The impact of adverse childhood events on the sexual and mental health of women experiencing intimate partner violence.

Willie, T.C., Kershaw, T., & Sullivan, T.P. (2018)
Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 1 – 22
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This study identified profiles of Adverse Childhood Events (ACEs) and their association with depressive and posttraumatic stress symptoms and sexual risk behaviors in women experiencing intimate partner violence.


Adverse childhood events (ACEs) are preventable public health issues with a significant impact on health problems and behaviors including sexual risk, depressive and posttraumatic stress symptoms, and intimate partner violence (IPV). ACEs are stressful and/or traumatic events, which include childhood maltreatment—physical, sexual, and emotional abuse and neglect, and witnessing parental IPV (SAMHSA, 2017). In the United States, one in four children (25.6%) is estimated to experience childhood maltreatment and nearly one in five children (17.3%) witnesses parental IPV in their lifetime (Finkelhor, Turner, Shattuck, & Hamby, 2013). In addition to women’s sexual and mental health, research suggests a complex relationship between ACEs and IPV. For example, while studies find that women who experience child abuse are at increased risk of victimization in adulthood (e.g., Widom et al., 2014); studies also show that women who endorsed childhood physical abuse or witnessed parental IPV are at a six-fold increase of experiencing physical IPV, but women who only endorsed childhood sexual abuse were not at increased risk of physical IPV (Bensley, Van Eenwyk, & Wynkoop Simmons, 2003). Gover et al. (2008) found that women who witnessed their father’s use of physical violence against their mothers were 72% more likely to experience physical IPV than women who did not witness such maternal victimization. A better understanding of the impact of ACEs on the health and behavior of women experiencing IPV is warranted. 

The current study aimed to identify profiles of women experiencing IPV based on their ACEs and examine associations between profile membership and women’s sexual and mental health, and IPV victimization severity. Findings reveal that ACEs are common among women experiencing IPV and that within this population, two profiles were at increased risk of poor mental health.

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