Children who are victims of maltreatment, including those exposed to domestic violence, often have difficulty regulating emotions and behaviours and forming healthy relationships. Maltreated children learn to relate cautiously to others, sensitive to signs of anger or disapproval. Youth with histories of maltreatment are at greater risk for relationship-based difficulties in adolescence and involvement in domestic violence in adulthood. Maltreated youth often have internalized models of relationships structured according to “victims and victimizers” and can re-create this pattern of relating, along with associated issues of power, control, and gendered role expectations, in their peer and dating relationships.
This article discusses previous and ongoing research conducted by the authors linking childhood maltreatment to bullying, gender-based harassment, and adolescent dating violence. Noting that, while important, early relationships are not deterministic, the authors explore how abusive patterns of relating may be shaped, prevented, and ameliorated.
A longitudinal study explored the role of child maltreatment in shaping gender-based harassment. Adolescents who reported being victims of sexual harassment were more likely 2.5 years later to report having experienced sexual harassment, peer and dating violence, and to have perpetrated violent delinquency.
Two longitudinal studies investigated the connection between child maltreatment and relationship outcomes, in particular the association between previous maltreatment and current involvement in a violent dating relationship. Past maltreatment experiences were shown to influence relationships and well-being in patterns different for girls and boys. Girls were more likely to report symptoms of emotional distress (e.g., anger, anxiety, and depression) and boys almost three times more likely to report clinical levels of depression and post-traumatic stress. Followed a year later, the extent of violence against a dating partner for both girls and boys could be predicted on the basis of trauma symptoms self-reported the previous year.