Think about it: Many Child Abuse Victims in the Military

In the research on my book Child Abuse Victims/Combat Veterans and PTSD: 

there was a recurring theme of Child Abuse Victims that show up in the Military.  This was popularized in the film Antwone Fisher(2002, Fox Searchlight Pictures). The following is an excerpt from my book:

Child Abuse Victims in the Military

              The lack of studies and research on childhood victims of abuse may be attributable to the difficulty in dealing with a youthful distraught population with severe “acting out” behaviors.  As adults are expected to manage their behavior, youth are challenged with remaining neutral and dealing with their own issues.  The same difficulties exist with veterans that manifest itself in the form of substance abuse, resistance to treatment, and isolation among other characteristic destructive “behaviors”.  There are studies, however, supporting the notion that many childhood victims of abuse show up in our military population.  PTSD is a common thread in both populations and there are compelling statistics pertaining to victims enlisting perhaps related to attachment, normalcy, and structure.  The thought process is subject to extreme backfire.

              There is support that connects childhood trauma from various forms of abuse to PTSD symptoms in veterans despite combat exposure.  In a study that controlled for combat exposure, veterans that had PTSD symptoms from childhood trauma had considerably relevant issues in attaining support as an adult (Van Voorhees et al. 2012 p. 424).  Gillespie, Phifer, Bradley, & Ressler, (2009) and Koenen (2006) have theorized that childhood abuse hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA-axis) associated HPA-axis dysregulation may hinder emotional learning and the maturation of emotional regulations, making ensuing traumatic experiences challenging to absorb and process. (as cited by Van Voorhees et al. 2012 p. 424)  The study, in agreement with others, concluded that child abuse and combat exposure did not necessarily translate to increased PTSD symptomology. 

              It appears that disruption to key developmental stages of early life increased the likelihood of being able to proceed without difficulty in stressful experiences and in garnering adult and social support (as cited by Van Voorhees et al. 2012 p. 429).  There is vast agreement that childhood abuse and PTSD diagnoses foster severe reactions later in life, particularly in the case of military experiences.  As aforementioned, studies call for continued research tp be done on the connections between childhood abuse, combat trauma, and psychiatric issues to determine the sequence with which the trauma results in PTSD diagnosis.  Many studies are recommending that childhood abuse be examined thoroughly to determine the length of abuse and to what extreme (Fritsch, Mishkind, Reger, & Gahm, 2010 p. 252).  This confirms the lack of research done on this population and how critical the issue is for the child to grow without being prone to PTSD symptoms increasing in severity.

              As indicated above, there are supportive studies that indicate that child abuse and combat correlate to increased PTSD symptoms.  There is no specific rationale as to why there is a prevalence of child abuse victims in the military.  Soldiers with suicidal behavior had a history of child abuse (61.2%), service members experienced abuse in childhood (35%), and  a  general population of soldiers reported a childhood history of abuse for males (48%) and females (51%) as concluded by Perales, Gallaway, Forys-Donahue, Piess & Milliken (2010) in their analysis of current research (p.1037).  Marie, Fergusson and Boden, (2008, as cited by Skopp, Luxton, Bush & Sirotin, 2011 p. 363) discussed the significance of belonging to  a group in dealing with childhood adversity on mental health conditions and suicide ideation.  Both populations have a desire to be included and the ability to form meaningful attachments.

McLaren & Challis (2009) and Werner & Smith (2001) surmise that:

The social acceptance associated with such camaraderie and feelings of belonging associated with military service may be very potent for someone who experienced minimal feelings of belongingness for much of their life. Belonging to a defined group with a defined identity, emotional bonding, purpose, and strong leadership may potentially confer a salutary effect that reduces the suicide risk associated with childhood adversity (as cited by Skopp, Luxton, Bush, & Sirotin (2011 p. 372).

The desire for soldiers to return to their unit, and enlisting in the first place, may have a background in attachment and wanting to be a part of something.  Their search for normalcy may include intentional placement in the line of fire having been isolated and abused as a child.



Fritch A.M., Mishkind M., Regerm M.A., Gahm G.A. (2010) The impact of childhood abuse and combat-related trauma on post deployment adjustment. Journal of Traumatic Stress. 2010;23:248–254. 

Gillespie,C.F., Phifer,J., Bradley, B., & Ressler,K.J. (2009).Risk and resilience: Genetic and environmental influences on development  of the stress response. Depression and Anxiety, 26., 984–992.

Koenen,K.C.(2006). Developmental epidemiology of PTSD: Self-regulation as a central mechanism. Annals of New York Academy of Science, 1071, 255–266.

Marie, D., Fergusson, D. M., & Boden, J. M. (2008). Ethnic identification, social disadvantage, and mental health in adolescence/young adulthood: Results of a 25-year longitudinal study. The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 42, 293–300

 McLaren, S., & Challis, C. (2009). Resilience among men farmers: The protective roles of social support and sense of belonging in the depression-suicidal ideation relation. Death Studies, 33(3), 262.

 Perales, R., Gallaway, M., Forys-Donohue, K., Spiess, A., Millikan, A. (2012).  Prevalence of childhood trauma  among  U.S. army soldiers with suicidal behavior.  Military Medecine, 177(9), 1034-1040 

Skopp, N. A., Luxton , D. D., Bush, N., & Sirotin, A. (2011). Childhood adversity and suicidal ideation in a clinical military sample: Military unit cohesion and intiMaté relationships as protective factors.  Journal Of Social & Clinical Psychology30(4), 361-377. doi:10.1521/jscp.2011.30.4.361

Van Voorhees, E. E., Dedert, E. A., Calhoun, P. S., Brancu, M., Runnals, J., & Beckham, J. C. (2012). Childhood Trauma Exposure in Iraq and Afghanistan War Era Veterans: Implications for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms and Adult Functional Social Support. Child Abuse & Neglect: The International Journal, 36(5), 423-432.

 Werner, E. E., & Smith, R.S. (2001). Journeys from childhood to midlife: Risk, resilience and recovery. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.