Rates and psychological effects of exposure to family violence among Sri Lankan university students

Muhammad M. Haj-Yahia*, Piyanjli de Zoysa

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations

Abstract

Objectives: The study had two objectives: to examine the rates of exposure to family violence among students in a non-Western society, with Sri Lanka as a case study and to examine the psychological effects of their exposure. Method: Four hundred seventy six medical students in Sri Lanka were surveyed. A self-administered questionnaire was utilized, which included two forms of the Conflict Tactics Scales (CTS) to measure the extent to which the students witnessed interparental violence and experienced parental violence in childhood and adolescence. Additional instruments included the Trauma Symptom Checklist (TSC-33), which measures dissociation, anxiety, depression, and sleep disturbance, and the Family Functioning in Adolescence Questionnaire (FFAQ), which measures the students' perceptions of the functioning and environment in their families. Results: Between 16% and 18% of the participants indicated that they had witnessed at least one act of interparental psychological aggression, and between 2% and 16% indicated that they had witnessed at least one act of interparental physical violence before the age of 18. Between 11% and 84% of the participants had experienced at least one act of parental psychological aggression, and between 2% and 22% had experienced at least one act of parental physical violence during childhood. Significant amounts of the variance in participants' dissociation, anxiety, depression, and sleep disturbance were explained by their witnessing interparental violence and experiencing parental violence. Conclusions: The present study provides strong evidence that the rates of family violence in a non-Western society (i.e., Sri Lankan families) are within the range of violence found in Western societies. In addition, the psychological effects of exposure to family violence in non-Western societies are similar to those in Western societies, although the relevance of familial, cultural, and political contexts as well as socio-demographic characteristics to those effects in non-Western societies should be taken into consideration. Practice implications: Counseling centers at universities should focus on developing better routine screening to reach students who are victims of family violence. The importance of sensitivity to risks associated with asking students about these problems should be taken into consideration. Interventions should aim to increase the students' safety, to alleviate the mental health consequences of their exposure to family violence, and to help those victims to develop productive help-seeking behaviors and coping resources to ensure their safety. Collaboration between the university and community and within the university for the benefit of those victims may help in facilitating the indentification of and intervention with students' victims of family violence.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)994-1002
Number of pages9
JournalChild Abuse and Neglect
Volume32
Issue number10
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 2008

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Entry of the study data was partially supported by the Research Group on Mental Health and Well-Being in Childhood and Adolescence, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Paul Baerwald School of Social Work and Social Welfare.

Keywords

  • Effects of family violence
  • Experiencing parental violence
  • Exposure to family violence
  • Family violence
  • Sri Lankan family
  • Witnessing interparental violence

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