The Mediating Effect of Hostility toward Women on the Relationship between Childhood Emotional Abuse and Sexual Violence Perpetration

Article excerpt

Some evidence suggests that childhood emotional abuse (CEA) may serve as a risk factor for sexual violence (SV) perpetration; however, little is known about the mechanisms by which CEA may influence SV. This study examined the relationship between CEA and SV by assessing the mediating role of hostility toward women (HTW) in a sample of adjudicated adult males (N = 360). Approximately 1 in 5 participants was classified as sexually violent based on self-reported behavior and/or criminal records. Results indicated that CEA significantly predicted HTW and SV, and HTW significantly predicted SV. As hypothesized, the relationship between CEA and SV was no longer significant after con- trolling for HTW, supporting the role of HTW as a mediator between CEA and SV. Efforts that aim to prevent CEA or that address early aggressive attitudes or behavior toward women may have a positive impact on preventing or reducing SV.

Keywords: psychological abuse; rape; sexual violence; child maltreatment; sexual coercion

Sexual violence (SV) is a pervasive public health issue, with recent estimates suggesting that approximately 20% of U.S. women have been forcibly raped in their lifetime (Black et al., 2011). In addition, earlier data from the National Violence Against Women Survey indicated that at least 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men had experienced an attempted or completed rape during their lifetime (Tjaden & Thoennes, 2000). There are significant negative short- and long-term health consequences for victims of SV, including posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, and substance use (Borowsky, Hogan, & Ireland, 1997; Kilpatrick, Resnick, Ruggiero, Conoscenti, & McCauley, 2007; Walker et al., 1999). Understanding the causes and correlates of SV perpetration is criti cal to informing prevention efforts and reducing the harm associated with SV victimization. Research over the past few decades has begun to identify a range of risk factors and correlates associated with SV as a means of understanding and preventing SV perpetration. These risk factors and correlates span a range of individual, peer, family, and community characteristics and include factors such as child maltreatment (Widom, 2001), witnessing interpersonal violence (Borowsky et al., 1997), and emotionally unsupportive family environments (Meyerson, Long, Miranda, & Marx, 2002). One well-established model of SV perpetration, the confluence model developed by Malamuth, Sockloskie, Koss, and Tanaka (1991), suggests that some individual risk factors for perpetration may originate or be directly influenced by family background factors such as early negative home environments and parent-child interactions. Specifically, tests of these models (Malamuth, 1998; Malamuth, Linz, Heavey, Barnes, & Acker, 1995; Malamuth et al., 1991) suggest that exposure to these early negative home environments is associated with an increased risk of exposure to deviant peer groups and engaging in risky behaviors, including early sexual behavior, which in turn are associated with an increased risk of SV perpetration. These experiences interact with the development of attitudes supportive of rape and hostile masculinity to predict involvement in SV (Malamuth, 1998; Malamuth et al., 1995; Malamuth et al., 1991). Consistent with this model, this article is focused on examining one potential mechanism by which exposure to hostile childhood environments may increase later risk for SV perpetration among males. Specifically, we examine whether the predictive relationship between childhood emotional abuse (CEA) and later SV perpetration can be explained, in part, by the development of hostile attitudes toward women. We chose to focus on CEA, in particular, because of consistent emerging evidence of a relationship between these experiences and SV behavior and to expand understanding of the ways in which this relatively understudied form of child maltreatment may function to create negative outcomes for victims. …