NEARI Newsletter - Volume 9, Issue 13: January/February 2017
Polyvictimization Across Social Contexts: Home, School, and Neighborhood Violence Exposure
Due to the transition from Joan Tabachnick to Alisa as Director of NEARI Press and Training Center, this month, we present to you a combined January-February newsletter. This month, we offer a summary and analysis of Frederick Butcher and colleagues’ article, “Polyvictimization Across Social Contexts: Home, School, and Neighborhood Violence Exposure.” We were compelled by this article not only because of its focus on the crucial issue of children and adolescents’ exposure to violence and how it affects their well-being, but because the research hones our understanding of how exposure to violence in different social contexts, and traversing multiple types and occasions of violence, has affected justice system-involved youth in different ways.

It is always helpful when researchers dig deeper into a much-discussed topic and help to refine and expand our knowledge about it. It can be easy to get stuck in static interpretations of how certain phenomena and experiences influence one’s mental health and behavior. So, it is always valuable to find nuanced and multifaceted studies that fine-tune our knowledge about the behavioral outcomes of harmful experiences on children and youth. This article does just that. We hope you, too, feel like it expands your knowledge and practice.

As always, please let us know if you have articles or topics you’d like us to write about in future newsletters. Or please feel free to contact Alisa ( ) just to introduce yourself -- or if you’re an old friend and colleague, please be in touch to say hello.

With thanks for your interest in NEARI and the shared work that we do,

Craig Latham, Executive Director, NEARI
Alisa Klein, Director, NEARI Press and Training Center

This month, David S. Prescott and Alisa Klein examine the article:

“Polyvictimization Across Social Contexts:
Home, School, and Neighborhood Violence Exposure”
Frederick Butcher, Megan R. Holmes, Jeff M. Kretschmar, and Daniel J. Flannery - Case Western Reserve University (see below for full citation) 

Do the frequency and social context (specifically in three distinct settings: home, school, and neighborhood) in which juvenile justice-involved youth have been exposed to violence have an effect on their behaviors and implications for choosing the best treatment plan for these youth?   

Past research tells us that almost 65 percent of children who have been victimized or witnessed violence report that they have experienced “polyvictimization,” i.e. multiple experiences as a victim of different types of violence. This article looks deeper into polyvictimization: it examines not just the cumulative effects on a child of repeated exposure to violence, but how the particular locations of the polyvictimization, specifically home, school, and neighborhood, influence how a child’s health and well-being are ultimately affected differently from one another. In researching victimization across these varied social contexts, the researchers hoped to provide a greater understanding of the heterogeneity of classes of youth exposed to violence and identify how different classes may display internalizing behaviors (e.g. post-traumatic stress symptoms) or externalizing behaviors (e.g. violent or suicidal behaviors). 

This study sought to:
  • determine if meaningful groups of adolescents could be identified based on their self-report of exposure to violence as either a witness or a victim in three distinct settings: homes, schools, and neighborhoods;
  • test whether demographic characteristics and family history of mental health issues predict a form of class membership of youth exposed to violence; and
  • examine if the resulting class membership of youth exposed to violence was related to distal outcomes of internalizing and externalizing problems.
The study included 2,545 juvenile justice-involved youth who participated in an intake interview, conducted by a trained caseworker, in which they were asked about the frequency of their exposure to violence and to make a distinction between home, school, and neighborhood as the locations where the violence took place. Using the Ohio Scales (which are designed to assess clinical outcomes for children with severe emotional behavioral disorders), the degree of internalization versus externalization of problem behaviors was assessed for each participant. The researchers determined whether or not the participants’ biological family had been diagnosed with a mental illness or depression. Based on all of this information, classes of youth exposed to violence were defined. 

The authors found that:
  • youth exposed to violence in multiple locations (home, school, and community) had the highest levels of externalizing problems (for example, acting out towards others) and lowest levels of internalizing problems;
  • youth exposed to violence at home and in school had higher levels of internalizing problems (for example, anxiety and depression);
  • the findings highlight the importance of social context in the study of polyvictimization so that in addition to understanding the frequency and intensity of children’s exposure to violence, it is also important to determine the location/s in which the violence took place
  • because of the prevalence of children’s exposure to violence, particularly youth in the juvenile justice system, it is important to assess youth for exposure to violence and develop informed and targeted treatment plans; and
  • because the current study focused on juvenile justice involved-youth, these results should be replicated in a community sample.
Adverse experiences in childhood were once viewed as more of a two-sided coin: Was this client abused or not? Do they have a trauma-related diagnosis or not? These findings point to the importance of developing a deep understanding of each young person’s story and how their experiences have left a mark that can yield important clues to the future. This often means deep, active listening to the narratives that our young clients bring with them into supervision and treatment. This is not simply a value-based statement; clinicians have an obligation to consider the risk for self-harm as well as harm to others.  

Our field rightly focuses on reducing the risk that young people will abuse again in the future. All too often, however, we can forget that these clients are at higher risk to carry the effects of their past experiences as a burden well into the future. Just as we need research to guide us in the direction of externalized behavior (e.g., hurting others), it is equally important to have studies such as this to remind us that our work is also about building healthier futures for those who have abused, as well as those who have caused harm to others. Further, this study points to a risk factor that is often overlooked in the literature of our field: the effects of violence in our communities on young people.

Exposure to violence is a widespread problem that affects the mental health of children and adolescents particularly in at-risk populations such as juvenile justice involved youth. While a number of studies have examined the cumulative impact of violence exposure, few studies have examined the importance of social context. The present study examined classifications of youth exposed to violence by contextual location (home, school, and neighborhood) in a sample of 2,124 juvenile justice involved youth. Latent class analysis revealed three classes of youth exposed to violence: (a) low violence exposure, (b) moderate and high home/school violence exposure, and (c) violence exposure in all three social contexts. Furthermore, distal outcomes analysis showed differences in internalizing and externalizing problems based on class membership. Findings from the current study underline the importance of understanding the role of social context in assessing violence exposure in juvenile justice involved youth. 

Butcher, F., Holmes, M.R., Kretschmar, J.M. and Flannery, D.J. (2016). Polyvictimization Across Social Contexts: Home, School, and Neighborhood Violence Exposure. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 43, 1726–1740. 

Featured NEARI Press Resource
Webinar and Free Online Course

An online workshop produced by The New England Adolescent Research Institute Inc. (NEARI) and sponsored by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC). Whether you are new to the field or an experienced professional, this course provides the basics for how to encourage friends and family to deter and possibly prevent sexual violence.

By:  Toni Cavanagh Johnson, Ph.D.
Duration: 3-4 hours; CE Credits: 4

By: Joan Tabachnick
Duration: 1-2 hours; CE Credits: 2

Date: March 14, 2017
Time: 3:00 PM - 4:00 PM EST
Host: Alisa Klein
Become a Webinar Series Sponsor!
Please consider becoming a sponsor of our exciting 2016-2017 NEARI Press Webinar series.  We have a great lineup of nationally recognized authors including, Phil Rich, Tim Kahn, David Prescott, Robin Wilson, Geral Blanchard, Anna Hanson, Patricia Wilcox, Steven Brown, among many others. 

For $98 as an individual or $250 as an organization, we will guarantee your seat in the webinar AND you have access to FREE CE credits.  We do all of the work to sign you up each month, and, as a thank you for your essential support, we offer you two free NEARI Press books – Current Perspectives and Current Applications, both edited by David Prescott and Robert Longo.  We think that this is really a win-win situation for all of us. 

For more information or to sign up, visit our website at to sign up OR contact Diane Langelier at 413.540.0712 x14 or email her at

Volume 9, Issue 13: January/February 2017
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