“Maternal abuse by children”, preferred terminology in Spain?

An interesting read from the University of Granada – and a potential discussion starter!
In the UK we seem to have settled on phraseology around variations of Child to Parent Violence/Abuse, though this in itself does not fully cover abuse in family groupings such as fostering, kinship care or even residential settings.
There is similarly room for discussion around the gendered nature of the abuse, and I am sure a number of people will have comments to make on this.
However, I cannot personally comment on the situation in Spain, and I am happy to accept that different cultural patterns of child rearing and family life around the world will impact on the way this aspect of family violence plays out.
Worth following the links though for some further reading as well.
Please note that the text of the research paper itself is Spanish.


A study proposes to elaborate the term ‘parental abuse by children’ after concluding that mothers are the main victims

15 November 2017 University of Granada

Sandra Jiménez Arroyo, researcher at the University of Granada (UGR), explains the necessity of analyzing this kind of violence, which is the fourth most common crime committed by children, taking a gender perspective

Mothers are the main victims of parental abuse by children, so this kind of abuse should be legally considered as violence against women. That is the conclusion of a research paper written by Sandra Jiménez Arroyo as a result of her doctoral thesis, co-directed by UGR professors María José Jiménez Díaz from the Department of Criminal Law and Francisco Javier Garrido Carrillo from the Department of Procedural Law. Moreover, the researcher proposes alternative terms for this phenomenon, such as for example ‘maternal abuse by children’ instead of the accepted ‘parental abuse by children’, which hides the main victim.

The goal of her research is to give an answer to the problem of this kind of abuse not having a common definition. Besides, there are very few scientific studies about it, especially in a legal framework. In fact, parental abuse by children is the least studied among the different kinds of abuse within the family. A lot of definitions are ambiguous as a result of those determining factors.

The current definition is even worse if one takes into account that parental abuse by children is nowadays the fourth most common crime committed by minors. Jiménez Arroyo notes how, from the public sphere, victims are not sufficiently encouraged to report aggressions committed by their underage children.

Parental abuse by children is not a new problem. Despite the shortage of a theoretical body and protocols of action against this type of violence, the ‘battered parent syndrome’ was already described in 1957. What has been done since, despite being essential for progressing in the reduction of the violence, seems insufficient. In order to adopt mitigating measures for this problem it is necessary to further research about it, especially from a legal perspective, according to Jiménez Arroyo.

The first step is identifying the victim. The researcher analyzes almost all of the studies carried out in Spain and other countries, and she concludes that the mother is the victim in most of the cases, although she’s not the only one. The father is also a victim sometimes, but he’s rarely the only victim: in most of the cases he’s a victim along with the mother.

While trying to establish the origin of the violence against the mother, the study has shown that even though minors think that men and women should be equal, in practice they are not coherent with that thinking and discriminate against their mothers.

Therefore, gender roles imply that this kind of violence is more pronounced against women. Abusive minors show that tendency by adopting a patriarchal stance. Thus, from the results of several Spanish and international researches, Jiménez Arroyo states that the abuser profile is that of the male son and the victim profile is that of the mother, and therefore she refers to parental abuse by children as a type of violence against women.

“It is essential” -Jiménez Arroyo says- “to carry out more researches analyzing this violence from a gender perspective including gender-segregated studies and going into detail about the influence that this violent phenomenology could have on other women present in the household”, not just the mother.

The UGR researcher keeps analyzing this type of violence. Her article “Violencia filio parental: tratamiento jurídico y respuestas desde la jurisdicción de menores” (Parental abuse by children: legal treatment and responses from the jurisdiction over minors), in which she addresses that phenomenon from the perspective of the legal responses that are most suitable for dealing with said violence, won the academic award Premio Académico José Luis Pérez Serrabona y Sanz. Moreover, the Banco Sabadell Foundation has granted her a scholarship for finishing her doctoral thesis about this same subject matter.


Full bibliographic information JIMÉNEZ ARROYO, S. “Madres victimizadas. Análisis jurídico de la violencia filio parental como un tipo de violencia hacia la mujer”. Anales de Derecho, vol. 35, núm. 1, 2017.
Available here


Filed under Announcements, Research

3 responses to ““Maternal abuse by children”, preferred terminology in Spain?

  1. Eddie Gallagher

    I don’t think many people doubt that mothers are the main victims of violence to parents. This is despite the fact that there are a number of surveys suggesting small, or no, gender differences (using similar methodology to the surveys that make gender magically disappear in Intimate Partner Violence). In my clinical sample of 500 families (over the past 25 years), in two-parent families 50% of the fathers are also abused, in addition to the mothers. I’ve also seen 15 sole fathers who were being abused, and if you take into account past IPV (FAR less common for the sole fathers, as we’d expect) and the fact that there are 9 or 10 times as many sole mother as sole fathers, there is not a huge difference between them and sole mothers as victims. This is in keeping with research that suggests that sole fathers act more like mothers.
    I think calling it ‘maternal abuse’ is unhelpful and misleading. Almost a third of the aggressors are girls and in all in 51% of the families in my sample there is either a male victim or a female aggressor. Gender is certainly of great importance, but it is not nearly as central as it is in adult family violence. However, it is quite likely that the gendered aspects of this phenomenon will vary in different populations. I think we can learn a lot about family violence by extending our conception to violence to parents, but not by trying to make child-to-parent violence fit the mold of adult family violence. There are major and significant differences between the two.

    • Thanks Eddie for your comments. I was surprised myself to come across this call for “Maternal Abuse by Children” to be the preferred title, in view of the findings you have outlined, and the general mood in Britain about what ‘name’ to use. You highlight the abuse of fathers, but we should also not forget the significant number of others caring for children – kinship carers, foster parents … all taking on a parenting role. I wonder whether the findings are specific to Spain as you suggest; and we should not exclude the influence of cultural differences around childrearing.

  2. Neil Blacklock

    Thank you for posting this thought provoking and timely article. Our experience at Respect is that practitioners working in this area have such a varied case load. Trauma, separation and loss are frequently part of the young person’s history, recognising and understanding these is part of skill set practitioners need. Domestic abuse also features in a significant proportion of the cases and an understanding of this vital. Developing effective services will need practitioners with good understanding of a range of approaches. I felt that Jiménez Arroyo’s article is a useful reminder of the importance of one these, the violence against women stand of our work.

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