How Much Does "How Much" Matter?

Assessing the Relationship Between Children's Lifetime Exposure to Violence and Trauma Symptoms, Behavior Problems, and Parenting Stress

Published in: Journal of Interpersonal Violence, v. 28, no. 6, Apr. 2013, p. 1338-1362

Posted on RAND.org on April 01, 2013

by Laura J. Hickman, Lisa H. Jaycox, Claude Messan Setodji, Aaron Kofner, Dana Schultz, Dionne Barnes-Proby, Racine Harris

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The study explores whether and how lifetime violence exposure is related to a set of negative symptoms: child internalizing and externalizing behavior problems, child trauma symptoms, and parenting stress. Using a large sample of violence-exposed children recruited to participate in intervention research, the study employs different methods of measuring that exposure. These include total frequency of all lifetime exposure, total frequency of lifetime exposure by broad category (i.e., assault, maltreatment, sexual abuse, and witnessing violence), and polyvictimization defined as exposure to multiple violence categories. The results indicate that only polyvictimization, constructed as a dichotomous variable indicating two or more categories of lifetime exposure, emerged as a consistent predictor of negative symptoms. The total lifetime frequency of all violence exposure was not associated with negative symptoms, after controlling for the influence of polyvictimization. Likewise, in the presence of a dichotomous polyvictimization indicator the total lifetime frequency of exposure to a particular violence category was unrelated to symptoms overall, with the exception of trauma symptoms and experiences of sexual abuse. Taken together, these findings suggest that total lifetime exposure is not particularly important to negative symptoms, nor is any particular category of exposure after controlling for polyvictimization, with the single exception of sexual abuse and trauma symptoms. Instead, it is the mix of exposure experiences that predict negative impacts on children in this sample. Further research is needed to continue to explore and test these issues.

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