College Students’ Experiences of Childhood Adversity and Adult Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Perpetration: Prevalence and Implications for Intervention

Document Type


Publication Date



Early adverse experiences in childhood (e.g., abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction) have been linked to negative long-term effects on physical and mental health. Kaiser Permanente and the CDC surveyed adults in the community in the mid-1990s and found a strong and cumulative relationship between the degree of exposure to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and risk factors for negative outcomes in adulthood including higher risk for substance abuse and intimate partner violence. Also, criminal populations, particularly sexual offenders, report much higher rates of adversities than the general public. College students have a disproportionately high risk of intimate partner violence, rape, and other forms of sexual assault, and there is limited research on the characteristics of perpetrators and victims of sexual and intimate partner violence on campus, which could inform prevention efforts and our understanding of repeated victimization and the effects of cumulative experiences of victimization. Our sample consists of university students (N = 995; 69.2% female; M = 20 years old) who are predominantly Caucasian (84%) in the Southeastern US. An ACE total score between 0 and 10 was calculated for each participant by summing the number of Yes responses indicating experiences of childhood adversities. Regarding the prevalence of childhood adversities, 71% of the sample experienced at least one, and approximately 19% fell within the “high-risk” range of 4 or more ACEs, which is higher than the 13% of adults from the community who reported 4 or more ACEs in the original study conducted by the CDC. Thus, it appears that childhood adversities are widespread among college students in this sample. Regarding outcomes since turning 18 years of age, 2% of the sample admitted to engaging in coercive sexual behavior, 1% admitted to having sexual contact with someone who was not fully consenting, 1% had been arrested for a sexual offense, and 0.1% reported being a registered sexual offender. These behaviors were collectively considered sexual misconduct for the purpose of analyses. A logistic regression analysis yielded a significant model ( 2 = 29.51, R 2 = 0.11, p = 0.000) and indicates ACE Total Score (β = 0.34,  2 = 26.73, p = .00) and gender (β = - .85,  2 = 5.80, p = .02) predict sexual misconduct in adulthood. A second logistic regression analysis significantly predicted physical violence towards a partner as an adult ( 2 = 55.52, R 2 = 0.13, p = 0.000) Page 122 2016 Appalachian Student Research Forum with significant effects from ACE total score (β = 0.32,  2 = 42.41, p = .000) and gender (β = 1.16,  2 = 11.62, p = .001). Our findings thus far support further investigation of how adverse experiences relate to violent or sexual perpetration among college students. Additional analyses will include the relationships between these outcomes involving perpetration in adulthood and different types of early experiences of adversity, length of victimization and substance abuse.


Johnson City, TN

This document is currently not available here.