Socio-political context as determinant of childhood maltreatment: a population-based study among women and men in East and West Germany



Being subjected to childhood maltreatment has devastating long-term adverse effects and is a major risk factor for mental health problems in adult life. There is empirical support that socio-political factors can be risk factors for childhood maltreatment. Here we examine whether socio-political context predicts self-rated childhood maltreatment in a sample of the German population.


Data were drawn from surveys of representative samples of the East and West German population, including participants born 1980 or earlier (5836 participants; 3146 women). Childhood maltreatment was assessed using the Childhood Trauma Screener, the German short screening version of the childhood trauma questionnaire. To examine whether socio-political context is a predictor of childhood maltreatment in women and men, we conducted logistic regression analyses.


We found that in women, socio-political context (West Germany) significantly predicted childhood maltreatment (odds ratio [95% confidence interval] 1.7 [1.2–2.5], 1.6 [1.1–2.3], 2.5 [1.6–4.1] and 1.8 [1.3–2.5] for emotional neglect, and emotional, physical and sexual violence, respectively). In men, the socio-political context (West Germany) was a predictor of physical and sexual violence (odds ratio [95% confidence interval] 1.8 [1.2–2.7] and 2.5 [1.4–4.5]), respectively. Concerning emotional neglect and violence, socio-political context was not a significant predictor in men. The examination of differential item functioning revealed that our results could not be attributed to differential response behaviour between East and West Germans caused by item bias.


The results suggest that socio-political context is an important determinant to consider when examining childhood maltreatment. Future research should continue to focus on risk and protective factors at the societal level, such as legal frameworks addressing gender equality and child protection laws, to create further evidence for population-wide prevention strategies ensuring safe, nurturing and thriving environments for children and families.

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Ulke, C., Fleischer, T., Muehlan, H., Altweck, L., Hahm, S., Glaesmer, H., Fegert, J. M., Zenger, M., Grabe, H. J., Schmidt, S., Beutel, M. E., Schomerus, G., Brähler, E. & Speerforck, S.