Study involving Case Western Reserve University identifies ways to break the cycle
Studies have shown that male
victims of domestic violence are at greater risk of growing up to be
perpetrators themselves. New research, done in
collaboration with Case Western Reserve University, suggests potential pathways
of how that devastating cycle might
exclusively on domestic violence offenders—overwhelmingly socioeconomically
disadvantaged men—and their exposure to adversity and trauma. In the
qualitative study, researchers surveyed 32 men enrolled in batterer-intervention
programs in Wisconsin.
The participants experienced difficulties
and risks in multiple forms in their lives—including personal, family,
community and societal challenges. Some of that adversity includes being
involved in the criminal justice system at an early age, gang involvement and
“growing up too early.”
“For example, we found that
nearly half of our participants made early life decisions, such as dropping out
of school and living independently before the age of 18, likely contributing to
their risky behavior later in life,” Voith said.
Breaking the cycle
As adults, men were in relationships
characterized by perpetrating domestic violence.
Overwhelmingly, they were exposed to
domestic violence in childhood, according to the study, recently published in the Journal of
Men’s Studies. But the men also reported
experiencing other adversities in their home-life such as parental substance
use, parents in jail, neglect and negative or absent role models.
“Then you add in community aspects of risk like poverty, violence, lack of resources or structure, high rates of single-parent families and exposure to crime and it becomes very complex,” Voith said. “It’s easy to get overly focused on these risks, but it behooves researchers to also examine positive aspects of these men’s lives in order to find potential ways to counter balance family or community challenges.
“In our study, we found that, even in the riskiest of environments, men still were exposed to protective factors and showed signs of resilience throughout childhood. What’s more, ‘resilience’ sometimes looked a little different based on how risky the environment was. Children and teens’ environmental context needs to be accounted for when we consider how resilient they are.”
Some of those “protective” factors include:
Involvement in healthy activities—such as athletics and music—because
they “facilitated positive development for young men’s social status or respect
and limited time and exposure with potentially dangerous actors in their
communities,” Voith said.
Fatherhood or youth involvement: “Opportunities to ‘be a man for
others’ prompted participants to leave or want to leave a life of crime behind
for a more stable life,” according to the study.
Having supportive adults in childhood: The findings suggest that having
a role model—even an uncle and/or a grandfather—in childhood helps buffer
exposure to adversity.