Is exposure to family violence a gateway to sexual violence? | HMA

Is exposure to family violence a gateway to sexual violence?

I have increasingly been interested in the question of pathways that lead a person to engage in harmful behaviour, such as family violence and sexual violence. While it is generally agreed that adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) create the conditions for more challenging behaviour as an adult, much of the research has been generalised. 

I was therefore excited to read the report by Ogilvie et. al (2022) Adverse childhood experiences among youth who offend: Examining exposure to domestic and family violence for male youth who perpetrate sexual harm and violence (ANROWS: Research Report, Issue 13, August 2022). 

The key findings from the report: 

  • ACEs were highly prevalent among young males who encountered the Youth Justice (YJ) system, exceeding rates typically observed in the general population.  
  • Male youth specifically exposed to DFV were, on average, younger at their first contact with YJ and had more extensive offending histories when compared to youth who were not exposed to DFV.  
  • Young males with sexual offences exhibited the highest rates of almost all ACEs compared to those with violent and non-violent offences, with exposure to DFV-related experiences being particularly prevalent (experienced by 37.0% of those with sexual offences, compared to 28.5% of those with violent and 20.1% of those with non-violent offences).  
  • Male youth with sexual offences, on average, had a higher accumulated number of ACEs (M = 3.3) compared to violent (M = 2.8) and non-violent (M = 2.0) offending male youth and were significantly more likely to have experienced sexual abuse. 
  • ACEs were highly prevalent among male youth who had engaged in sexual offending, with exposure to DFV being the most prevalent ACE (experienced by 58.6% of the sample).  
  • Those young males who experienced exposure to DFV had a higher number of co-occurring ACEs (M = 4.2) compared to those with no DFV exposure (M = 1.7). This was particularly evident among Australian First Nations male youth. A novel finding emerged for First Nations youth that the experience of DFV during childhood was linked to a greater likelihood of specific sexual offending and developmental outcomes (e.g. victim characteristics, the greater total number of ACEs). The results of colonisation, systemic racism and intergenerational trauma disproportionately impact First Nations youth, who had a higher risk of experiencing childhood trauma and maltreatment. 

Given these findings, the policy implications are clear. As the authors note, “This finding highlights the impact of childhood trauma on perpetuating cycles of violence and points to clear implications for system communication and intervention policies. The high prevalence and frequent co-occurrence of ACEs found in this research reinforces the need for consistent communication and collaboration between services attending to the care and protection needs of children, those that address health and behavioural problems for adolescents, and those that address criminogenic factors to reduce engagement in the YJ system (p. 9)

Published on Tuesday, September 6th, 2022, under Family violence, Offender work, What Ken thinks

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