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April 1996

The Cycle of Violence: Revisited 6 Years Later

Author Affiliations

From the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Indiana University, Bloomington (Dr Maxfield), and the School of Criminal Justice, University at Albany (NY) (Dr Widom).

Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 1996;150(4):390-395. doi:10.1001/archpedi.1996.02170290056009

Objective:  To assess the long-term effects of child abuse and neglect on delinquency, adult criminality, and violent criminal behavior.

Design:  Prospective cohorts design that matched cases of abuse and neglect with those of controls. Follow-up data collection at 22 to 26 years following abuse or neglect.

Setting:  A metropolitan area in the Midwest.

Participants:  Substantiated cases of child abuse or neglect identified from court records that were obtained from 1967 through 1971 (n=908). Comparison group matched on the date of birth, race, sex, and approximate social class (n=667). The current mean age was 32.5 years.

Main Outcome Measures:  Official arrest records for nontraffic and violent crimes collected from local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies through mid-1994.

Results:  Childhood victims of abuse or neglect were more likely than controls to have a juvenile or adult arrest for any nontraffic offense (49% vs 38%) and for a violent crime (18% vs 14%). Victims of physical abuse and neglected children were more likely to be arrested for violence (odds ratios: 1.9 and 1.6, respectively), after controlling for age, race, and sex.

Conclusions:  Childhood abuse and neglect have a significant impact on the likelihood of arrest for delinquency, adult criminality, and violence. By the age of 32 years, almost half of the victims of abuse and neglect were arrested for a nontraffic offense. By responding to incidents of child abuse and neglect, health care professionals can play an important role in preventing future violence. More attention must be paid to childhood victims of neglect and to differences in the consequences of abuse and neglect by gender and race or ethnicity.(Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 1996;150:390-395)