Skip to main content Accessibility help

Intimate partner violence as a mechanism underlying the intergenerational transmission of maltreatment among economically disadvantaged mothers and their adolescent daughters

  • Tangeria R. Adams (a1), Elizabeth D. Handley (a1), Jody Todd Manly (a1), Dante Cicchetti (a1) (a2) and Sheree L. Toth (a1)...


Child maltreatment represents a pervasive societal problem. Exposure to maltreatment is predictive of maladjustment across development with enduring negative effects found in adulthood. Compelling evidence suggests that some parents with a history of child abuse and neglect are at elevated risk for the maltreatment of their own children. However, a dearth of research currently exists on mediated mechanisms that may underlie this continuity. Ecological and transactional theories of child maltreatment propose that child maltreatment is multiply determined by various risk factors that exist across different ecological systems. Intimate partner violence (IPV) often co-occurs with child maltreatment and may represent a pathway through which risk for child abuse and neglect is transmitted across generations within a family. Informed by theories on the intergenerational transmission of child maltreatment and utilizing a community-based, cross-sectional sample of 245 racially and ethnically diverse, low-income mothers and daughters, the objective of this study was to investigate IPV as a propagating process through which risk of child abuse and neglect is conferred from parent to child. We found evidence suggesting that mothers’ history of maltreatment is associated with both their IPV involvement and their adolescent daughters’ maltreatment victimization (with exposure to IPV as a maltreatment subtype excluded for clarity). Maternal IPV also partially accounted for the continuity of maltreatment victimization from mother to adolescent. A secondary analysis that included the adolescent's own engagement in dating violence provided compelling but preliminary evidence of the emergence of a similar pattern of relational violence, whereby adolescent girls with maltreatment histories were likewise involved in abusive intimate relationships. Future directions and clinical implications of these findings are discussed.


Corresponding author

Authors for correspondence and reprint requests: Sheree L. Toth, Mt. Hope Family Center, University of Rochester, 187 Edinburgh Street, Rochester, NY 14608; E-mail: Tangeria R. Adams, Mt. Hope Family Center, University of Rochester, 187 Edinburgh Street, Rochester, NY 14608; E-mail:


Hide All

This work was supported by National Institute of Mental Health Grant R01MH091070. Special thanks to the families who participated and made this study possible.



Hide All
Appel, A. E., & Holden, G. W. (1998). The co-occurrence of spouse and physical child abuse: A review and appraisal. Journal of Family Psychology, 12, 578599. doi:10.1037/0893-3200.12.4.578
Appleyard, K., Berlin, L. J., Rosanbalm, K. D., & Dodge, K. A. (2011). Preventing early child maltreatment: Implications from a longitudinal study of maternal abuse history, substance use problems, and offspring victimization. Prevention Science, 12, 139149. doi:10.1007/s11121-010-0193-2
Archer, J. (2000). Sex differences in aggression between heterosexual partners: Meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 126, 651680.
Barnett, D., Manly, J. T., & Cicchetti, D. (1993). Defining child maltreatment: The interface between policy and research. In Child abuse, child development, and social policy (Vol. 8, pp. 773). Norwood, NJ: Ablex.
Belsky, J. (1980). Child maltreatment: An ecological integration. American Psychologist, 35, 320335.
Belsky, J. (1993). Etiology of child maltreatment: A developmental-ecological analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 114, 413434.
Berlin, L. J., Appleyard, K., & Dodge, K. A. (2011). Intergenerational continuity in child maltreatment: Mediating mechanisms and implications for prevention. Child Development, 82, 162176. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2010.01547.x
Bernstein, D. P., & Fink, L. (1998). Childhood Trauma Questionnaire: A retrospective self-report: Manual. New York: Psychological Corporation.
Bernstein, D. P., Stein, J. A., Newcomb, M. D., Walker, E., Pogge, D., Ahluvalia, T., … Desmond, D. (2003). Development and validation of a brief screening version of the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire. Child Abuse & Neglect, 27, 169190. doi:10.1016/S0145-2134(02)00541-0
Breiding, M. J., Smith, S. G., Basile, K. C., Walters, M. L., Chen, J., & Merrick, M. T. (2015). Prevalence and characteristics of sexual violence, stalking, and intimate partner violence victimization—National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, United States, 2011. American Journal of Public Health, 105, E11E12.
Caetano, R., Field, C. A., Ramisetty-Mikler, S., & McGrath, C. (2005). The 5-year course of intimate partner violence among White, Black, and Hispanic couples in the United States. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 20, 10391057. doi:10.1177/0886260505277783
Capaldi, D. M., Kim, H. K., & Shortt, J. W. (2007). Observed initiation and reciprocity of physical aggression in young, at-risk couples. Journal of Family Violence, 22, 101111. doi:10.1007/s10896-007-9067-1
Capaldi, D. M., Knoble, N. B., Shortt, J. W., & Kim, H. K. (2012). A systematic review of risk factors for intimate partner violence. Partner Abuse, 3, 231280. doi:10.1891/1946-6560.3.2.231
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). Understanding Child Maltreatment. [PDF file]. Retrieved from
Cicchetti, D., & Lynch, M. (1993). Toward an ecological/transactional model of community violence and child maltreatment: Consequences for children's development. Psychiatry, 56, 96118. doi:10.1080/00332747.1993.11024624
Cicchetti, D., & Rizley, R. (1981). Developmental perspectives on the etiology, intergenerational transmission, and sequelae of child maltreatment. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, 1981, 3155. doi:10.1002/cd.23219811104
Cicchetti, D., Toth, S., & Manly, J. (2003). Maternal Maltreatment Classification Interview. Unpublished manuscript, Mt. Hope Family Center, Rochester, NY.
Cicchetti, D., & Toth, S. L. (2005). Child maltreatment. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 1, 409438. doi:10.1146/annurev.clinpsy.1.102803.144029
Cicchetti, D., & Toth, S. L. (2016). Child maltreatment and developmental psychopathology: A multilevel perspective. In Cicchetti, D. (Ed.), Developmental psychopathology (3rd ed., Vol. 1). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Cicchetti, D., & Valentino, K. (2006). An ecological-transactional perspective on child maltreatment: Failure of the average expectable environment and its influence on child development. In Cicchetti, D. & Cohen, D. J. (Eds.), Developmental psychopathology (2nd ed., pp. 129201). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Cleveland, H. H., Herrera, V. M., & Stuewig, J. (2003). Abusive males and abused females in adolescent relationships: Risk factor similarity and dissimilarity and the role of relationship seriousness. Journal of Family Violence, 18, 325339.
DiLillo, D., Lewis, T., & Loreto-Colgan, A. D. (2007). Child maltreatment history and subsequent romantic relationships: Exploring a psychological route to dyadic difficulties. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, 15, 1936. doi:10.130U/J146v15110 1_02
Dixon, L., Browne, K., & Hamilton-Giachritsis, C. (2005). Risk factors of parents abused as children: A mediational analysis of the intergenerational continuity of child maltreatment (Part I). Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 46, 4757. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.2004.00339.x
Dixon, L., Browne, K., & Hamilton-Giachritsis, C. (2009). Patterns of risk and protective factors in the intergenerational cycle of maltreatment. Journal of Family Violence, 24, 111122. doi:10.1007/s10896-008-9215-2
Dixon, L., Hamilton-Giachritsis, C., & Browne, K. (2005). Attributions and behaviours of parents abused as children: A mediational analysis of the intergenerational continuity of child maltreatment (Part II). Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 46, 5868. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.2004.00340.x
Dodge, K. A., Bates, J. E., & Pettit, G. S. (1990). Mechanisms in the cycle of violence. Science, 250, 16781683. doi:10.1126/science.2270481
Ehrensaft, M. K., Cohen, P., Brown, J., Smailes, E., Chen, H., & Johnson, J. G. (2003). Intergenerational transmission of partner violence: A 20-year prospective study. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 71, 741753. doi:10.1037/0022-006X.71.4.741
Ehrensaft, M. K., Moffitt, T. E., & Caspi, A. (2004). Clinically abusive relationships in an unselected birth cohort: Men's and women's participation and developmental antecedents. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 113, 258270. doi:10.1037/0021-843X.113.2.258
Ertem, I. O., Leventhal, J. M., & Dobbs, S. (2000). Intergenerational continuity of child physical abuse: How good is the evidence? Lancet, 356, 814819. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(00)02656-8
Fantuzzo, J. W., & Fusco, R. A. (2007). Children's direct exposure to types of domestic violence crime: A population-based investigation. Journal of Family Violence, 22, 543552. doi:10.1007/s10896-007-9105-z
Feiring, C., & Furman, W. C. (2000). When love is just a four-letter word: Victimization and romantic relationships in adolescence. Child Maltreatment, 5, 293298. doi:10.1177/1077559500005004001
Fritz, M. S., & MacKinnon, D. P. (2007). Required sample size to detect the mediated effect. Psychological Science, 18, 233239. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2007.01882.x
Geiger, J. M., Schelbe, L., Hayes, M. J., Kawam, E., Katz, C. C., & Klika, J. B. (2015). Intergenerational Transmission of Maltreatment: Ending a Family Tradition. In Daro, D., Cohn Donnelly, A., Huang, L. A., & Powell, B. J. (Eds.), Advances in Child Abuse Prevention Knowledge: The Perspective of New Leadership (pp. 6791). Cham: Springer International Publishing.
Gómez, A. M. (2011). Testing the cycle of violence hypothesis: Child abuse and adolescent dating violence as predictors of intimate partner violence in young adulthood. Youth & Society, 43, 171192. doi:10.1177/0044118X09358313
Goncy, E. A., Sullivan, T. N., Farrell, A. D., Mehari, K. R., & Garthe, R. C. (2017). Identification of patterns of dating aggression and victimization among urban early adolescents and their relations to mental health symptoms. Psychology of Violence, 7, 5868. doi:10.1037/vio0000039
Hamby, S., Finkelhor, D., Turner, H., & Ormrod, R. (2010). The overlap of witnessing partner violence with child maltreatment and other victimizations in a nationally representative survey of youth. Child Abuse & Neglect, 34, 734741. doi:10.1016/j.chiabu.2010.03.001
Hart, H., & Rubia, K. (2012). Neuroimaging of child abuse: A critical review. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 6, 124. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2012.00052
Hendy, H. M., Weiner, K., Bakerofskie, J., Eggen, D., Gustitus, C., & McLeod, K. C. (2003). Comparison of six models for violent romantic relationships in college men and women. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 18, 645665. doi:10.1177/0886260503251180
Herrenkohl, T. I., Sousa, C., Tajima, E. A., Herrenkohl, R. C., & Moylan, C. A. (2008). Intersection of child abuse and children's exposure to domestic violence. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 9, 8499. doi:10.1177/1524838008314797
Holden, G. W. (2003). Children exposed to domestic violence and child abuse: Terminology and taxonomy. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 6, 151160. doi:10.1023/A:1024906315255
Hu, L. T., & Bentler, P. M. (1999). Cutoff criteria for fit indexes in covariance structure analysis: Conventional criteria versus new alternatives. Structural Equation Modeling, 6, 155.
Hyman, S. M., Garcia, M., Kemp, K., Mazure, C. M., & Sinha, R. (2005). A gender specific psychometric analysis of the early trauma inventory short form in cocaine dependent adults. Addictive behaviors, 30, 847852. doi:10.1016/j.addbeh.2004.08.009
Jedd, K., Hunt, R. H., Cicchetti, D., Hunt, E., Cowell, R. A., Rogosch, F. A., … Thomas, K. M. (2015). Long-term consequences of childhood maltreatment: Altered amygdala functional connectivity. Development and Psychopathology, 27, 15771589. doi:10.1017/S0954579415000954
Kim, J., & Cicchetti, D. (2010). Longitudinal pathways linking child maltreatment, emotion regulation, peer relations, and psychopathology. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 51, 706716. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.2009.02202.x
Knutson, J. F., Lawrence, E., Taber, S. M., Bank, L., & DeGarmo, D. S. (2009). Assessing children's exposure to intimate partner violence. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 12, 157173. doi:10.1007/s10567-009-0048-1
Kwong, M. J., Bartholomew, K., Henderson, A. J., & Trinke, S. J. (2003). The intergenerational transmission of relationship violence. Journal of Family Psychology, 17, 288301. doi:10.1037/0893-3200.17.3.288
Langhinrichsen-Rohling, J., Selwyn, C., & Rohling, M. L. (2012). Rates of bidirectional versus unidirectional intimate partner violence across samples, sexual orientations, and race/ethnicities: A comprehensive review. Partner Abuse, 3, 199230. doi:10.1891/1946-6560.3.2.199
Lansford, J. E., Dodge, K. A., Pettit, G. S., Bates, J. E., Crozier, J., & Kaplow, J. (2002). A 12-year prospective study of the long-term effects of early child physical maltreatment on psychological, behavioral, and academic problems in adolescence. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 156, 824830. doi:10.1001/archpedi.156.8.824
Laporte, L., Jiang, D., Pepler, D. J., & Chamberland, C. (2011). The relationship between adolescents’ experience of family violence and dating violence. Youth & Society, 43, 327. doi:10.1177/0044118X09336631
Lieberman, A. F., Ippen, C. G., & Van Horn, P. (2015). “Don't Hit My Mommy!”: A manual for child-parent psychotherapy with young children exposed to violence and other trauma. Washington, DC: Zero to Three.
Linder, J. R., & Collins, W. A. (2005). Parent and peer predictors of physical aggression and conflict management in romantic relationships in early adulthood. Journal of Family Psychology, 19, 252262. doi:10.1037/0893-3200.19.2.252
MacKinnon, D. P. (2008). Introduction to statistical mediation analysis. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Malik, S., Sorenson, S. B., & Aneshensel, C. S. (1997). Community and dating violence among adolescents: Perpetration and victimization. Journal of Adolescent Health, 21, 291302. doi:10.1016/S1054-139X(97)00143-2
McCloskey, L. A. (2013). The intergenerational transfer of mother–daughter risk for gender-based abuse. Psychodynamic Psychiatry, 41, 303328. doi:10.1521/pdps.2013.41.2.303
McDonald, R., Jouriles, E. N., Ramisetty-Mikler, S., Caetano, R., & Green, C. E. (2006). Estimating the number of American children living in partner-violent families. Journal of Family Psychology, 20, 137142. doi:10.1037/0893-3200.20.1.137
Muthén, L. K., & Muthén, B. O. (1998–2017). Mplus user's guide. Los Angeles: Author
Pears, K. C., & Capaldi, D. M. (2001). Intergenerational transmission of abuse: A two-generational prospective study of an at-risk sample. Child Abuse & Neglect, 25, 14391461. doi:10.1016/S0145-2134(01)00286-1
Schafer, J. L., & Graham, J. W. (2002). Missing data: our view of the state of the art. Psychological Methods, 7, 147177.
Sedlak, A. J., Mettenburg, J., Basena, M., Peta, I., McPherson, K., Greene, A., & Li, S. (2010). Fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (NIS-4) 9, 2010. Retrieved from
Simons, R. L., Johnson, C., Beaman, J., & Conger, R. D. (1993). Explaining women's double jeopardy: Factors that mediate the association between harsh treatment as a child and violence by a husband. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 55, 713723.
Slep, A. M. S., & O'Leary, S. G. (2005). Parent and partner violence in families with young children: Rates, patterns, and connections. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 73, 435. doi:10.1037/0022-006X.73.3.435
Smith, C. A., Ireland, T. O., Park, A., Elwyn, L., & Thornberry, T. P. (2011). Intergenerational continuities and discontinuities in intimate partner violence: A two-generational prospective study. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 26, 37203752. doi:10.1177/0886260511403751
Straus, M. A., Hamby, S. L., Boney-McCoy, S., & Sugarman, D. B. (1996). The revised Conflict Tactics Scales (CTS2) development and preliminary psychometric data. Journal of Family Issues, 17, 283316.
Straus, M. A., Hamby, S. L., & Warren, W. L. (2003). The Conflict Tactics Scales Handbook: Revised Conflict Tactics Scales (CTS2): CTS: Parent-Child Version (CTSPC). Torrance, CA: Western Psychological Services.
Sturge-Apple, M. L., Toth, S. L., Suor, J. H., & Adams, T. R. (in press). Parental maltreatment. In Borstein, M. R. (Ed.), Handbook of parenting (3rd ed., Vol. 4). Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.
Temple, J. R., Shorey, R. C., Tortolero, S. R., Wolfe, D. A., & Stuart, G. L. (2013). Importance of gender and attitudes about violence in the relationship between exposure to interparental violence and the perpetration of teen dating violence. Child Abuse & Neglect, 37, 343352. doi:10.1016/j.chiabu.2013.02.001
Thornberry, T. P., & Henry, K. L. (2013). Intergenerational continuity in maltreatment. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 41, 555569. doi:10.1007/s10802-012-9697-5
Thornberry, T. P., Knight, K. E., & Lovegrove, P. J. (2012). Does maltreatment beget maltreatment? A systematic review of the intergenerational literature. Trauma Violence Abuse, 13, 135152. doi:10.1177/1524838012447697
Tofighi, D., & MacKinnon, D. P. (2011). RMediation: An R package for mediation analysis confidence intervals. Behavior Research Methods, 43, 692700. doi:10.3758/s13428-011-0076-x
Toth, S. L., Manly, J. T., & Cicchetti, D. (1992). Child maltreatment and vulnerability to depression. Development and Psychopathology, 4, 97112. doi:10.1017/S0954579400005587
US Department of Health and Human Services. (2018). Child Maltreatment 2016. Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children's Bureau. Retrieved from
Vagi, K. J., Olsen, E. O. M., Basile, K. C., & Vivolo-Kantor, A. M. (2015). Teen dating violence (physical and sexual) among US high school students: Findings from the 2013 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey. JAMA Pediatrics, 169, 474482. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2014.3577
Vagi, K. J., Rothman, E. F., Latzman, N. E., Tharp, A. T., Hall, D. M., & Breiding, M. J. (2013). Beyond correlates: A review of risk and protective factors for adolescent dating violence perpetration. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 42, 633649. doi:10.1007/s10964-013-9907-7
Walker, E. A., Gelfand, A., Katon, W. J., Koss, M. P., Von Korff, M., Bernstein, D., & Russo, J. (1999). Adult health status of women with histories of childhood abuse and neglect. American Journal of Medicine, 107, 332339. doi:10.1016/S0002-9343(99)00235-1
Whitaker, D. J., Haileyesus, T., Swahn, M., & Saltzman, L. S. (2007). Differences in frequency of violence and reported injury between relationships with reciprocal and nonreciprocal intimate partner violence. American Journal of Public Health, 97, 941947. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2005.079020
Widom, C. S., Czaja, S. J., & DuMont, K. A. (2015). Intergenerational transmission of child abuse and neglect: Real or detection bias? Science, 347, 14801485. doi:10.1126/science.1259917
Williams, J. R., Ghandour, R. M., & Kub, J. E. (2008). Female perpetration of violence in heterosexual intimate relationships: Adolescence through adulthood. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 9, 227249. doi:10.1177/1524838008324418
Wolfe, D. A., Scott, K., Reitzel-Jaffe, D., Wekerle, C., Grasley, C., & Straatman, A. L. (2001). Development and validation of the Conflict in Adolescent Dating Relationships Inventory. Psychological Assessment, 13, 277293. doi:10.1037//1040-3590.13.2.277
Yu, C. Y., & Muthen, B. (2002). Evaluation of model fit indices for latent variable models with categorical and continuous outcomes. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New Orleans, LA.


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed