Bullies become abusers - study

Last updated 14:41 07/06/2011

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Boys who are bullies at school are at increased risk of abusing their partner later in life - a link that US researchers say could hold potential for curbing domestic violence, which affects about a fourth of all US women.

While their study, published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, can't tease out cause and effect, the link appears to be surprisingly strong and warrants further study, said study leader Jay Silverman, a psychologist.

"We need to do a far better job at recognizing bullying in schools, particularly the harassment of girls by boys," Silverman, at the Harvard School of Public Health, told Reuters Health.

"For adolescents, the school context is very much a practice ground for behaviors as adults."

Based on data from a survey of nearly 1500 Boston men aged 18 to 35 years, Silverman's team found that 16 percent of the men - about one in six - said they had abused their partner physically or sexually within the past year.

Of those who admitted to recent abuse, 38 percent said they had bullied their peers frequently in school. That compared to only 12 percent of the men who hadn't maltreated their partner as adults.

After taking into account other risk factors for domestic violence, such as being abused as a child or witnessing abuse between parents, carrying out frequent bullying as a child was linked to a four-fold increase in a man's risk for partner abuse.

That association was even stronger than things such as being abused as a child.

"It was somewhat surprising that the effect for bullying was so much more powerful than many of the other issues we typically consider," Silverman said.    

"The take home message is that bullying should be an important consideration when we're thinking about reducing gender-based violence in adults. We really need to look at bullying also through that lens."

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- Reuters

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