From victims to offenders: The relationship between child maltreatment and offending trajectories

Carleen Thompson1, Anna Stewart, Lisa Broidy

1Griffith University, Mount Gravatt, Australia

In this study we investigate the relationship between the timing and chronicity of child maltreatment and trajectories of offending from late childhood to young adulthood. Using data from the Queensland Linkage Project (N = 44,021), maltreatment-offending links are examined for all individuals in Queensland born in 1983 or 1984 who had a substantiated history of child maltreatment or official record of offending between ages 10 through 25 years (i.e. youth and adult court finalisations and formal youth police cautions). Using semiparametric group-based modelling, we detail heterogeneity in the timing, frequency, and duration of child maltreatment, and explore the relationship between child maltreatment trajectories and the seriousness and persistence of offending. Gender differences in the relation between child maltreatment and offending trajectories are also explored. Findings suggest that experiences of child maltreatment are associated with elevated rates of offending, particularly amongst females. However, the impact of maltreatment on subsequent offending patterns differs according to the timing, frequency, and duration maltreatment. Males and females who were maltreated during adolescence were more likely engage in chronic offending compared to individuals whose maltreatment was confined to early childhood. Protection from or exposure to victimisation as well as its timing, nature, and extent play a particularly salient role in female’s offending. Implications for policy and practice, and life course theories of offending are discussed.


Dr Carleen Thompson is a lecturer in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice and Griffith University. Her research explores early and contemporaneous factors associated with offending and reoffending using socio-ecological and developmental life-course frameworks. Carleen has led projects advancing this research agenda in the areas of risk assessment, child maltreatment, stalking, violence and adult-onset offending. Carleen’s research has had considerable impact on policy and practice in Queensland, leading to state-wide changes in risk assessment practices across child protection, youth justice and adult corrections.

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