A three-generational study of transmission of risk for sexual abuse

Myra Leifer, Teresa Kilbane, Teresa Jacobsen, Gail Grossman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This intergenerational study investigates histories of both attachment relationships and abusive experiences and domains of current functioning that distinguish families of sexually abused children from families of nonabused children. The participants included (a) 199 nonoffending African American mothers of whom approximately half had children with documented sexual abuse histories and half had children with no documented abuse histories and (b) 106 maternal grandmothers of these children; approximately half had sexually abused grandchildren and half had grandchildren with no documented abuse. The children were 4 to 12 years old. Histories of abuse and attachment experiences and current functioning of the grandmother and mother were evaluated. Logistic regression analyses revealed that sexual abuse in a child was best predicted by 3 factors: maternal problems in adult functioning, a currently negative relationship between the grandmother and mother, and a disrupted pattern of caregiving during the mother's childhood. The findings underscore that troubled intergenerational attachment relationships in families can significantly heighten the risk of a child being sexually abused.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)662-672
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology


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