Cycles of violence in England and Wales: the contribution of childhood abuse to risk of violence revictimisation in adulthood

Cycles of violence in England and Wales: the contribution of childhood abuse to risk of violence revictimisation in adulthood

This research used data made available via the Office for National Statistics Secure Research Service, which is being expanded and improved with ADR UK funding. 

Authors: Nadia Butler, Zara Quigg (Liverpool John Moores University) & Mark A. Bellis (Public Health Wales

Date: August 2020 

Research Summary 

Research using secure data has found a strong association between childhood abuse and physical assault, intimate partner violence, and sexual violence victimisation in adulthood. This analysis re-emphasised the vital need to support measures preventing childhood abuse in order to reduce levels of revicitimisation later in life. 

Using nationally representative secure data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), researchers from Liverpool John Moores University and Public Health Wales have retrospectively examined the potential link between different types of child abuse and violence revictimisation in adulthood. Strong associations were found between childhood abuse and three different types of violence revictimisation. Crucially, this study has added to the compelling case for the public health sector to focus efforts on preventing childhood abuse to end intergenerational cycles of violence.  

Data used 

This study used data from the 2015/16 iteration of the ONS Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW). Along with police-recorded crime collected by the Home Office, the CSEW is a valuable source of information about the extent and nature of crime.  

Since 1981, the CSEW has provided nationally representative measures of crime through surveying members of the public about their experiences of crime over the previous 12 months. In this way, the survey records all types of crimes experienced, including those that may not have been reported to the police. It is important that the voices of those people who have and have not experienced crime are recorded, so that an accurate picture can be captured. 

Methods used 

Logistic regression was used to examine the independent relationships between the incidences of childhood abuse and violence revictimisation in adulthood, by controlling for various sociodemographic factors. Researchers also examined the relationship between the types of violence experienced in childhood to identify whether type was an influencing factor in cycles of violence. 

Research findings 

The analysis found strongest associations between childhood abuse and three different types of violence revictimisation in adulthood: 

  • physical assault 

  • intimate partner violence (abuse which occurs in romantic relationships) 

  • sexual violence. 

All types of childhood abuse were associated to some extent with each violent outcome. Importantly, the study found co-occurrence of different types of abuse, providing further evidence that multiple types of abuse should be considered together instead of isolated instances.  

Outcomes were reduced but remained significant when considering all individual types of abuse together. This suggests that any instance of childhood abuse is associated with the three types of violence revictimisation.  

However, when the effects of experiencing multiple forms of abuse was accounted for, type of abuse remained a predictive factor for adult violence outcomes. The type or combination of types of abuse which increased risk differed by violent outcome:  

  • child psychological and physical abuse were significantly associated with adulthood intimate partner violence, 

  • psychological and sexual abuse were associated with experiencing sexual violence as an adult,  

  • child psychological abuse was associated with being the victim of a physical assault. 

Research impact 

By demonstrating the association between childhood abuse and violence revictimisation in adulthood, this study reaffirmed the need to implement policies and practices which prevent childhood abuse, and, in turn, help prevent interpersonal violence later in life. 

This project won the ONS Research Excellence People’s Choice Award 2021, voted for by members of the public, the research community, and ONS and its partners. 

Research outputs 

Publications and reports 

Blogs, news posts, and videos 

Awards and presentations 

  • Conference presentation 2021, World Health Organisation Virtual Pre-Conference Global Injury Presentation Showcase 

  • People’s Choice, ONS Research Excellence Awards 2021 

  • Conference presentation 2021, Crime Surveys User Conference 

  • Presentation to local multi-agency safeguarding group, 2021 

  • Seminar presentation 2021, Research Accreditation Service 

  • Seminar presentation 2021, Liverpool John Moores Christmas Research Cafe 

About the Secure Research Service 

The ONS Secure Research Service (SRS) is an accredited trusted research environment, using the Five Safes Framework to provide secure access to de-identified, unpublished data. If you would like to discuss writing a future case study with us, please get in touch: 

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