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Child Abuse

Cycle of Child Abuse

09/08/2000

Question:

I would like to have a complete definition/explanation of the child abuse cycle please... I`m aware of the cycle of abuse in a couple but I`m really not sure if it`s the same thing for a child. Thanks!

Answer:

The `generational cycle of child abuse` is usually defined as children who experience child abuse within their family are at higher risk to abuse their own children. Sometimes this is bluntly stated as `children who are abused grow up to become child abusers.` Whether or not this is true has been examined a number of times. Two comprehensive reviews of the research literature found that the transmission rate of child abuse across generations was about 30%. That is about 1 in 3 abused children became an abusive parent. Most recently, a paper in Lancet re-examined this for physical abuse, imposing strict criteria on the studies it reviewed. The single best controlled study - performed by Egeland et al. at University of Minnesota Child Development Program - found that children who were physically abused were 12.6 times more likely to physically abuse their own children. However, the next most rigorously conducted study found no difference in abuse rates between abused and non-abused parents. While working with abusive families one often hears histories of multigenerational child abuse. However, these studies make it clear that most individuals abused as children DO NOT become abusive parents.

Frank Putnam, MD

For more information:

Go to the Child Abuse health topic, where you can:

Response by:

Robert Shapiro, MD
Professor of Clinical Pediatrics
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati