Unpacking the Criminogenic Aspects of Stress Over the Life Course: The Joint Effects of Proximal Strain and Childhood Abuse on Violence and Substance Use in a High-Risk Sample of Women

Lee Slocum, University of Missouri-St. Louis
Jennifer Medel
Elaine Doherty
Sally Simpson, University of Maryland - College Park


PurposeDrawing on concepts from strain, feminist, and life-course perspectives, we investigate the proximal effects of strain on violence and serious drug use along with the distal “carryover” effects of childhood abuse among women.MethodsUsing 36 months of retrospective data collected from 778 incarcerated women, we estimate monthly within-person effects of four types of strain experienced in adulthood (i.e., negative life events and three forms of victimization) on respondent-initiated violence and serious drug use. Cross-level interactions assess the moderating “carryover” effects of childhood abuse and cumulative adversity.ResultsNegative life events increased women's initiation of violence and serious drug use. Having a near violent experience was positively associated with violence, while violent conflict increased drug use. Experiencing both childhood physical and sexual abuse accentuated the effect of predatory victimization on violence, and physical victimization amplified the positive relationship between near violence and drug use. Unexpectedly, women who experienced childhood sexual abuse were less likely to use drugs after experiencing strain. The accumulation of adversity among abused women could not account for these moderating effects.ConclusionFindings suggest women's recent life experiences can explain offending in the foreground, while childhood abuse can account for some within-sex heterogeneity in these relationships.