The Intergenerational Transfer of Mother– Daughter Risk for Gender-Based Abuse

In this 10-year longitudinal study 150 mother-daughter pairs were recruited to participate in a study examining gender-based abuse across three generations. Forms of gender-based abuse included: child sexual abuse, witnessing intimate partner violence against their mothers, and intimate partner violence or dating violence in adolescence or adulthood. Daughters were interviewed when they were on average 9, 14, and 16 years old. Regression analyses revealed that if the grandmother (G1) was abused by her husband, her daughter (G2) was more likely to be sexually molested in childhood and was also more likely to be in an abusive relationship as an adult. If the mother (G2) was sexually abused as a child her daughter (G3) was at increased risk for child sexual abuse. In turn, child sexual abuse for the daughters related to their reports of dating violence in adolescence. Daughters (G3) who were sexually abused expressed more anxiety about romantic relationships, reflecting early attachment conflicts. Both child sexual abuse and anxious romantic attachment style independently predicted adolescent sexual risk-taking as in having multiple sexual partners or dating older men. These findings demonstrate how informative it is to include multiple forms of gender-based abuse in research and practice to better illuminate complex family dynamics. In addition, the findings support previous empirical work showing the importance of attachment behavior in women who are in abusive relationships, which has unique clinical implications.

Publication Date

June 2013

Publication Name

Psychodynamic Psychiatry


Laura Ann McCloskey