Gender differences in the risk for delinquency among youth exposed to family violence

V M Herrera, L A McCloskey
Child Abuse & Neglect 2001, 25 (8): 1037-51

OBJECTIVE: The purpose of this research was to illuminate gender differences in adolescent delinquency against a backdrop of childhood exposure to both marital violence and physical child abuse. Specifically, analyses were performed to trace the unique effects of exposure to either form of family violence (marital or child) on the violent and nonviolent delinquency of boys and girls.

METHOD: This is a prospective study of 299 children who were interviewed with their mothers in 1991 about forms of abuse in the family. Approximately 5 years later a search of juvenile court records was performed for these same children. Details on the nature of the crimes were collected. Outcome variables included: (1) whether there was ever an arrest; and (2) whether there was ever an arrest for a violent crime.

RESULTS: Preliminary analyses indicated no gender differences in overall referral rates to juvenile court, although boys were more likely than girls to be referred for property, felony, and violent offenses. Exposure to marital violence in childhood predicted referral to juvenile court. Girls with a history of physical child abuse were arrested for violent offenses more than boys with similar histories, but the context of violent offenses differed dramatically by gender: Nearly all referrals for a violent offense for girls were for domestic violence.

CONCLUSIONS: Although boys and girls share similar family risk factors for delinquency, girls are more likely than boys to be arrested for violent offenses in the aftermath of child physical abuse. These findings suggest that it takes more severe abuse to prompt violence in girls than is necessary to explain boys' violent offending.

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