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Child Abuse Review Vol. 4: 1-3 (1995)
Child Abuse and
its Modes of
Transmission
he child maltreatment literature contains numerous reports regarding the high number of parents who were
themselves victims of abuse as children. It has been suggested that in some cases the link between experience of
abuse as a child and abusing as a parent is likely to be the
result of an unsatisfactory early relationship with the principle caretaker and a failure to form a secure attachment
(Bowlby, 1984).
The proportion of abusing parents that report being victims of rejection, hostility, harsh discipline, physical abuse
and neglect in their childhood, ranges from 30% to 60%
when interviewed retrospectively about their past lives. However, prospective follow-up studies of parents who were
themselves victims of child abuse and neglect, show that only
a small minority (8%) of these parents go on to abuse their
own children in the first five years of the child’s life (Browne
and Herbert, 1995).
The chances of a parent abused as a child victimizing their
own children will also depend on the presence of other
factors, such as whether the parental partner is indifferent
about the child, whether there are socio-economic problems
in the family, or if there is a history of mental illness, drug
and alcohol problems, which may destabilize family interaction patterns. In addition, there may be protective factors
which compensate for the effects of an adverse experience in
Editorial
Kevin D. Browne and
Margaret A. Lynch
T
childhood (Buchanan, 1995).
The first article of this issue, by Willie Langeland and
Sietski Dijkstra from Amsterdam, reviews the literature supporting and contesting the intergenerational transmission of
child abuse and goes on to determine what protective factors
may lead to a break in the abused to abuser cycle; for instance,
extensive emotional and social support from significant
others. Gender issues are also discussed in relation to the
predominance of studies on mothering in relation to this cycle
and the need to study gender differences in the transmission
of child maltreatment from one generation to the next.
Various explanations have been put forward to explain the
intergenerational transmission of child abuse and neglect.
0 1995 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd
‘There may be
protective factors
which compensate
for the eflects of an
adverse experience
in childhood’
2
‘Identz&ring
abusive
parent-child
relationships isf a r
@om easy without
physical evidence’
Browne and Lynch
The psychodynamic view is that the caregiver has failed to
identify with the parenting role in the past, and instead
directs the anger felt towards his or her parents at their newborn child. On the other hand, the learning theory approach
refers to modelling in that the abusive caretakers only rolemodel of parenting in the past was one of violence and inconsistent care.
The second paper in this issue by Angeles Cerezo and Ana
D’Con from Valencia, takes a learning theory perspective
and advances a possible mechanism for the intergenerational
continuity of poor parenting. They find more inconsistent
and indiscriminate parenting among abusive parent-child
relationships and they suggest this produces dysfunctional
interactional patterns, which the child learns as a way of relating to others.
A possible way of detecting these dysfunctional parentchild relationships in the assessment of young children is the
‘Bene-Anthony Family Relations Test’. Peter Mertin and
Jenny Rooney have developed supplementary cards to indicate more directly the possibility of child abuse. Their
work in Adelaide is described in the third paper of this issue.
Identifying abusive parent-child relationships is far from
easy and, without physical evidence is far from clear cut. As
Charles O’Brian and Laurel Lau point out in the next article,
defining child abuse is difficult and culturally driven. They
state that intervening in family relationships carries the risk
of irrevocable disruption and damage. Hence, they take a
close look at defining child abuse in the predominantly
Chinese population of Hong Kong.
Thus, the final article in this issue looks at media coverage
of child sexual abuse that may sway individual attitude and
opinion, and influence the cultural norms of society. Jenny
Kitzinger and Paula Skidmore, from Glasgow, carry out a
content analysis of all press and TV news coverage about
child sexual abuse that appeared in the UK for one year and
find that such coverage both obstructs and facilitates debate
about prevention of this disturbing aspect of our society.
This first Issue of 1995 demonstrates that Child Abuse Review is now attracting an international authorship and audience. Nevertheless, the journal will remain primarily the
publication of the British Association for the Study and Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect. Following increases in
both circulation figures and submissions, Child Abuse RevieW
will be published five times in 1995 with a further increase to
six issues proposed for 1997. Finally the Editors would like to
congratulate Frances Lewington on receiving an OBE in recognition of her work in forensic science and child protection.
Letter to the Editors
3
I
References
Bowlby, J. (1 984). Violence in the family as a disorder of the attachment
and caregiving systems, American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 44( 1 ),
+31.
Browne, K. D. and Herbert, M. (1995). Preventing family Violence,
Chichester: Wiley. in Press.
Buchanan, A. (1995). Cydes of Child Maltreatment, (Wiley Series in
Child Care and Protection). Chichester: Wiley, in Press.
Definition of Organized Abuse
Peter Bibby claims (letters, September 1994 issue) that my definition of organized abuse is ‘inaccurate and dangerous’ because it
explicitly includes more than one perpetrator. His own definition
does the same, although he adds ‘normally’, an amendment which
I would accept. He also makes a sequence of events the main definitive feature of organized abuse. I would accept that the sexual
abuse of children is often purposeful, deliberate and systematic, as
targeting implies. However, the sexual abuse of children is an
abuse of power and we should not forget that the exercise of power
may mean the use of force. When individuals are organized by acting together, then they dispose of even more force. In Operation
Orchid for example, children were neither seduced nor groomed,
but taken by force and silenced by death. A gang of men organized
to snatch children off the street would qualify to be called organized abuse in my terms.
There has been no research on perpetrators’ strategies, based on
reliable methods of selecting cases as representative. Anecdotal evidence or impressions gained from ‘talking’ to people cannot be
considered a reliable basis for defining organized abuse. It may turn
out that only a minority of abusers-those who were convicted and
agreed to therapy for example-use the methods described. The
contrast that Peter Bibby draws between organized and ‘family
abuse’ is not yet justified by research. The cases of intra-family
abuse I have studied were not noticeably ‘opportunistic’ and as
Bibby notes, much of the behaviour of perpetrators is the same as
that considered characteristic of organized abuse. A good proportion of the cases reported to our survey included family members
and others among the perpetrators of the abuse, thus blurring the
distinction between ‘family abuse’ and other kinds.
What child protection workers need to know is the range of variation that has been identified in cases of sexual abuse, so that they
are alert to all possibilities and do not decide too early what the case
‘is’. What Peter Bibby recommends would justify the criticism that
child protection workers look for the evidence to support their beliefs, rather than investigating with an open mind.
J. S. La Fontaine
INFORM, London School of Economics
Houghton Street, London
0 1995 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Letter
to the
Editors
‘The exercise of
power may mean
the use of force’
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