Poly-victimization and its relationship with emotional and social adjustment in adolescence: Evidence from a national survey in Switzerland.


Objective: The present study investigates, for the first time in a wealthy country of Central Europe, the prevalence of poly-victimization (exposure to multiple forms of victimization within the past year) in an adolescent population. It further examines associations between single victimization types (such as sexual or physical assaults) with emotional and social functioning when poly-victimization is controlled for. Method: Data from a large and near-representative national school survey in Switzerland (N = 6,749, 52.2% male, M age = 15.5 years) were examined using descriptive and multiple regression analysis. Results: When poly-victimization was controlled for, individual victimization types showed largely diminished association with emotional and social functioning measures. Particularly weak associations were found for physical and sexual victimizations. By contrast, emotional assaults (including emotional bullying by peers and emotional abuse by parents) and maltreatment by parents retained the strongest links with levels of functioning. This general pattern of results held even when chronic individual victimization types were considered. Conclusions: Many previous studies may have underestimated adolescents’ capacities to cope with physical and sexual victimizations where these experiences happen in an otherwise functional environment. Meanwhile, concurrent exposure to multiple kinds of victimization serves as a strong indicator of declined emotional and social functioning. Taken together, the findings embolden practitioners in general to avoid the pitfalls of overspecialization and to promote holistic treatment approaches toward adolescent victims of violence. In the Swiss context, professionals working with vulnerable children and youth may feel encouraged to overcome the fragmentarization of services that currently characterizes the children and youth welfare system in this country.