The origin of maltreatment: An exploratory study on the intergenerational transmission of child abuse Typologies

Raquel V. Oliveira, João Maroco, Lúcia G. Pais

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The way child maltreatment has been seen and dealt with has changed over time. Nowadays, it is a phenomenon of great importance and social recognition, being the target of many studies, and having led to the creation and implementation of several protection measures. The intergenerational transmission of maltreatment is one of the main causes for current child abuse and neglect. In this way, our objective was to assess whether a transmission of abuse typologies occurred, in the cases where an intergenerational transmission of mal -treatment is observed. Thus, we developed an exploratory study using a convenience sample of 10 child aggressors, who had been victims of abuse during their own childhood, from the district. All participants fulfilled the inclusion criteria and had similar socio-economic background. The participants gave their informed consent to participate in this study. For data collection we used a semi-structured interview, developed specifically for this study, and a socio-demographic questionnaire that enabled a characterization of the sample. All the interviews were recorded and transcribed verbatim. The data produced was then analyzed using as used content analysis, to study the textual data collected with the interviews, and principal components analysis. Fisher's test was used to determine the association between suffered and inflicted types of abuse (p <.005 was considered significant). Based on our data analysis we observed that in seven cases there was an intergenerational transmission of Physical Abuse, in two cases of Psychological Abuse and in another two cases of Neglect. In four cases different types of abuse, than those suffered, arose. In five cases, several types of abuse were inflicted concomitantly. However, there was no statistically significant relation between the types of abuse suffered and those inflicted. Furthermore, 813 recording units (r.u. - which are basic codification units) were obtained in the content analysis, throughout the seven pre-categories (21 categories, 10 subcategories). The content analysis' categories Family Environment and Intra-family Relationships, were the ones with the highest number of r.u., and also the most disparate, when compared with the remaining categories (Family Environment = 218 r.u., Intra-family Relationships = 151 r.u.); being followed by Physical Abuse (87 r.u.) and Feelings towards the Perpetrator (58 r.u.). In opposition, the cate gories with the lowest number of r.u. were Sexual Abuse (1 r.u.) and Aggressor as Recognized Iden tification Figure (4 r.u.). Moreover, we also found differences between the participants who inflict Physical Abuse and those who are negligent, as Physical Abuse is transmitted in most cases while negligence is not. Differences were also found in the quality of the family environment, outside-family relationships and self-recognition as aggressors. A relation between excusing/exonerating the aggressor and feeling self-guilt for the abuse was found. Also, a relation between naming the aggressor as the identification figure and self-recognition as an aggressor was found in this sample. A principal component analysis was performed and the results evidenced that the context where the abuse occurs is better explained by a twodimension model, being the dimensions Maltreatment and Social Interactions and Abuse Context, Feelings and Perceptions. Strong associations were found between Psychological and Physical Abuse, Interpersonal Relationships, Feelings towards Abuse, and Toxic Habits/Con sump tions, or no apparent reason as causes for abuse; and between being the only victim of aggressions, perceiv ing other (not the aggressor) as an identification figure and negative feelings towards the aggressor. The transmission of abuse typologies was not statistically significant in this sample; however associations between contextual aspects were found and are discussed along with the limitations and implications of this study. Furthermore, we believe this information could be applied in the development of primary prevention and intervention programs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)253-269
Number of pages17
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Aggressors
  • Children
  • Intergenerational
  • Maltreatment
  • Maltreatment types

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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