i dream of being possible

on intergenerational abuse

(just wanting to put this on my main blog…)

Okay. I did everyone the favour of reading the article bc I do have full text access (and now so does everyone else…).

So. The first thing is that the author, Oliver, has a clearly demonstrated bias. Most of this appears to be methodologically based, but it is significant. See statements like this:

The preference for fancies and indirect measures over facts is a foolish dogma. (Oliver 1320)

Obsession with generalizability rules out consideration of intrafamilial variability, and it is both facile and dogmatic for desk-bound commentators to try and interdict such research. (Oliver 1320)

Like. The thing is, is that Oliver isn’t necessarily wrong about the problems with the methodologies that they are criticising. There are problems. The issue lies with words like ‘desk-bound commentators’ which is…. um, clearly biased and betrays a deeper animus with the people who do the kind of research Oliver apparently derides and despises.

The basic thrust of the paper is thus: self-reported, indirect surveys have largely failed to take intrafamilial abuse into account. But clinical and retrospective studies have shown that intrafamilial abuse is an important factor in the histories of abusers.

Which, sure, so long as this is the conclusion that people draw from this paper… bc to support this point he says some clearly ridiculous things (bc of the bias). Like this:

If less stringent criteria are applied, well over 20% – perhaps as many as 80% – of the abused children in northeastern Wiltshire came from families in which parents had been victims. (Oliver 1320)

Like. Oliver pulls that 80% literally out of their ass. They present no evidence or research data that would suggest that 80% is at all a reasonable estimate. What their data did show was that 20% of the parents of the most severe and reported cases of child abuse were also abused. Those caveats are necessary bc the inclusion criteria in this study was very strict.

In the abstract and elsewhere, Oliver mentions:

The earlier predictions by Wright and Lunn (31) of the intrafamilial rates for continuation of problem family parental behavior were that one-third of the children will continue the pattern, one-third will not, and the last one-third will continue to be vulnerable, their eventual parental behavior depending on extrafamilial pressures. (Oliver 1321).

Which is what you mention in your ask. I’m mostly left blinking at this bc Oliver’s own data showed an occurrence of 20%. Which, in case it isn’t clear: is not the same as one-third. In any case, even if we believe this number (which is perhaps the highest possible number I’ve seen and what this biased researcher endorses), what it says for abuse victims? There is a 2/3rds chance that you will not abuse your children, should you have them (note: the study is only about child abuse, no other kinds of interpersonal abuse were discussed).

In other words: even by this researcher’s own conclusions (who is biased for the conclusion), the majority of child abuse victims will not necessarily abuse their own children (should they have them). Thus, the idea that abuse victims are doomed to become abusers is a myth (and a harmful one, as I’ve been discussing for a few days).

(I say ‘not necessarily’ bc of the third that is vulnerable to it. Vulnerability isn’t a guarantee that it’ll happen. Just a possibility.)

I do want to spend a moment discussion the vulnerable third. Oliver points out that these people are vulnerable due to extrafamilial factors. Factors like poverty, disability, race, awareness (the usual suspects when we talk about social risk factors for abuse).

I think the most interesting extrafamilial factor that Oliver discusses is:

Child victims of maltreatment tend to blame themselves. The single most important modifying factor in intergenerational transmission of child abuse is the capacity of the child victim to grow up with the ability to face the reality of past and present personal relationships. (Oliver 1322).

This is preceded by a discussion of how many abusive parents had falsely idolized their parents (which a heaping dose of sexism of specifically blaming mothers but whatever). This is perhaps the most compelling evidence that self-reports are unreliable when thinking about intergenerational abuse. Because, yeah, this is a behaviour I’ve seen a great deal myself. Fuck, I did it myself. For years I thought my parents had been decent. It was only four years ago (and I’m 32), that I really was able to understand my childhood as abusive and neglectful.

So what’s a useful countermeasure for this? Well, spreading useful and accurate and non-victim blaming/shaming information so that victims ‘can face the reality’ of our past/present relationships. Part of this is stopping damaging myths that being a victim has turned you into a dangerous, unpredictable monster laying in wait to abuse others (especially your own children!). Properly addressing this myth with real information and data (as with this study), can only help victims ~face reality~.

And here is the reality: being a victim is not a guarantee that you will abuse others.

(I know I should leave off here bc this is an epic fucking reply already, but I also want to bitch about the fact that in a lot of ppl’s reply to my original post on this, my comments were often construed as being the correlation/causation fallacy. When that is only one part of my argument. The other part is still instantiated in this paper.

And this part of the argument is this:

In this paper (and in the studies referenced, based on Oliver’s explication) we only know what fraction/portion of known abusers were abused themselves. Oliver and everyone else takes this as an indication for predicting how current victims will grow up. And how many of those current victims will abuse their children….

Starting to see a problem?

We only know the fraction of known abusers who have children. Of their children, we actually have no idea how many grow up to actually have kids of their own. We don’t actually know much about victims. All of this information is about abusers not victims (and the related conclusion we have is that most child abusers were not abused themselves sooooo….). The actual conclusions to a study like this is:

1/3 of abusive parents were abused as children. It literally does nothing to accurately predict how the current generation (and future parents) will be. All we can really say is that of the current generation, if any of them abuse their children, 1/3 of them will have been abused themselves.

So beyond the philosophical problems of predicting the future based on past occurrences, how can you make predictions about how victims will behave if you only study abusers?)