Prevalence and Severity of Childhood Emotional and Physical Abuse Among College-Age Adults: A Descriptive Study

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Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) including experiences of neglect and abuse have been shown to negatively impact the victims’ health outcomes. While the ACE score methodology has been widely accepted as the method for measuring childhood trauma, the severity of the abuse has not been accounted for through research. The aim of this research was to assess the duration and frequency of childhood emotional and physical abuse in addition to prevalence among college aged adults, to bridge this gap in the literature. A modified ACE and health behavior questionnaire was administered online at one university beginning July through December of 2014. A sample of 965 participants aged ≥ 18 were included in this study. Two ACE questions, “did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often swear at you, insult you, put you down, or humiliate you? Or, act in any way that made you afraid that you might be physically hurt?” and “did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often push, grab, slap, or throw something at you? Or ever hit you so hard that you had marks or were injured?” were asked to measure the prevalence of emotional and physical abuse, respectively. Descriptive statistics were completed in SAS for age, race, gender, emotional abuse and physical abuse. Frequencies, proportions and corresponding p-values were reported. The sample distribution included: female (69%), age average 20 years (M = 20.21, SD = 4.07), and white (84.9%). In total 29.01% of the sample reported exposure to childhood emotional or physical abuse and 37.5% reported both experiences. Females reported a higher proportion of emotional abuse and less proportion of physical abuse (27.59% and 12.29%) compared to males (24.50% and 15.44%). However, gender differences were not significant, X2 = 1.01, p>0.05 and X2 = 1.77, p>0.05. Of those reporting abuse, about two thirds of emotional abuse and one third of physical abuse occurred frequently defined as occurring either ‘daily’, ‘at least once a week’ or ‘at least once a month’. Modal frequency was ‘at least once a week’ for both female (30.74%) and male (20.31%). More than half of the abusive experiences (60.3% emotional and 53.9% physical) happened for more than two years. Experiences of childhood emotional and physical abuse are common among this sample of college age adults and the occurrence of one type of abuse is most often accompanied by the occurrence of another. This result is consistent with national research that has been done on adult populations. In cases where abuse occurred for this sample, the experiences were frequent and for an extended period of time. An understanding of the prevalence of childhood physical and emotional abuse among college aged adults and the discussion of its implications should be included in college health and counseling programs. Knowledge of the frequency and duration of abuse is critical in identifying the high risk population and developing personalized and targeted programs addressing their specific needs.


Johnson City, TN

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