The relationship between mode and locus of exposure and the impact of interpersonal violence in a sample of South African adolescents.
Children living in South Africa are exposed to chronic adversity on a daily basis, placing them at increased risk for psychological distress and high levels of fear. In particular, the impact of interpersonal violence on children has been noted with concern and has been well researched. Whilst numerous studies have focused separately on either mode of exposure (direct versus indirect or vicariously experienced) or locus of exposure (the specific domain such as the home, school or community) to interpersonal violence and the wide array of detrimental outcomes on childhood development, there remain inconsistencies in findings. The aim of this study was therefore to systematically investigate the constructs of mode and locus of exposure, simultaneously and comprehensively, in order to provide more clarity into the relative impact of different forms of interpersonal violence on South African children. The study expanded on an existing research project that was conducted over three loci of exposure: the home, the school, and community, in order to explore the nature of South African adolescent fears, using existing data. Ecological systems theory was the guiding framework to gain an integrative perspective. This was a quantitative study that employed a cross-sectional survey research design. Stratified random sampling in terms of the quintile system was utilized. A self-administered questionnaire consisting of a free response format and a 5-point Likert scale, was administered to a sample of 312 adolescent school children in the North West province (South Africa) in 2013. Systematic Content Analysis was utilized to derive content categories and coding was informed by Hobfoll’s Conservation of Resources theory. Data were analysed using a 2 (mode) x 2 (locus) Analysis of Variance (ANOVA). The results showed that the risk of exposure to interpersonal violence was high, with 56.1% of respondents reporting that they had been exposed to some form of interpersonal violence in the past 12 months. A significant main effect of mode of exposure indicated that vicarious forms of traumatic exposure were significantly more distressing for participants than were direct forms of traumatic exposure. However, the impact of exposure to interpersonal violence was found to be unrelated to locus of exposure. Respondent’s age, gender, and race were not found to be related to the impact of exposure to interpersonal violence. These findings suggest that the impact of interpersonal violence on children is mediated by mode of exposure but not by locus of exposure. Our results took into consideration children’s chronic exposure to interpersonal violence within the South African context. These findings are discussed with reference to their implications for practice and future research.