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Original Research ARTICLE Provisionally accepted The full-text will be published soon. Notify me

Front. Genet. | doi: 10.3389/fgene.2019.00852

Genetic Vulnerability to Experiencing Child Maltreatment

 Patrizia Pezzoli1*,  Jan Antfolk1, Alexander S. Hatoum2 and  Pekka Santtila3
  • 1Åbo Akademi University, Finland
  • 2Institute for Behavioral Genetics, University of Colorado Boulder, United States
  • 3NYU Shanghai, China

Although biological factors may influence the risk of experiencing negative life events, the role of genes in the vulnerability to child victimization remains poorly understood. In a large population-based Finnish sample (N = 13024), we retrospectively measured multiple experiences of child victimization and, in a subsample of twins (n = 9562), we estimated the extent to which genetic and environmental factors influenced these experiences. In particular, we investigated whether genetic and environmental influences varied depending on the type of child victimization, the genetic relatedness with the perpetrator, and the sex of the victim. Our quantitative genetic analyses supported the presence of both genetic and environmental influences on the occurrence and co-occurrence of child abuse and neglect. We also identified one common etiological pathway underlying multiple child victimizations, and, after accounting for this common etiology, we singled out risk factors specific to sexual abuse. Environmental factors shared and nonshared between twins raised together influenced the risk of victimization by genetically related and unrelated perpetrators respectively. Furthermore, we estimated sex differences in the etiology of emotional and sexual victimization, including larger unshared environmental influences for men and sex-limited genetic effects for women. These findings can inform child protection as they contribute to explaining why certain individuals are at increased risk of experiencing one or more types of child maltreatment.

Keywords: Child victimization, Gene-environment correlations (rGE), sex differences, child sexual abuse (CSA), Child maltreatment [CM], Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), Heritability (H), Genetics, Child emotional abuse, Child physical abuse, neglect, physical neglect, emotional neglect, genetic correlations, Multiple victimization, Intrafamilial abuse, Extrafamilial abuse

Received: 24 Apr 2019; Accepted: 15 Aug 2019.

Edited by:

Michelle Luciano, University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom

Reviewed by:

Brad Verhulst, Texas A&M University, United States
Lisabeth F. DiLalla, Southern Illinois University Carbondale, United States  

Copyright: © 2019 Pezzoli, Antfolk, Hatoum and Santtila. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Mx. Patrizia Pezzoli, Åbo Akademi University, Turku, Finland,