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Exposure to Violence and Nonviolent Life Stressors and Their Relations to Trauma-Related Distress and Problem Behaviors Among Urban Early Adolescents

NCJ Number
Psychology of Violence Volume: 10 Issue: 5 Dated: 2020 Pages: 509-519
Date Published
11 pages

Since the impact of exposure to violence must be considered within the context of a larger constellation of nonviolent life stressors faced by youth in under-resourced communities, this study examined nonviolent life stressors, two types of violence exposure, and their associations with trauma-related distress and problem behaviors. 


Participants were a predominantly African American (80 percent) sample of early adolescents (Mage = 12.9 years) living in communities with high rates of crime. Structural equation models examined the extent to which nonviolent life stressors and violence exposure (witnessing violence and physical victimization) were associated with adolescents’ frequencies of trauma-related distress (re-experiencing traumatic events, avoidance, and hyperarousal) and problem behaviors (physical aggression, delinquent behavior, and substance use). Nonviolent life stressors, witnessing violence, and physical victimization were each significantly associated with all three symptoms of trauma-related distress and with each of the three problem behaviors. In each case, stronger relations with trauma-related distress and problem behaviors were found for nonviolent life stressors than for physical victimization. After controlling for nonviolent life stressors, both types of violence exposure remained significantly associated with problem behaviors but differed in their patterns of association with trauma-related distress. No gender differences were found among these relations. These findings highlight the need to control for nonviolent life stressors when examining the impact of violence exposure on adjustment. Furthermore, mental health providers may be missing important information related to adolescents’ symptomatology if they fail to inquire about trauma-related distress when adolescents deny exposure to violent and life-threatening events. (publisher abstract modified)

Date Published: January 1, 2020