Parenting and Family Processes in Child Maltreatment and Intervention

Part of the series Child Maltreatment Solutions Network pp 77-88


Environments Recreated: The Unique Struggles of Children Born to Abused Mothers

  • Jennie G. NollAffiliated withDepartment of Human Development and Family Studies, The Pennsylvania State UniversityNetwork on Child Protection and Wellbeing, The Pennsylvania State University Email author 
  • , Jonathan M. ReaderAffiliated withDepartment of Human Development and Family Studies, The Pennsylvania State University
  • , Heather BensmanAffiliated withDivision of Behavioral Medicine and Clinical Psychology, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center

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Approaches to understanding the intergenerational transmission of child maltreatment are complex and often fail to take into account the multiple forms of maltreatment including childhood sexual abuse. The goal of the current chapter is to discuss the developmental trajectories of individuals born to women who experienced childhood sexual abuse. Using examples from the results of a 30 year longitudinal cohort study, the current chapter argues that while these women are unlikely to sexually abuse their children directly, they are at great risk for creating an environment that fails to protect their children. Beginning prenatally and continuing through adolescence into their own adulthoods, these children are at greater risk for experiencing hardships including premature birth, cognitive disadvantage, and attachment insecurity, putting them at risk for becoming abused themselves. Implications for clinicians and policymakers to prevent future instances of childhood sexual abuse by disrupting the intergenerational transmission are discussed.


Child sexual abuse Intergenerational transmission Longitudinal cohort study Home environment Child protective services