Boys who bully may grow up to abuse women

Boys who frequently bully peers when they are young are more likely to grow up to abuse their wives and girlfriends, according to a study led by Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) researchers.

“It helps people think of bullying in somewhat of a different light,” said study co-author Jay Silverman, associate professor of society, human development, and health at HSPH and the study’s senior author, in a June 6, 2011, article in U.S. News & World Report. “There’s probably an important connection that we’re missing.”

The study was published online June 6, 2011, in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

Silverman and his HSPH colleagues, lead author Kathryn Falb and Heather McCauley, surveyed 1,491 men aged 18 to 35 who visited three community health centers in Boston in 2005-2006. More than 40% reported bullying children as youngsters; 16% (about one in six) reported abusing women physically or sexually in the past year. Among those who admitted recently abusing women, 38% said they had frequently bullied others in school. Only 12% of the adult non-abusers said they had bullied peers when they were young. After accounting for other domestic violence risk factors, such as being abused as a child or witnessing abuse between parents, frequent bullying as a child was linked to nearly a four-fold increase in a man’s risk for partner abuse in the past year compared with men who rarely bullied in school.

While the study does not prove an actual connection between bullying and domestic violence, it shows a possible link. School bullying perpetrationand intimate partner violence perpetration are thought to stem from desire for power and control over others, according to the authors.

Read the U.S. News & World Report story

More information

Watch The HSPH Forum webcast: U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder: Defending Childhood and Youth: A Public Health Approach to Ending the Cycle of Violence (May 6, 2011)