Maternal Childhood Parental Abuse History and Current Intimate Partner Violence: Data from the Pacific Islands Families Study

By Paterson, Janis; Fairbairn-Dunlop, Peggy et al. | Violence and Victims, July 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

Maternal Childhood Parental Abuse History and Current Intimate Partner Violence: Data from the Pacific Islands Families Study


Paterson, Janis, Fairbairn-Dunlop, Peggy, Cowley-Malcolm, Esther Tumama, Schluter, Philip J., Violence and Victims


Pacific peoples are a rapidly growing but socially disadvantaged segment of New Zealand society. Within this context, individuals may be particularly vulnerable to the experience of intimate partner violence (IPV). The aim of the study was to establish the association between the experience of maternal and/or paternal emotional or physical abuse and current severe physical partner violence perpetration or victimization among a cohort of Pacific women. Paternal physical abuse was the only statistically significant risk factor from childhood parenting history that was independently associated with severe physical perpetration and victimization within the mother's current intimate partner relationship (RR 2.6). These findings highlight the deleterious effect of paternal physical violence on subsequent IPV and contribute to the development of empirically based and considered ways to approach these complex phenomena.

Keywords: longitudinal; cohort study; physical abuse; emotional abuse

As one of the fastest-growing population subgroups in New Zealand, Pacific peoples (those residents with a Pacific Islands heritage) form an integral part of New Zealand society (Cook, Didham, & Khawaja, 1999). In the 2000 census, over 230,00 people were of Pacific ethnicity, making up 6.5% of the New Zealand population (Statistics New Zealand, 2001). The Pacific population in New Zealand is diverse. Samoan people make up the largest group (49.6%), followed by Cook Island Maori (22.7%), Tongan (17.6%), Niuean (8.7%), Fijian (3.0%), Tokelauan (2.7%), and Tuvalu Islanders (0.8%). This ethnic diversity is manifest in differing cultures, languages, and access to (and utilization of) health and social services.

Migration between Pacific Island groups and countries around the Pacific was fueled by the search for employment and a higher standard of living (McPherson, 1981), resulting in 400,000 people of Pacific Islands ethnicity living in the rim countries of the Pacific by the mid-1990s (Ward, 1996). New Zealand has a long history of migration with many people migrating from the Pacific Islands during the 1960s (Bedford & Didham, 2001; Meleisea & Schoeffel, 1998). Despite this growth, Pacific peoples remain relatively socioeconomically disadvantaged in New Zealand society. The employment rate and labor force participation of Pacific people is lower than in the total population, as is the annual median income. Pacific people are more likely to be living in poverty with restricted access to higher education, home ownership, and access to functional amenities such as automobiles and telephones. They are also overrepresented in multiple adverse health and social statistics (Bathgate et al., 1994; Statistics New Zealand, 2002).

Abusive parenting is an international problem that is evident across historical periods and cultural and national boundaries (Collier, McClure, Collier, Otto, & Polloi, 1999). Community and parental attitudes about parenting practices help determine what is viewed as abuse as well as reflect cultural values and priorities (Schultz, 1995). Within the Pacific Islands, physical punishment, often to extreme levels, is frequently described as acceptable (Counts, 1990; Marcus, 1991; Schultz, 1995). Culture-bound beliefs have been offered as explanations of these behaviors, for example, the notion that heavy discipline is necessary because poor behavior can bring shame to the whole family (Fairbairn-Dunlop, 1981; Freeman, 1983). Some view the use of physical discipline as integral to the Pacific customary ways and acknowledge the influence of Christian teachings on these practices (Duituturaga, 1988). Others see this as a response to the pressures of changing lifestyles in New Zealand, including an increase in the number of nuclear family units, urbanization, and the economic vulnerability of Pacific Island people today (Cook et al., 1999). Still others describe physical discipline to be a result of Pacific Island parents' efforts to uphold the customary ways within a development framework (Fairbairn-Dunlop, 2001). …

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