Protecting Children and Families Against Violence

An intact family, strong family life, and religious involvement appear to protect adults and children from violence. Youth in intact families are less likely to exhibit delinquent and high-risk behaviors. Neighborhoods with less family breakdown tend to experience lower levels of juvenile crime and violence.

  • Adolescents in intact families are the least likely to exhibit delinquent behavior. Adolescents living with married, biological parents were less likely to exhibit delinquent behaviors such as deliberately damaging property, stealing, seriously injuring another individual, selling drugs, etc., than youths living with their mothers only, with their mothers and married stepfathers, or with their mothers and mothers’ cohabiting partners.1
  • Youth in intact families are less likely to engage in high-risk behaviors compared to peers in other family structures. Compared with adolescents in intact families, youths who lived with a divorced parent, whether single or remarried, were more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors such as substance abuse, carrying a weapon, fighting, and sexual activity. This family structure effect remained even after controlling for demographic, parenting style, and community factors.2
  • Adolescent girls who have never lived apart from their parents are less likely to report sexual abuse than those who have. The odds of reporting a forced sexual experience were more than seven times greater for white adolescent women who had lived apart from their parents before age 16 when compared to similar white adolescent women who had not lived away from their parents before age 16. The odds of reporting a forced sexualexperience were more than twice as great for white adolescent women who had experienced the marital disruption of their parents when compared to similar adolescents who had not experienced the marital disruption of their parents.3
  • Childhood sexual abuse is associated with other forms of abuse, neglect and family breakdown. Based on retrospective data, individuals who experienced sexual abuse during childhood were more likely to have suffered other types of adverse childhood experiences, including emotional or physical abuse, battered mother, household substance abuse, household mental illness, parental separation/divorce, and emotional or physical neglect compared to individuals who did not experience sexual abuse as a child. The association was highest for emotional abuse, physical neglect, and having a battered mother during childhood.4
  • In non-urban communities, higher levels of family disruption are associated with an increased prevalence of juvenile violence and crime. Higher levels of family disruption at the community level, as measured by the proportion of households with children headed by a single parent, were strongly and consistently associated with higher rates of juvenile arrest for rape, aggressive assault, weapons, and simple assault. An increase of 13 percent in single-parenthouseholds would predict a doubling of the overall offense rate.5
  • Parent-child bonds offer protection against youth violence. In this study, parent-child bonds (i.e. youths’ integration within the family) were a protective factor against youth violence. These bonds provided stronger protection in neighborhoods characterized by fewer singleparent families than in neighborhoods where single families were more predominant.6
  • Individuals who were exposed to violence in their family of origin are more likely to be abusive toward their spouses and children. Exposure to parent-to-parent violence during the teenage years increased the likelihood that, as an adult, an individual would abuse his or her children and spouse (over and above the risk associated with the adult’s and child’s ages and child’s gender).7
  • Married mothers are less likely to suffer abuse than never-married mothers. Even when the higher rates of abuse of separated and divorced mothers were added into the statistic, the rates of abuse among mothers who had ever been married were still lower than the rates of abuse among women who had never married and those who were cohabiting. Among mothers who were currently married or had ever been married, the rate of abuse was 38.5 per 1,000 mothers. Among mothers who have never been married the rate was 81 per 1,000 mothers.8
  • Married individuals report, on average, lower levels of domestic violence than cohabiting individuals. Compared with married people, cohabitors reported much higher levels of domestic violence, with 15 percent of cohabitors and 5 percent of married individuals saying that they or their spouse hit, shoved, or threw things. Cohabitors who were engaged were no more likely to report violence than married couples. However, cohabiting couples without definite plans to marry were more than twice as likely to experience violence in the relationship than either married couples or engaged cohabitors.9
  • Individuals who regularly attend religious services are less likely to perpetrate domestic violence. Compared with individuals who attended religious services only once a year or less, those who attended church regularly (at least once a week) were less likely to commit an act of violence against their partners. Regular attendance at religious services reduced the odds of perpetrating domestic violence by half for women and for men.10


  1. Wendy D. Manning and Kathleen A. Lamb, “Adolescent Well-Being in Cohabiting, Married, and Single-Parent Families,” Journal of Marriage and Family 65, No. 4 (. November 2003): 876-893.
  2. Kathleen B. Rodgers and Hillary A. Rose, “Risk and Resiliency Factors Among Adolescents Who Experience Marital Transitions,” Journal of Marriage and the Family 64, No. 4 (2002): 1024-1037.
  3. B. C. Miller, B. H. Monson, and M.C. Norton, “The Effects of Forced Sexual Intercourse on White Female Adolescents,” Child Abuse & Neglect 19, No. 10 (1995): 1289-1301.
  4. Maxia Dong et al., “The Relationship of Exposure to Childhood Sexual Abuse to Other Forms of Abuse, Neglect, and Household Dysfunction During Childhood,” Child Abuse and Neglect 27 (2003): 625-639.
  5. D. Wayne Osgood and Jeff M. Chambers, “Social Disorganization Outside the Metropolis: An Analysis of Rural Youth Violence,” Criminology 38, No. 1 (2000): 81-115.
  6. Chris Knoester and Dana L. Haynie, “Community Context, Social Integration into Family, and Youth Violence,” Journal of Marriage and Family 67, No. 3 (August 2005): 767-780.
  7. Richard E. Heyman and Amy M. Smith, “Do Child Abuse and Interparental Violence Lead to Adulthood Family Violence?” Journal of Marriage and Family 64, No. 4 (November 2002): 864-870.
  8. Robert E. Rector, Patrick F. Fagan, and Kirk A. Johnson, “Marriage: Still the Safest Place for Women and Children,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 1732, March 9, 2004, at research/reports/2004/03/marriage-still-the-safest-place-for-womenand- children (January 31, 2011).
  9. Linda J. Waite, The Ties that Bind: Perspectives on Marriage and Cohabitation (New York: Aldine de Gruyter, 2000), 368-391.
  10. Christopher G. Ellison, John P. Bartkowski, and Kristin L. Anderson, “Are There Religious Variations in Domestic Violence?” Journal of Family Issues 20, (1997): 87-113.