Unsafe at Any Age: Linking Childhood and Adolescent Maltreatment to Delinquency and Crime

Joshua P. Mersky, James Topitzes, Arthur J. Reynolds

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

118 Scopus citations


Objectives. This study compares the effects of childhood maltreatment and adolescent maltreatment on delinquency and crime, including violent and nonviolent offending. Methods. Data were derived from the Chicago Longitudinal Study, a prospective investigation of 1,539 underprivileged, minority subjects. Results. Results confirmed that rates of overall delinquency, along with violent, drug, and property offending specifically, were elevated among childhood and adolescent maltreatment victims compared to their nonmaltreated peers. Childhood maltreatment was associated with delinquency independent of adolescent maltreatment, and strong connections between adolescent maltreatment and delinquency were present independent of prior victimization. Childhood maltreatment was also significantly related to a panel of adult crime measures, while the effects of adolescent maltreatment on adult crime were less robust. Conclusions. The study findings suggest that maltreatment at any age increases the risk of future offending, implying that investments in prevention and intervention strategies throughout childhood and adolescence may reduce delinquency and crime.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)295-318
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Research in Crime and Delinquency
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This research was supported by previous grants from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (No. R01HD34294-06) and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (No. 20030035).


  • causes/correlates
  • crime
  • criminological theory
  • developmental theories
  • juvenile delinquency
  • life course theory
  • quantitative research
  • research methods


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