Sexual and Physical Violence in Childhood Is Associated With Adult Intimate Partner Violence and Nonpartner Sexual Violence in a Representative Sample of Rural South African Men and Women

J Interpers Violence. 2019 Feb 8;886260519827661. doi: 10.1177/0886260519827661. Online ahead of print.


Intimate partner violence, nonpartner sexual violence, and physical and sexual violence against children are significant public health issues in South Africa. Theory suggests that experiencing violence in childhood plays a role in propensity to perpetrate violence or vulnerability to violence in adulthood. Most research to date on this topic has been conducted in high-resource countries or within urban or high-risk populations. We explore the relationship between violence in childhood and violence in adulthood in a community-based sample of 18- to 49-year-old adults in rural South Africa using data from a population-based survey ( N = 1,044) in North West province in 2014. We measured childhood violence before age 15 years, experience of nonpartner sexual violence in adulthood, and IPV victimization and perpetration in the last 12 months. We conducted multivariate logistic regression; gender was tested as an effect modifier. All estimates are weighted to the subdistrict population. More women (2.7%) than men (0.8%) reported childhood forced sex, whereas fewer women (2.0%) than men (7.9%) reported childhood physical violence. Women and men reported similar rates of IPV victimization (6.8% vs. 5.4%), IPV perpetration (3.3% vs. 4.8%), and forced sex by a nonpartner (1.6% vs. 1.2%). We found that men and women who experienced childhood violence (combined physical and/or sexual) were significantly more likely to experience forced sex by a nonpartner (men: adjusted odds ratio [aOR] = 5.53, 95% confidence interval [CI] = [1.27, 24.0], p < .05; women: aOR = 51.1, 95% CI = [10.58, 246.3], p < .01) compared with those who did not experience childhood violence. They were also 2.5 times as likely to perpetrate recent IPV (aOR = 2.5, 95% CI = [0.97, 6.7], p = .06) or experience recent IPV (aOR = 2.5, 95% CI = [0.9, 6.9], p = .07), although this finding was marginally significant. These results align with the literature from other settings and population groups.

Keywords: South Africa; childhood violence; intimate partner violence; sexual violence.