to capturing the nature of these relationships in-depth.