The relationships between harsh physical punishment and child maltreatment in childhood and intimate partner violence in adulthood

BMC Public Health. 2017 May 23;17(1):493. doi: 10.1186/s12889-017-4359-8.


Background: Physical punishment of children is an important public health concern. Yet, few studies have examined how physical punishment is related to other types of child maltreatment and violence across the lifespan. Therefore, the objective of the current study was to examine if harsh physical punishment (i.e., being pushed, grabbed, shoved, hit, and/or slapped without causing marks, bruises, or injury) is associated with an increased likelihood of more severe childhood maltreatment (i.e., physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, physical neglect, emotional neglect, and exposure to intimate partner violence (IPV)) in childhood and perpetration or victimization of IPV in adulthood.

Methods: Data were drawn from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions collected in 2004 to 2005 (n = 34,402, response rate = 86.7%), a representative United States adult sample.

Results: Harsh physical punishment was associated with increased odds of childhood maltreatment, including emotional abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse, physical neglect, emotional neglect, and exposure to IPV after adjusting for sociodemographic factors, family history of dysfunction, and other child maltreatment types (range 1.6 to 26.6). Harsh physical punishment was also related to increased odds of experiencing IPV in adulthood (range 1.4 to 1.7).

Conclusions: It is important for parents and professionals working with children to be aware that pushing, grabbing, shoving, hitting, or slapping children may increase the likelihood of emotional abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse, physical neglect, emotional neglect, and exposure to IPV in childhood and also experiencing IPV victimization and/or perpetration in later adulthood.

Keywords: And family violence; Child abuse; Child neglect; Intimate partner violence; Physical abuse; Physical punishment; Sexual abuse.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Crime Victims / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intimate Partner Violence / psychology*
  • Intimate Partner Violence / statistics & numerical data*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Odds Ratio
  • Personality Disorders / psychology*
  • Punishment / psychology*
  • United States
  • Violence / psychology*

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