Does Family Violence Raise Risk of Peer Victimization in Adolescents?

Adolescents are at risk for many negative behaviors and consequences. Additionally, adolescence presents a time during which children begin to search for their identities. This pursuit often leads children to seek acceptance, and can result in peer pressure, peer influences, and peer victimization. Teens are vulnerable to victimization in many forms, including relational victimization, homophobic victimization, physical and verbal aggression, and even sexual harassment. Although there is an abundance of research examining the rates of peer victimization and perpetration in adolescents, and the deleterious outcomes of such patterns of behavior, less is known about the link between family violence and peer victimization. Specifically, what is the relationship between family violence and peer violence? To explore this link and further identify unique types of peer victimization, Dorothy L. Espelage of the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in Illinois conducted a study involving 992 children from fifth to eighth grades.

Espelage assessed the children for behaviors such as alcohol and drug use, as well as victimization. She also looked at what types of family violence they had experienced, if any. Finally, the children were measured for symptoms of depression. After analyzing the data, four patterns emerged. The children fell into groups that included relational victimization, homophobic victimization, minimal victimization, or polyvictimization. She found that the polyvictims and relational victims had higher levels of drug and alcohol use and more incidents of sexual or physical abuse than the other adolescents. Additionally, these two groups of adolescents reported more domestic violence and had higher rates of depression than the minimal or homophobic victims.

The results of this study showed that the polyvictims were represented by the smallest number of adolescents. However, these children experienced the most significant, diverse, and severe forms of violence when compared to the other participants. One of the most interesting findings was that the children with relational victimization and the polyvictims were those with a history of childhood sexual abuse or physical abuse. Although this study did show an elevated rate of drug and alcohol use among all the victim groups, the findings should be considered in light of the fact data was collected from one community and at one point in time. Despite this, Espelage believes that these results shed light on how family violence can have a spillover effect on peer behavior and consequences. “Findings from the current study highlight and validate the importance of distinguishing among single versus polyvictimization, as well as among types of peer victimization,” she added.

Espelage, Dorothy L., Sabina Low, and Lisa De La Rue. Relations between peer victimization subtypes, family violence, and psychological outcomes during early adolescence. Psychology of Violence 2.4 (2012): 313-24. Print.

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  • evey


    November 13th, 2012 at 4:16 PM

    Terrible that being this kind of victim at such an early age only sets you up for many more years of hurt and pain :(

  • Pat


    November 14th, 2012 at 4:04 AM

    So not only are these children feeling this kind of ectreme pain at home, then they have to go to school and then become someone else’s puching bag too. Geesh, what is this world coming to?

  • Christopher T

    Christopher T

    November 14th, 2012 at 7:21 AM

    Since when have 5th through 8th graders been considered adolescents?

  • Jody


    November 14th, 2012 at 7:25 AM

    I know people just roll their eyes at even the mention of Dr. Phil, but he did say something one time that has really stuck with me through my parenting years. When you fight in front of children, you change who they are. This phenomenon is definitely illustrated in this study and shows the harmful repercussions of family strife at home. To say that abusing a child is unfair is an understatement. It robs them of their chance in life to live up to their full potential without a tremendous amount of struggle. Unfortunately, all too often, abused children give up the struggle and end up not living up to all that they could have been. We as a society need to stand up and figure out a way to stop abuse in the home.

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