Normalization of violence: experiences of childhood abuse by inner-city crack users.J Ethn Subst Abuse. 2009; 8(1):15-34.JE
An increasing literature mostly based on retrospective surveys has been consistently documenting a correlation between physical abuse in childhood (CPA) and substance abuse in adulthood (ASA). This article uses ethnographic data to reveal the processes behind and context of this linkage for one population-poor, inner-city New York residents who became crack users. Life in the inner city is qualitatively different than in more fortunate circumstances. CPA is but one of numerous stressors and factors contributing to ASA. Approximately half of the subjects reported clear recollections of being physically beaten by their mothers or their various male partners. Although several denied being beaten in childhood, they typically reported various forms of physical assaults that they "deserved." Physical assaults, especially by mothers, were often understood as expressions of love. As such, these respondents viewed their ongoing physical assaults as an ordinary part of their childhood and adolescence. Such physical punishment also socialized and prepared children for the violence that would likely occur during their childhood in their inner-city communities. This analysis highlights how reducing substance abuse in the inner city may require a much more comprehensive effort than a focus on reducing CPA. These findings also have important implications for quantitative research regarding CPA and ASA. Such studies should subdivide their analyses by socioeconomic status to more clearly measure how much of a risk factor CPA represents among wealthier populations and how much not being abused may serve as a protective factor among poor inner-city populations.