Journal of divorce and remarriage.
The purpose of this study was to investigate how people make judgements about the likelihood of child abuse by stepfathers and biological fathers. One hundred eighty-six university students were asked to indicate whether they believed that: (1) girls who live with stepfathers were at higher, about the same, or lower risk for sexual abuse compared with girls who live with biological fathers; and (2) boys who live with stepfathers were at higher, about the same, or lower risk for physical abuse compared to boys who live with biological fathers. Students were also asked to explain how they arrived at their decisions. The results revealed that less than half of the students believed that the risks of sexual and physical abuse were higher for children who reside with stepfathers compared to children who reside with biological fathers (45.4% and 34.1%, respectively). Among students who believed that children were at higher risk of abuse (sexual and physical) at the hands of stepfathers, the most common explanations included the lack of biological (or blood) ties between the stepfather and the child and/or the lack of an emotional bond (or commitment) between the two. The media also contributed to the belief that girls living with stepfathers were at higher risk for sexual abuse, while the perception of greater conflict or rivalry between stepfathers and stepsons also contributed to the belief that boys living with stepfathers were at higher risk for physical abuse. Among students who believed that the risks of sexual and physical abuse were about the same with stepfathers and biological fathers, the most common explanations offered were that child abuse happens in both kinds of families and that it depends on the personality of the abuser. (Author abstract)
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