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Child Abuse & Neglect 81 (2018) 161–169

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Child Abuse & Neglect

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Maladaptive schemas as mediators of the relationship between

previous victimizations in the family and dating violence
victimization in adolescents

Esther Calvetea, , Manuel Gámez-Guadixb, Liria Fernández-Gonzaleza, Izaskun Oruea,
Erika Borrajoa
University of Deusto, Spain
Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Spain


Keywords: This study examined whether exposure to family violence, both in the form of direct victimi-
Family violence zation and witnessing violence, predicted dating violence victimization in adolescents through
Dating violence victimization maladaptive schemas. A sample of 933 adolescents (445 boys and 488 girls), aged between 13
Adolescents and 18 (M = 15.10), participated in a three-year longitudinal study. They completed measures of
Maladaptive schemas
exposure to family violence, maladaptive schemas of disconnection/rejection, and dating vio-
lence victimization. The findings indicate that witnessing family violence predicts the increase of
dating violence victimization over time, through the mediation of maladaptive schemas in girls,
but not in boys. Direct victimization in the family predicts dating violence victimization directly,
without the mediation of schemas. In addition, maladaptive schemas contribute to the perpe-
tuation of dating violence victimization over time. These findings provide new opportunities for
preventive interventions, as maladaptive schemas can be modified.

Dating violence victimization in adolescents is a highly prevalent problem. A recent meta-analytic review indicated an overall
prevalence of 20% for physical dating violence and 9% for sexual dating violence (Wincentak, Connolly, & Card, 2017). The same
review revealed that there were no gender differences in physical victimization (21% boys and girls) but that the girls experienced
higher rates of sexual victimization (14% vs. 8%). Dating violence victimization has severe outcomes for the victims; therefore, the
identification of risk antecedents is important. Experiences within the family play a significant role in how adolescents relate to
others. The model of the intergenerational transmission of violence proposes that intimate partner violence is influenced in part by
exposure to violence in the family of origin (Debnam, Waasdorp, & Bradshaw, 2016; Hamby, Finkelhor, & Turner, 2012; O’Leary,
1988). This approach is mainly based on the theoretical principles of social learning theory which holds that behaviors are learned
from observation and imitation of significant others (Bandura, 1977).
A number of longitudinal studies have supported that adolescents who have been victims of family abuse are at a higher risk of
also becoming victims of dating violence (Cascardi, 2016; Foshee, Benefield, Ennett, Bauman, & Suchindran, 2004; Gómez, 2011;
Widom, Czaja, & Dutton, 2014). For instance, in a sample of high school students from North Carolina, Foshee et al. (2004) found that
being hit by an adult with the intention of harm was one of the most consistent predictors of serious physical dating victimization.
Likewise, having been exposed to violence at home by witnessing violence between parents has also been found to predict dating

Corresponding author at: Department of Personality, Psychological Assessment and Treatment, University of Deusto, Avenida de las Universidades, 24, 48007,
Bilbao, Spain.
E-mail address: (E. Calvete).
Received 24 October 2017; Received in revised form 2 March 2018; Accepted 28 April 2018
0145-2134/ © 2018 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
E. Calvete et al. Child Abuse & Neglect 81 (2018) 161–169

violence victimization (Cascardi, 2016; Ehrensaft et al., 2003).

Results from research on gender differences in the association between victimization at home and dating violence victimization
are mixed. Whereas some studies find that child abuse is associated with dating violence victimization both in boys and girls
(Ehrensaft et al., 2003; Foshee et al., 2004; Gómez, 2011; Wekerle et al., 2009; Widom et al., 2014), other studies’ findings suggest
that the pathways from exposure to family violence to subsequent dating violence victimization could be stronger for girls. For
instance, Marshall and Rose (1988) found that, for women but not for men, experiencing abuse as a child significantly predicted
dating violence victimization. In another study, childhood abuse was associated with the likelihood of dating violence victimization
among females but not males (Gover, Kaukinen, & Fox, 2008). Moreover, results from a recent meta-analytic review indicate that the
relationship between experiencing family-of-origin violence and subsequent intimate partner violence victimization is significantly
stronger for females than for males (Smith-Marek et al., 2015).

1. Early maladaptive schemas as mediating mechanisms of re-victimization

An unresolved issue is the mechanisms involved in the perpetuation of victimization and/or re-victimization. Several studies have
examined the role of the acceptance of violence as a mediating mechanism (Karlsson, Temple, Weston, & Le, 2016; Reyes et al.,
2015). When adolescents experience child abuse or observe a parent being subjected to violence by an intimate partner, they may
learn to expect and accept victimization in their own dating relationships (Cascardi, 2016). Several cross-sectional studies have
indicated that the acceptance of violence contributes to explaining the association between exposure to family violence and victi-
mization in the dating relationships (Allwood & Bell, 2008; Clarey, Hokoda, & Ulloa, 2010), and longitudinal studies have provided
partial evidence for this mechanism (Karlsson et al., 2016).
The schema therapy (Young, Klosko, & Weishaar, 2003) presents a theoretical model of the role that early maladaptive schemas
exert in emotional and behavioral problems, which provides another explanation to understand the perpetuation of victimization.
Early maladaptive schemas are the central concept of schema therapy. They are described as “broad, dysfunctional and pervasive
patterns, consisting of memories, emotions, cognitions, and bodily sensations about oneself and one’s relationships with others,
developed in childhood or adolescence and elaborated throughout one’s lifetime” (Young et al., 2003, p. 7). According to the model,
there are several schema domains, depending on the child’s need that was not adequately satisfied by caregivers. One of these schema
domains, the disconnection/rejection domain, is particularly relevant in the context of victimization (Calvete, 2014). The dis-
connection and rejection domain includes schemas involving the expectation that one’s needs for security, acceptance and respect
will not be predictably fulfilled (e.g., mistrust, abandonment, emotional privation, and defectiveness schemas).
Although the above schemas are very negative, they are very resistant to change and tend to perpetuate themselves over time
(Rijkeboer, van den Bergh, & Van den Bout, 2005; Riso et al., 2006). Maladaptive schemas fight for survival because of the human
need for consistency. According to Young et al. (2003), people adopt inappropriate coping styles in an attempt to deal with their
schemas and avoid the negative emotions that they generate. Inappropriate coping contributes to the perpetuation of the schemas. In
particular, the model proposes several forms of coping that people can use to manage their negative schemas. One of them is
particularly relevant in the context of victimization, and consists of the maintenance of the schemas. Maintenance of schemas is
characterized by cognitive distortions and maladaptive behaviors that reinforce and perpetuate the schemas. In this way, for example,
an adolescent with the mistrust schema, which consists of the belief that other people will hurt him/her intentionally, could more
easily initiate relationships with abusers. The experience in the abusive relationship, in turn, would contribute to perpetuating the
belief that people are abusive and intentionally harm other people. Similarly, a person with the emotional deprivation schema, which
consists of the feeling that other people are not available for providing the love and care we need, could join cold and hostile people
who provide little affection.
The potential role of maladaptive schemas in the intergenerational transmission of victimization is consistent with the concept of
target vulnerability, which was proposed by Finkelhor and Asdigian (1996) to explain that some characteristics may make an in-
dividual more susceptible to victimization. Maladaptive schemas consisting of feelings of defectiveness and expectations of being
rejected and abused by others could lead adolescents to appear weak and become a more likely target for abuse in romantic re-
lationships (Brooks-Russell, Foshee, & Ennett, 2013). Furthermore, maladaptive schemas are highly associated with psychological
distress, which could also contribute to increase the likelihood of victimization. This mechanism would be consistent with Cascardi
(2016) study, in which psychological distress mediated between exposure to violence at home and dating violence victimization in a
sample of female adolescents.
Applying the above ideas to the transmission of victimization in the family to victimization in the dating relationship via ma-
ladaptive schemas, it can be hypothesized that victimization in the family leads to the development of the disconnection/rejection
schemas and that these, in turn, increase the risk of future victimization, because the schemas can be perpetuated through the choice
of abusive partners, being the target of abusive partners, or staying in abusive relationships. Regarding the first part of this hy-
pothesis, there are previous studies that have found that the experiences of victimization in the family are associated with certain
maladaptive schemas both in samples of adults (e.g., McCarthy & Lumley, 2012; Thimm, 2010; Wright, Crawford, & Del Castillo,
2009) and adolescents (Calvete & Orue, 2013; Muris, 2006). However, one limitation is that most of these studies were cross-
sectional. In a longitudinal study with adolescents, Calvete (2014) found that, although emotional abuse by parents was cross-
sectionally associated with maladaptive schemas, the predictive relationship was not statistically significant. Nevertheless, this study
focused on the form of direct victimization of emotional abuse, but did not evaluate the circumstance of having witnessed domestic
violence. In a later study with adolescents, it was found that a composite measure including both direct and indirect victimization at
home predicted a worsening of the disconnection/rejection schema domain one year later (Calvete, Fernández-González, Orue, &

E. Calvete et al. Child Abuse & Neglect 81 (2018) 161–169

Little, 2016). However, this study did not examine the specific contribution made by direct victimization in the family and witnessing
family violence.
Regarding the mediating role of maladaptive schemas in the relationship between victimization in the family and future victi-
mization in the couple, some cross-sectional studies with samples of adult women have been conducted. In a sample of college
women, the disconnection/rejection schema domain—but not other schema domains—mediated the association between child
emotional abuse and intimate partner violence victimization (Gay, Harding, Jackson, Burns, & Baker, 2013). Consistently, in another
cross-sectional study with married women, retrospective experiences of child abuse and neglect were associated with higher scores on
disconnection/rejection schemas, and these schemas in turn were associated with greater probabilities of intimate partner violence
victimization (Atmaca & Gençöz, 2016).

2. Overview and hypotheses of the current study

The main aim of the current study was to examine whether two forms of exposure to family violence (i.e., direct victimization and
witnessing domestic violence) predict dating violence victimization through the mediation of disconnection/rejection schemas in
adolescents. Although several cross-sectional studies indicate that there is a positive association between experiences of direct and
indirect victimization and maladaptive schemas, longitudinal studies have displayed mixed results (Calvete et al., 2016; Calvete,
2014). More importantly, the mediating role of maladaptive schemas in the association between victimization in the family and re-
victimization in the partner relationship has only been examined in adult samples of women, and by means of cross-sectional designs
(Atmaca & Gençöz, 2016; Gay et al., 2013). Although these studies suggest that the disconnection/rejection schemas can play a
relevant role as a mechanism of transmission of victimization from the family context to the dating context, longitudinal research is
necessary to properly test mediating mechanisms. The identification of these mechanisms is relevant for preventive interventions.
Furthermore, the inclusion of both males and females is important. Though previous studies indicate that dating violence vic-
timization occurs both in boys and girls (Fernández-González, Calvete, & Orue, 2017; O’Leary, Slep, Avery-Leaf, & Cascardi, 2008),
findings from some studies suggest that the effect of exposure to family violence in subsequent dating violence victimization could be
stronger in girls than in boys (Gover et al., 2008; Smith-Marek et al., 2015). Boys and girls can experience different developmental
trajectories and face gender roles that include mixed socio-cultural conceptions of the roles attributed to men and women (Laporte,
Jiang, Pepler, & Chamberland, 2011). For example, Wolfe et al. (2001) found that histories of maltreatment were risk factors for boys
to become perpetrators of dating violence and for girls to become recipients of such violence. Thus, the association between exposure
to violence in the family and the subsequent risk of victimization in romantic relationships may be different in boys and girls.
Accordingly, in the current study, we expected that the role of having witnessed family violence in subsequent victimization
would be stronger in female adolescents because several forms of intimate partner violence at home (e.g., physical and sexual
violence) are usually exerted against women by their male partners (Spanish Statistical Office, 2017; Spanish Ministry of Health,
Social Services and Equality, 2015). Thus, as it would be easier for girls to identify with their mothers due to gender similarity (same-
sex parent modelling; e.g., Gover et al., 2008; Karlsson et al., 2016), social learning of victimization could be more prominent among
girls. In addition, disconnection/rejection schemas are more prevalent among girls (Calvete, Orue, & González-Díez, 2013; Calvete,
Orue, & Hankin, 2013) and could therefore more probably act as mediational mechanisms.

3. Method

3.1. Participants

The participants came from a large sample of 1510 high school students (50.9% boys) from 21 schools (9 public and 13 private) in
Bizkaia (Spain). The sample was first stratified by school type, and the schools were then selected randomly by means of a cluster
sampling procedure. The final sample consisted of 933 subjects (445 boys and 488 girls) aged between 13 and 18 (M = 15.10;
SD = 1.17) who completed measures of dating violence in at least two of the three waves (T1, T2, and T3) of the study. The final
sample was ethnically representative of the Spanish population. Almost the entire sample was Spanish (91.4%), 7.1% were South
American and the other 1.5% were from various other countries. They all had lived in Spain for at least one year before the beginning
of the study. All the adolescents originally from other countries lived with their families in Spain. The socioeconomic levels were
determined by applying the criteria recommended by the Spanish Society of Epidemiology (2000), which are based on the educa-
tional level of the parents and their employment, resulting in the following class distribution: 12.3% low, 29.9% medium-low, 21.5%
medium, 22.4% medium-high and 13.9% high.

3.2. Measures

3.2.1. Exposure to violence

The exposure to family violence was measured by means of the Exposure to Violence Scale (Orue & Calvete, 2010). The scale was
completed to include additional items that assessed exposure to intimate partner violence at home. Thus, direct victimization at home
was measured by 3 items (e.g., “How often has somebody hit you at home?”) and witnessing violence with 5 items (e.g., “How many
times have you seen one of your parents assault the other at home?”). The resulting scale has been previously used in another study
with adolescents (Calvete et al., 2016). The scale included both victimization and witnessing of violent acts. Each item was answered
on a 5-point scale (0 = never to 4 = every day). Cronbach's α was 0.81 for direct victimization in the family and 0.69 for witnessing

E. Calvete et al. Child Abuse & Neglect 81 (2018) 161–169

family violence.

3.2.2. Disconnection and rejection schemas

The disconnection and rejection schema domain was assessed according to 5 items from the Defectiveness Schema (e.g., “I do not
deserve the affection, attention or respect of others”), 5 items from the Mistrust Schema (e.g., “I am quite suspicious of the intentions
of others”), 5 items from the Emotional Deprivation Schema (e.g., “For much of my life, I haven’t felt that I am special to someone”),
and 5 items from the Abandonment schema (e.g., “I feel attached to the people to whom I am very close because I am afraid of being
abandoned”) subscales of the Young Schema Questionnaire-3 (Young, 2006; Spanish version, Calvete, Orue, & González-Díez, 2013;
Calvete, Orue, & Hankin, 2013). Each item was answered on a 6-point scale (1 = completely untrue of me to 6 = describes me perfectly).
Cronbach's α was 0.85 at T1 and 0.88 at T2.

3.2.3. Dating violence victimization

We used the Violence Victimization subscale of the Conflict in Adolescent Dating Relationships Inventory (CADRI; Wolfe et al., 2001)
to assess victimization in dating relationships during the last year. The subscale consists of 25 items (e.g., “My partner ridiculed or
made fun of me in front of others”, “My partner threw something at me”). The response choices for each item were defined according
to a 4-point scale ranging from 0 (never) to 3 (often). The Spanish version of the CADRI has also shown good psychometric properties
and its structure has been confirmed (Fernández-Fuertes, Fuertes, & Pulido, 2006). In this study, Cronbach’s alphas were 0.71, 0.84,
and 0.81 for T1, T2, and T3, respectively.

3.3. Procedure

First, we contacted the schools to explain the objectives of our study. After the principal agreed to take part in the study, we sent
informational letters and consent forms to the parents. Although parents had the option of refusing to allow their child’s participation
in the study, all parents agreed to let their children participate (i.e., parental consent rate = 100%). All adolescents agreed to
participate in this study (i.e., assent rate = 100%) and they completed the questionnaires in their classrooms. Data were collected on
three occasions (T1: 2012–2013, T2: 2013-2014, and T3: 2014-2015), spaced one year apart. Participants completed measures of
exposure to violence at T1, measures of cognitive schemas at T1 and T2, and measures of dating violence victimization at T1, T2 and
T3. The Ethics Committee of the University of [masked] approved this study.

3.4. Data analytic plan

The hypotheses of the study were tested by means of path analysis with LISREL 9.2, according to the robust maximum likelihood
(RML) method, which requires an estimate of the asymptotic covariance matrix of the sample variances and covariances and includes
the Satorra-Bentler scaled χ2 index (S-B χ2). The hypothesized model included associations between all the variables at T1, auto-
regressive paths for the variables that were measured at different times (dating violence victimization and disconnection/rejection
schemas), and cross-lagged predictive paths from T1 variables to T2 variables and from T2 variables to T3 dating violence victi-
mization. Age was included in the model to control for potential differences depending on age. The goodness of the model fit was
evaluated using the comparative fit index (CFI), the non-normative fit index (NNFI), the root mean square error of approximation
(RMSEA) and the standardized root mean square residual (SRMR). Generally, CFI and NNFI values of 0.90 or higher reflect a good fit.
RMSEA values lower than 0.06 indicate an excellent fit, and SRMR values of 0.08 or less indicate that the model adequately fits the
data (e.g., Hu & Bentler, 1999; Little, 2013).

Table 1
Correlation Coefficients and Descriptive Statistics for the Study Variables.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Witnessing family violence 1

Direct victimization in the family 0.73** 1
T1 disconnection/rejection 0.20** 0.24** 1
T1 dating violence victimization 0.24** 0.18** 0.21** 1
T2 disconnection/rejection 0.25** 0.26** 0.59** 0.24** 1
T2 dating violence victimization 0.19** 0.20** 0.16** 0.44** 0.29** 1
T3 dating violence victimization 0.08 0.09* 0.17** 0.23** 0.26** 0.34** 1
Mean 0.19 0.32 2.13 0.20 2.05 0.19 0.15
SD 0.41 0.65 0.67 0.33 0.73 0.26 0.21

* p < .05.
** p < .001.

E. Calvete et al. Child Abuse & Neglect 81 (2018) 161–169

Table 2
Gender Differences for the Study Variables.
Girls Boys Differences

M SD M SD t p d

Witnessing family violence 0.19 0.41 0.18 0.41 0.37 .711 –

Direct victimization in the family 0.34 0.66 0.29 0.65 1.14 .256 –
T1 disconnection/rejection 2.19 0.70 2.06 0.63 3.03 .002 0.19
T1 dating violence victimization 0.20 0.34 0.20 0.32 −0.05 .963 –
T2 disconnection/rejection 2.12 0.78 1.96 0.68 3.23 .001 0.22
T2 dating violence victimization 0.21 0.27 0.17 0.23 2.28 .023 0.16
T3 dating violence victimization 0.17 0.21 0.13 0.21 2.17 .030 0.19

4. Results

4.1. Descriptive statistics, correlation coefficients, and sex differences between variables

Means, standard deviations and correlations between all the variables of the study are displayed in Table 1. As can be seen, all the
correlation coefficients were statistically significant (p < .001), with the exception of the correlation between witnessing family
violence and dating violence victimization at T3. Table 2 displays sex differences for all the variables. There were no significant
differences between girls and boys for witnessing or being a victim of family violence. However, girls scored significantly higher than
boys in disconnection/rejection schemas at T1 and T2, and in dating violence victimization at T2 and T3.

4.2. Hypothetical longitudinal model

The path analysis revealed several statistically significant paths. All correlations between variables at T1 were statistically sig-
nificant. The exception was age, which was negatively associated with witnessing and disconnection/rejection schemas, but not
associated with direct victimization at family and dating violence victimization at T1. Regarding longitudinal predictive paths, the
autoregressive paths were statistically significant, moderate in the case of dating violence victimization (0.33–0.43) and high in the
case of disconnection/rejection schemas (0.55). Moreover, several cross-lagged paths were statistically significant. Direct victimi-
zation in the family predicted a residual increase of dating violence victimization at T2. Both witnessing family violence and T1
dating violence victimization predicted a residual increase of disconnection/rejection schemas at T2, and these schemas in turn
predicted a residual increase in dating violence victimization at T3. Age predicted the increase in dating violence victimization at T2.
Finally, the modification indexes provided by LISREL 9.2 indicated that the fit of the model could be improved by adding a path from
T1 to T3 dating violence victimization. Thus, this path was added to the model. A more parsimonious model was estimated including
only significant paths. Fig. 1 displays the resulting model, which obtained excellent fit indexes: Satorra-Bentler χ2(11,
N = 933) = 9.75, p = .46, RMSEA = 0.012 (90% CI [0.00, 0.039]), NNFI = 0.998, CFI = 0.999, SRMR = 0.017. The model ex-
plained 39%, 23%, and 27%, respectively, of the variance in T2 disconnection/rejection schemas, T2 dating violence victimization,
and T3 dating violence victimization.
A bootstrapping procedure with 5000 samples was conducted to test the significance of the mediating paths. The results indicated

Fig. 1. Longitudinal model between exposure to family violence, maladaptive schemas, and dating violence victimization.
Note: Given values represent standardized coefficients. *p < .05, **p < .001.

E. Calvete et al. Child Abuse & Neglect 81 (2018) 161–169

that the disconnection/rejection schemas mediated the predictive association from witnessing family violence to T3 dating violence
victimization (0.047; 95% CI [0.046, 0.047]), and from T1 dating violence victimization to T3 dating violence victimization (0.041;
95% CI [0.040, 0.041]).

4.3. Sex differences

The above model was estimated for the subsamples of boys and girls, separately. The model displayed good fit indexes in both
boys (Satorra-Bentler χ2(11, N = 445) = 9.75, p = .16, RMSEA = 0.031 (90% CI [0.00, 0.063]), NNFI = 0.986, CFI = 0.995,
SRMR = 0.031) and girls (Satorra-Bentler χ2(11, N = 488) = 30, p = .002, RMSEA = 0.059 (90% CI [0.034, 0.08]), NNFI = 0.961,
CFI = 0.985, SRMR = 0.033). An examination of the paths in each subsample indicated that the path from witnessing family violence
to T2 disconnection/rejection schemas was not statistically significant in the subsample of boys.
Next, we examined whether the model was invariant for boys and girls. First, we tested the configural invariance of the model to
demonstrate that the pattern of fixed and free parameters was equivalent across subsamples. This model displayed good fit indexes,
Satorra-Bentler χ2(22, N = 933) = 44.95, RMSEA = 0.048 (90% CI [0.027, 0.067]), NNFI = 0.972, CFI = 0.989, SRMR = 0.032.
Second, we estimated a model in which longitudinal paths were constricted to be equal across both subsamples. This imposition did
not increase χ2 significantly: Satorra-Bentler χ2(8, N = 933) = 13.36, p = .10, which indicated that the general pattern of long-
itudinal associations between variables is similar in boys and in girls.

5. Discussion

This study aimed to test whether previous experiences of victimization in the family predict subsequent victimization in ado-
lescent dating relationships, and whether the maladaptive schemas proposed by the schema therapy act as a mediating mechanism in
this re-victimization process.
The results show that witnessing family violence predicts a worsening of the disconnection/rejection schemas a year later, and
that these schemas in turn predict the increase of victimization in dating relationships two years later. Disconnection/rejection
schemas include beliefs that people intentionally harass others, abuse them, and fail to provide the necessary respect and affection. As
has been pointed out, through numerous mechanisms, schemas strive for survival and maintenance (Young et al., 2003). Thus,
although maladaptive schemas are highly dysfunctional, adolescents with these schemas may be more likely to be involved in abusive
relationships, and if they are, they may experience more difficulty breaking off these relationships. In this study, the role of schemas
as predictors of victimization was confirmed in both boys and girls. These results extend those obtained in two cross-sectional studies
(Atmaca & Gençöz, 2016; Gay et al., 2013), in which the disconnection/rejection schemas were also associated with experiences of
intimate partner violence victimization. They are also consistent with findings obtained in another study in which schemas of the
same domain contributed to the perpetuation of peer-victimization over time (Calvete, Fernández-González, González-Cabrera, &
Gámez-Guadix, 2017).
There are several theoretical models than explain why some maladaptive schemas could contribute to increase vulnerability to be
victimized in adolescents who endorse these schemas. The schema therapy model proposes that schemas act as prophecies that tend
to be fulfilled (Young et al., 2003). Thus, adolescents with a very negative view of themselves, and with expectations that others will
hurt them, can experience helplessness when they are involved in an abusive romantic relationship. Moreover, in consistency with
the concept of target vulnerability (Finkelhor & Asdigian, 1996), maladaptive schemas would put these adolescents at risk of being
chosen by abusive partners. The mediating role of maladaptive schemas in the intergenerational transmission of victimization is also
consistent with findings of one study in which psychological distress (e.g., depression, anxiety) mediated the association between
exposure to family violence at home and dating violence victimization in a sample of female adolescents (Cascardi, 2016), as these
schemas have been found to be highly associated with psychological distress in other studies (e.g., Calvete, Orue, & González-Díez,
2013; Calvete, Orue, & Hankin, 2013; Rijkeboer et al., 2005; Riso et al., 2006). Thus, it is possible that one of the mechanisms through
which maladaptive schemas increase the risk of victimization is by increasing psychological maladjustment in adolescents.
Additionally, we expected that the role of having witnessed family violence in subsequent victimization would be stronger in
female adolescents. The findings are consistent with this hypothesis, as witnessing family violence predicted the worsening of ma-
ladaptive schemas only in girls. There are several potential explanations for this specific finding in girls. One tentative explanation is
that, in this study, the variable of witnessing family violence includes specific items about physical and sexual violence against the
partner, which in Spain, is generally perpetrated by the man towards his female partner (Spanish Statistical Office, 2017; Spanish
Ministry of Health, Social Services and Equality, 2015). Thus, in accordance with the same-sex partner-modeling argument (Karlsson
et al., 2016), girls who observe these behaviors at home could more easily identify with the role of the mother, who is the recipient of
the aggressions and thus develop the aforementioned schemas. Furthermore, daughters could be learning schemas that are present in
their mothers. Previous research with female victims of intimate partner violence indicate that the experience of being a victim seems
to be particularly harmful for schemas related to self-worth and feelings of being rejected and abused by others (Calvete, Estévez, &
Corral, 2007). Thus, disconnection and rejection schemas could be present in abused mothers and, through the above-mentioned
same-sex parent modelling mechanism, daughters could more probably learn their mothers’ schemas.
Furthermore, we cannot ignore the context in which abuse against women takes place. This context includes patriarchal beliefs
about the inferiority of women and the entitlement of men to control women (Carr & VanDeusen, 2002; Klevens, 2007; Lozano, Rivas,
& Gómez, 2003). Traditional gender role beliefs have been proposed to encourage the perpetration of dating violence in boys and to
increase the risk of dating violence victimization in girls (Foshee et al., 2004). Children who observe parents using violence are

E. Calvete et al. Child Abuse & Neglect 81 (2018) 161–169

witnessing a script for that behavior, which also includes this context (Gover et al., 2008). Traditional gender role beliefs could create
the scenario in which maladaptive schemas consisting of negative self-worth and expectances of being abused are more easily
incorporated by girls. Thus, cultural aspects such as gender roles and the inferiority of women in society could make girls more
vulnerable to develop the schemas of the disconnection/rejection domain when they are exposed to violence against their mothers.
This is consistent with the higher scores on these schemas in girls that have been found in other studies (e.g., Calvete, Orue, &
González-Díez, 2013; Calvete, Orue, & Hankin, 2013).
The above explanations are consistent with the possibility that boys who witness violence are at risk of developing schemas more
closely related to perpetration of violence. In fact, it has been found that the relationship between experiencing family-of-origin
violence and subsequent IPV perpetration is significantly stronger for males than for females (Smith-Marek et al., 2015). Future
studies should examine this hypothesis. In any case, it is important to emphasize that this study offers robust evidence that witnessing
family violence is related to important disruptions in adolescents’ psychosocial functioning.
Importantly, direct victimization in the family, although cross-sectionally correlated with maladaptive schemas, did not predict a
worsening of the schemas over time. This suggests that witnessing family violence plays a greater role in the consolidation and
development of maladaptive schemas than direct victimization in the family. This result contributes to the knowledge about the role
of the various types of exposure to family violence in the development of maladaptive schemas. As described, the two previous
longitudinal studies either measured only direct victimization (Calvete, 2014) or did not differentiate between both forms of victi-
mization (Calvete et al., 2016). Because poly-victimization is frequent (Finkelhor, Ormrod, & Turner, 2009), the specific role of each
form of victimization could be masked. Thus, there is a need for research on the association of different types of prior victimization
and maladaptive schemas while controlling for each of the other types of family victimization. In any case, direct victimization in the
family did predict an increase in victimization in dating relationships a year later. It is possible that this predictive association is
explained by different mechanisms, such as social learning (Bandura, 1977; O’Leary, 1988). Thus, according to the social learning
theory, children exposed to direct violence at home may learn, through the model of their parents’ behavior, that aggression is an
acceptable means to interact with others. In addition, an adolescent who has been hit at home is more likely to engage in maladaptive
coping strategies (e.g., responding to aggression with more aggression) (Gámez-Guadix & Calvete, 2012), which, in turn, may escalate
aggression and increase chronification of victimization.
The results also show that the greatest predictor of victimization in dating relationships is previous experience with dating
violence victimization. In this study, both victimization in T1 and T2 predicted victimization in T3, and the autoregressive coeffi-
cients of this variable were considerable in size. These findings indicate that dating violence victimization may tend to perpetuate
over time, which is consistent with recent findings on the stability of the problem (Choi & Temple, 2016; Fernández-González et al.,
2017) and the increased likelihood of partner violence in adulthood for those who had been involved in violent dating relationships
(e.g., Greenman & Matsuda, 2016). Important implications for prevention are derived from the previous results, since early inter-
vention could prevent the perpetuation of partner violence in later stages. Moreover, the disconnection/rejection schemas mediated
the predictive association between dating violence victimization at the beginning of the study and victimization in the third year,
which suggests that these schemas should be a target for interventions. As mentioned, the mediating effect of schemas as a perpe-
tuating mechanism of victimization in dating relationships is very similar to that obtained in another recent study, in which the same
schemas contributed to the perpetuation of victimization by peers (Calvete et al., 2017).

5.1. Limitations

This work, like all studies, has several limitations that should be taken into account. The first one refers to the exclusive use of self-
reports, which could have increased the shared variance between measures. Moreover, internal consistency of the measure of wit-
nessing violence at home was low. Future studies should include other assessment techniques, such as the use of interviews, with the
aim of obtaining a deeper assessment of childhood victimization at home, including both direct victimization and witnessing family
violence. Second, this study included only the report by the adolescent. Future work should include the report of other relevant
individuals, such as the report by the adolescents’ parents on the types of family victimization or the report by the adolescents'
partners on the existence of dating violence. Third, this study measured family variables only at T1. It would have been desirable to
include measures at all three times to analyze, for example, the possible reciprocal relations between the exposure to violence in the
family and maladaptive schemas. Fourth, we did not collect information about some characteristics of the dating relationships, such
as duration and nature (e.g., homosexual, heterosexual). In addition, it would be interesting to examine whether victimization only
takes place in that relationship or also with different partners. Finally, this study was carried out in the cultural context of Spain, so
we must be cautious in the generalization of the results. Future studies should replicate these findings in other different social

5.2. Conclusions and implications for practice

Despite these limitations, this is the first longitudinal study that analyzes the prospective relationships between victimization in
the family and dating violence victimization, thus extending the previous investigation on the temporal relationships between these
variables. In addition, this study sheds light on the mechanisms involved in perpetuating different forms of victimization during
adolescence, which could lead to polyvictimization (Finkelhor et al., 2009).
Important implications can be derived for intervention. This study shows the important role of maladaptive schemas in the
perpetuation of victimization. Therefore, interventions should take into account maladaptive schemas in order to break the cycle of

E. Calvete et al. Child Abuse & Neglect 81 (2018) 161–169

continuity between the forms of victimization over the time. In addition, victimization in the family should be considered a sig-
nificant risk factor for dating victimization, and should therefore be considered to prevent this problem. Preventive interventions
aimed at families may enhance the improvements achieved through the prevention programs conducted with the adolescents.
Finally, it is important to note that, in any case, these results should not be interpreted as an attribution of blame to the victim. On
the contrary, it is important to emphasize that it is the aggressors who seek out at-risk victims as possible targets, such as those
individuals who have already suffered previous abuse and could present increased vulnerability. Therefore, preventive interventions
should take into account the characteristics of the aggressors as well as those of potential victims.


This research was supported by a grant from the Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (Spanish Government, Ref. PSI2015-
68426-R) and two grants from the Basque Country (Ref. IT982-16 and Ref. PI_2016_1_0023).


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