Child Abuse & Neglect

McDonald, S. E., Dmitrieva, J., Shin, S., Hittia, S. A., Graham-Bermann, S., Ascione, F.R., & Williams, J.H. (2017). The role of callous/unemotional traits in mediating the association between animal abuse exposure and behavior problems among children exposed to intimate partner violence. Child Abuse & Neglect, 72, 421-432.


Children exposed to intimate partner violence are at increased risk for concomitant exposure to maltreatment of companion animals. There is emerging evidence that childhood exposure to maltreatment of companion animals is associated with psychopathology in childhood and adulthood. However, few studies have explored developmental factors that might help to explain pathways from animal maltreatment exposure to children’s maladjustment. The present study addresses this gap in the literature by examining relations between children’s exposure to animal maltreatment, callous/unemotional traits (i.e., callousness, uncaring traits, and unemotional traits), and externalizing and internalizing behavior problems. A sample of 291 ethnically diverse children (55% Latino or Hispanic) between the ages of 7 and 12 was recruited from community-based domestic violence services. A meditational path model indicated that child exposure to animal maltreatment was associated with callousness (β = 0.14), which in turn was associated with greater internalizing (β = 0.32) and externalizing problems (β = 0.47). The effect of animal maltreatment exposure on externalizing problems was mediated through callousness. Results suggest that callous/unemotional traits are a potential mechanism through which childhood exposure to animal maltreatment influences subsequent behavior problems. Future research is needed to evaluate the extent to which exposure to animal maltreatment affects children’s adjustment over time in the context of other co-occurring adverse childhood experiences.