The effects of sexual abuse as a child on the risk of mothers physically abusing their children: A path analysis using systems theory

Susan C. Mapp, Elizabethtown College


Objective: The potential path from sexual abuse as a child to the current risk of physical abuse by mothers was assessed. Ontogenic variables including the experience of the parent's sexual abuse as a child and current depression or substance abuse were expected to have a greater impact on the risk of child abuse than microsystem and exosystem variables such as family functioning, domestic violence, income, community safety, and social support. Method: A path analysis using secondary data was conducted to examine these systemic impacts. The sample consisted of 265 women, the majority of whom were African-American with a high school education or GED. The majority of these women were employed, lower socio-economic status, and over 50% of the sample had never been married. Results: Sexual abuse as a child was found to impact maternal depression. Maternal depression and locus of control impacted risk of physical abuse. These two variables accounted for 22% of the variance in the dependent variable. Conclusion: These findings indicate that it may not be the experience of sexual abuse itself that has an impact on a mother's risk of physical abuse, but rather whether she is able to resolve that trauma. Her locus of control appears to be important in this resolution. The majority of these women were low-income, urban African-American women; it may be important to focus on locus of control for this population. © 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.