Primary vs. Secondary Violence Exposure and Mental Health Outcomes in Youth Who Engage in Sexually Abusive Behaviors

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According to the U.S Department of Health and Human services, each year approximately 826,000 children were the victims of abuse, and/ or neglect, which does not include other types of victimization like parental substance abuse and domestic violence within the home. Primary violence exposure (e.g., physical and sexual abuse) in childhood can result in anxiety, depression, and difficulty forming attachments. Secondary violence exposure (e.g., neglect, parental substance abuse, and domestic violence) can cause chronic stress in children and negatively impact physical, cognitive, and emotional growth. Unfortunately, examining the impact of primary and secondary victimization is complicated by the interrelatedness. This current study aims to examine the unique impact of primary and secondary violence on mental health outcomes in a sample of youths receiving residential sex offender treatment. We hypothesize that primary violence exposure will be highly associated with the number of mental health diagnoses, and use of psychotropic medications, while controlling for the impact of 2017 Appalachian Student Research Forum Page 177 secondary exposure. The sample includes male adolescents (N=245: 84.1% Caucasian) who have engaged in sexually abusive behaviors and received residential treatment. Data were collected from archival records. Participants' mean age is 14.77 (SD=14.77) at time of first admission in the facility. Additionally, participants seeking mental health treatment were, on average, 10.22 years of age (SD= 4.187) at the time of first mental health diagnosis. Variables include exposure to physical or sexual abuse, experience of neglect, the presence of domestic violence and substance abuse in the home of origin, the types of mental health diagnosis, use of psychotropic medications, and the age of onset of earliest diagnosis. First, we used partial correlations to find associations between type of violence exposure and mental health diagnoses, age of first diagnosis, and use of psychotropic medications, while extracting the influence of the alternate type of exposure. Correlations between primary violence exposure and diagnoses of mental health concerns, yielded significant associations between primary exposure and mood disorder (r=.133, p=.041) diagnoses. Also, a significant association was found between primary exposure and anxiety/trauma- related disorders (r=.160, p=. 013). Significant associations were found for both mood disorder (r=.162, p=.012) and behavioral disorder (r=.212, p=.001). Age of onset of first mental health diagnosis was not significantly correlated with primary violence exposure or secondary violence exposure. While partialing out secondary violence exposure, primary violence was associated with use of mood stabilizers (r=.127, p=.05) and antipsychotic medications (r=.146, p=.024). Secondary violence exposure was exclusively related to use of any psychotropic drugs (r=.127, p=.004), mood stabilizers or antidepressants (r=.127, p=.05), and antipsychotic medications (r=.180, p=.05). Chi-square analyses will be conducted to further differentiate these outcomes following primary and secondary violence exposure.


Johnson City, TN

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