Young Adults Victimized as Children or Adolescents: Relationships Between Perpetrator Patterns, Poly-Victimization, and Mental Health Problems


Child and adolescent victims of violence are often exposed to more than one kind of physical, sexual, or emotional maltreatment. Both individually and cumulatively, such victimizations have significant ramifications on mental health. Yet little is known about the relationships in which these different kinds of victimizations occur and how the relationship between the victim and perpetrators may influence later mental health. This retrospective, self-report study of a nationally representative sample of 2,500 young adults in Sweden examines associations between different types of victimization (including poly-victimization), the victim’s relationship to the perpetrator, and how these factors are related to current mental health. Results indicate differential patterns of abuse based on the perpetrator; parents were most likely to use physical aggression, whereas siblings typically perpetrated property crimes and partners committed sexual assault. Peers were the most likely perpetrator of both physical and verbal victimizations and also most often committed poly-victimization by subjecting youth to multiple forms of violence. While males were more likely to be victimized by peers, females were more likely to be victimized by parents, siblings, and partners. Significant positive relations were found for the amount of victimization by peers and mental health problems among both males and females. In addition, for females, higher amounts of youth victimization by parents and partners related to higher levels of mental health problems during young adulthood. Taken together, these results suggest that peer victimization presents the greatest risk for males, whereas dysfunctional family relationships are most detrimental to victimized females.

Publication Title

Journal of Interpersonal Violence