JOURNAL ARTICLE

Experience of physical abuse in childhood and perpetration of physical punishment and violence in adulthood amongst fathers: findings from the Pacific Islands Families Study

Philip J Schluter, El-Shadan Tautolo, Janis Paterson
Pacific Health Dialog 2011, 17 (2): 148-62
22675811

BACKGROUND: Family violence is a serious and increasingly significant public health issue, both in New Zealand and internationally. While Pacific families in New Zealand experience disproportionately higher rates of violence compared to their Palagi counterparts, little epidemiological information exists about the effect of childhood abuse on Pacific fathers and whether it increases their proclivity on perpetrating violence.

AIMS: To determine the prevalence of physical discipline administered to young Pacific children by their fathers and physical intimate partner violence (IPV) perpetrated against their partners; and to relate this to fathers' recalled levels of paternal and maternal childhood physical abuse.

METHODS: A cohort of Pacific infants born during 2000 in Auckland, New Zealand, was followed. At 6-weeks and 2-years postpartum, home interviews conducted for mothers and experience of IPV within the last 12 months was measured using the Conflict Tactics Scale. At 1-year and 2-years postpartum, home interviews conducted for fathers and acts of physical discipline were elicited. At the 1-year phase, childhood history of physical abuse was also elicited using the Exposure to Abusive and Supportive Environments Parenting Inventory. Crude and adjusted generalised estimating equation models were employed for statistical analyses.

RESULTS: The sample included 786 partnered fathers who were living with their child at the 1-year measurement wave and 579 fathers at the 2-years measurement wave. Smacking children was common (25.0% at 1-year, 81.7% at 2-years) and hitting children with an object was not infrequent (1.4% at 1-year, 14.2% at 2-years). Physical IPV perpetrated by the father ranged from 23.1% to 27.5% while severe IPV was reported by 10.1% to 14.3% of partners. Fathers subjected to higher levels of paternal physical abuse in childhood were significantly more likely to physically discipline their child with smacking than those with lower levels of paternal physical abuse, after adjusting for confounding factors; as were fathers subjected to higher levels of maternal physical abuse. While not statistically significant, fathers subjected to higher levels of paternal or maternal physical abuse in childhood had estimated odds ratios greater than unity for all other physical violence measures captured compared to fathers with lower levels of paternal or maternal physical abuse.

DISCUSSION: Violence perpetrated by fathers on children and their partners appears common for many Pacific families in New Zealand. These findings highlight the deleterious effect of paternal and maternal physical abuse in childhood on subsequent physical violence and IPV in adulthood. To break this intergenerational cycle of violence, culturally targeted and specific approaches are needed to negate this complex and damaging phenomena.

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