Perception of Maltreatment: Gender-Specific Mental Health Outcomes Associated with Maltreatment as Most Upsetting Experience

  • Melissa K. PeckinsEmail author
  • Sonya Negriff
  • Jonathan M. Reader
  • Elizabeth J. Susman
Part of the SpringerBriefs in Psychology book series (BRIEFSPSYCHOL)


The following study expands Dr. Penelope Trickett’s research on the heterogeneity in outcomes related to childhood maltreatment by testing the associations between perception of maltreatment as adolescents’ most upsetting experience and mental health symptoms. We expected adolescents who reported maltreatment (vs. nonmaltreatment) as their most upsetting experience would experience greater internalizing and externalizing behavior problems across adolescence. We also expected emotionally abused/neglected youth compared to sexually/physically abused youth would fare better when reporting a maltreatment (vs. nonmaltreatment) most upsetting experience. Hypotheses were tested with data collected from 303 maltreated (n = 151 girls) adolescents across four waves of measurement. Trajectories of depression and anxiety symptoms differed for girls reporting maltreatment versus nonmaltreatment as their most upsetting experience. Boys reporting maltreatment (vs. nonmaltreatment) as their most upsetting experience had lower levels of aggression and rule breaking behavior at wave 1. Findings from the present study are relevant for clinicians as an indicator of risk for mental health problems and suggest tailored treatment plans for boys versus girls. Findings from the present study should be used to support legislation that prioritizes children and their families, providing resources to limit the traumatic nature of maltreatment in order to reduce the short- and long-term mental health consequences associated with perceptions of maltreatment as upsetting.


Child maltreatment Maltreatment perception Internalizing problems Externalizing behavior Gender differences 



We thank Penelope K. Trickett for her mentorship during the preparation of this manuscript and for making this research possible. We also thank the children and their families who participated in this research. Support for this research was provided by the NICHD (R01 HD 039129) and NIDA (R01 Da24569-01A2). The first author was supported by a NICHD T32 Fellowship in Developmental Psychology, Department of Psychology, University of Michigan (2T32 HD007109-36). The third author was supported by DHHS NIH grants through the Prevention Research Center, The Pennsylvania State University (P50 DA039838 and T32 DA017629).


  1. Achenbach, T., & Rescorla, L. (2001). Manual for the Achenbach system of empirically based assessment school-age forms profiles. Burlington, VT: Aseba.Google Scholar
  2. Barnett, D., Manly, J. T., & Cicchetti, D. (1993). Defining child maltreatment: The interface between policy and research. In D. Chicchetti & S. L. Toth (Eds.), Child abuse, child development, and social policy (pp. 7–73). Norwood, NJ: Ablex.Google Scholar
  3. Boals, A., & Schuettler, D. (2009). PTSD symptoms in response to traumatic and non-traumatic events: The role of respondent perception and A2 criterion. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 23, 458–462. Scholar
  4. Boeskin, B., Edwards, D., Laird, W., & Lounsbury, K. (2016). Snapshot 2017: Advocacy, efficacy, and funding in CACs. Washington, DC: National Children's Alliance.Google Scholar
  5. Bonanno, G. A., Noll, J. G., Putnam, F. W., O'Neill, M., & Trickett, P. K. (2003). Predicting the willingness to disclose childhood sexual abuse from measures of repressive coping and dissociative tendencies. Child Maltreatment, 8, 302–318. Scholar
  6. Brougham, R. R., Zail, C. M., Mendoza, C. M., & Miller, J. R. (2009). Stress, sex differences, and coping strategies among college students. Current Psychology, 28, 85–97. Scholar
  7. Cohen, J. A., Mannarino, A. P., & Deblinger, E. (2016). Treating trauma and traumatic grief in children and adolescents. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  8. Crick, N. R., & Zahn–Waxler, C. (2003). The development of psychopathology in females and males: Current progress and future challenges. Development and Psychopathology, 15, 719–742. Scholar
  9. Eschenbeck, H., Kohlmann, C.-W., & Lohaus, A. (2007). Gender differences in coping strategies in children and adolescents. Journal of Individual Differences, 28, 18–26. Scholar
  10. Fergusson, D. M., & Woodward, L. J. (2002). Mental health, educational, and social role outcomes of adolescents with depression. Archives of General Psychiatry, 59, 225–231. Scholar
  11. Finkelhor, D., Turner, H. A., Shattuck, A., & Hamby, S. L. (2015). Prevalence of childhood exposure to violence, crime, and abuse: Results from the national survey of children’s exposure to violence. JAMA Pediatrics, 169, 746–754. Scholar
  12. Goodman, G. S., Taub, E. P., Jones, D. P., England, P., Port, L. K., Rudy, L., … Melton, G. B. (1992). Testifying in criminal court: Emotional effects on child sexual assault victims. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 57, i–159. Scholar
  13. Goodman-Brown, T. B., Edelstein, R. S., Goodman, G. S., Jones, D. P. H., & Gordon, D. S. (2003). Why children tell: A model of children’s disclosure of sexual abuse. Child Abuse & Neglect, 27, 525–540. Scholar
  14. Graham-Bermann, S. A., Kulkarni, M. R., & Kanukollu, S. (2011). Is disclosure therapeutic for children following exposure to traumatic violence? Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 26, 1056–1076. Scholar
  15. Harrison, L., & Harrington, R. (2001). Adolescents' bereavement experiences. Prevalence, association with depressive symptoms, and use of services. Journal of Adolescence, 24, 159–169. Scholar
  16. Horowitz, L. A. (1999). The relationship of childhood sexual abuse to revictimization: Mediating variables and developmental processes. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  17. Klein, L. C., & Corwin, E. J. (2002). Seeing the unexpected: How sex differences in stress responses may provide a new perspective on the manifestation of psychiatric disorders. Current Psychiatry Reports, 4, 441–448. Scholar
  18. Kovacs, M. (1981). Rating scales to assess depression in school-aged children. Acta Paedopsychiatrica: International Journal of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 46, 305–315.Google Scholar
  19. Kovacs, M. (1992). Children's depression inventory manual. North Tonawanda, NY: Multi-Health Systems.Google Scholar
  20. Kuehnle, K., & Connell, M. (2010). Child sexual abuse suspicions: Treatment considerations during investigation. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 19, 554–571. Scholar
  21. Leeb, R., Paulozzzi, L., Melanson, C., Simon, T., & Arias, I. (2008). Child maltreatment surveillance: Uniform definitions for public health and recommended data elements. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.Google Scholar
  22. Lewinsohn, P. M., Rohde, P., Seeley, J. R., Klein, D. N., & Gotlib, I. H. (2003). Psychosocial functioning of young adults who have experienced and recovered from major depressive disorder during adolescence. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 112, 353–363. Scholar
  23. Littleton, H., Horsley, S., John, S., & Nelson, D. V. (2007). Trauma coping strategies and psychological distress: A meta-analysis. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 20, 977–988. Scholar
  24. López, C. M., Andrews, A. R., III, Chisolm, A. M., de Arellano, M. A., Saunders, B., & Kilpatrick, D. (2017). Racial/ethnic differences in trauma exposure and mental health disorders in adolescents. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 23, 382–387. Scholar
  25. March, J. S., Parker, J. D. A., Sullivan, K., Stallings, P. M. A., & Conners, C. K. (1997). The multidimensional anxiety scale for children (MASC): Factor structure, reliability, and validity. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 36, 554–565. Scholar
  26. Maschi, T., Morgen, K., Bradley, C., & Hatcher, S. S. (2008). Exploring gender differences on internalizing and externalizing behavior among maltreated youth: Implications for social work action. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 25, 531–547. Scholar
  27. Masten, A. S. (2001). Ordinary magic: Resilience processes in development. American Psychologist, 56, 227–238. Scholar
  28. McLaughlin, K. A., Sheridan, M. A., & Lambert, H. K. (2014). Childhood adversity and neural development: Deprivation and threat as distinct dimensions of early experience. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 47, 578–591. Scholar
  29. Mennen, F. E., Kim, K., Sang, J., & Trickett, P. K. (2010). Child neglect: Definition and identification of youth's experiences in official reports of maltreatment. Child Abuse & Neglect, 34, 647–658. Scholar
  30. Moffitt, T. E. (1993). Adolescence-limited and life-course-persistent antisocial behavior: A developmental taxonomy. Psychological Review, 100, 674–701. Scholar
  31. Nagel, D. E., Putnam, F. W., Noll, J. G., & Trickett, P. K. (1997). Disclosure patterns of sexual abuse and psychological functioning at a 1-year follow-up. Child Abuse & Neglect, 21, 137–147. Scholar
  32. Negriff, S., Saxbe, D. E., & Trickett, P. K. (2015). Childhood maltreatment, pubertal development, HPA axis functioning, and psychosocial outcomes: An integrative biopsychosocial model. Developmental Psychobiology, 57, 984–993. Scholar
  33. Noll, J. G., Horowitz, L. A., Bonanno, G. A., Trickett, P. K., & Putnam, F. W. (2003). Revictimization and self-harm in females who experienced childhood sexual abuse: Results from a prospective study. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 18, 1452–1471. Scholar
  34. Petersen, A. C., Compas, B. E., Brooks-Gunn, J., Stemmler, M., Ey, S., & Grant, K. E. (1993). Depression in adolescence. American Psychologist, 48, 155–168. Scholar
  35. Prevoo, M. J. L., Stoltenborgh, M., Alink, L. R. A., Bakermans-Kranenburg, M. J., & van Ijzendoorn, M. H. (2017). Methodological moderators in prevalence studies on child maltreatment: Review of a series of meta-analyses. Child Abuse Review, 26, 141–157. Scholar
  36. Schnider, K. R., Elhai, J. D., & Gray, M. J. (2007). Coping style use predicts posttraumatic stress and complicated grief symptom severity among college students reporting a traumatic loss. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 54, 344–350. Scholar
  37. Slyper, A. H. (2006). The pubertal timing controversy in the USA, and a review of possible causative factors for the advance in timing of onset of puberty. Clinical Endocrinology, 65, 1–8. Scholar
  38. Smith, D. W., Witte, T. H., & Fricker-Elhai, A. E. (2006). Service outcomes in physical and sexual abuse cases: A comparison of child advocacy center-based and standard services. Child Maltreatment, 11, 354–360. Scholar
  39. Stroud, L. R., Salovey, P., & Epel, E. S. (2002). Sex differences in stress responses: Social rejection versus achievement stress. Biological Psychiatry, 52, 318–327. Scholar
  40. Taylor, S. E., Klein, L. C., Lewis, B. P., Gruenewald, T. L., Gurung, R. A. R., & Updegraff, J. A. (2000). Biobehavioral responses to stress in females: Tend-and-befriend, not fight-or-flight. Psychological Review, 107, 411–429. Scholar
  41. Trickett, P. K., & McBride-Chang, C. (1995). The developmental impact of different forms of child abuse and neglect. Developmental Review, 15, 311–337. Scholar
  42. Trickett, P. K., Negriff, S., Ji, J., & Peckins, M. (2011). Child maltreatment and adolescent development. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 21, 3–20. Scholar
  43. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau. (2013). Child maltreatment 2012. Available from
  44. Ullman, S. E. (2007). Relationship to perpetrator, disclosure, social reactions, and PTSD symptoms in child sexual abuse survivors. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 16, 19–36. Scholar
  45. Whiteford, H. A., Degenhardt, L., Rehm, J., Baxter, A. J., Ferrari, A. J., Erskine, H. E., … Vos, T. (2013). Global burden of disease attributable to mental and substance use disorders: Findings from the global burden of disease study 2010. The Lancet, 382, 1575–1586. Scholar
  46. Wilson, A., & Ross, M. (2003). The identity function of autobiographical memory: Time is on our side. Memory, 11, 137–149. Scholar

Copyright information

© The Editor(s) and The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Melissa K. Peckins
    • 1
    Email author
  • Sonya Negriff
    • 2
  • Jonathan M. Reader
    • 3
  • Elizabeth J. Susman
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  2. 2.University of Southern California, Dworak-Peck School of Social WorkLos AngelesUSA
  3. 3.Department of Human Development and Family StudiesThe Pennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA
  4. 4.Department of Biobehavioral HealthThe Pennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA

Personalised recommendations