The relationship between childhood physical abuse and later violent criminal behavior and the role of corporal punishment
Many studies have been carried out to establish the relationship between childhood victimization and delinquency, violent criminal behavior in later life and adult criminality. Though corporal punishment is the root origin of physical abuse, it has been a familiar practice in many societies both as a means of child nurturing and a punishment in the dispensation of justice in legal systems. Many societies no longer recognize corporal punishment as a pertinent component of their justice systems. Hence, just the same way the use of force is usually categorized as assault (in the case of adults), corporal punishment of children is classified under the same category thus outlawed in many places. Nevertheless, behavioral consequences of childhood victimization are not uniform to all children who are subjected to physical abuse. Despite that, studies concur that there are difficulties that are likely to arise during adolescence and whose main root cause is earlier physical abuse during childhood. Some or most of the difficulties are likely to have a close association with criminal activities or behaviors that are violent. Research inquiries have indicated that victimized children are 25% more prone to experience evils such as delinquency, pregnancy at teenage, low achievement in academics, drug use among other problems like mental health problems. Sexual risk-taking is also identified as one area the adolescent is likely to explore as a consequence of childhood victimization.
In relation to a child’s physical abuse, the resultant consequences are widely varied dependent on a number of factors. First, the age of the child and the developmental status at the time of the physical abuse takes pace plays a major role in determining the consequences of the abuse. It is of significance too the relationship subsisting between the victimized child and the abuser. Lastly, the frequency, length and severity of abuse also contribute to the consequences the abuse will have on the child in later life.
A good quantity of research has been delved in an attempt to establish the correlation subsistent between the criminal behavior observed in a given individual and the abuse the individual faced in the childhood stage of life (Theodore 2007: 30- 32). In many studies, it has been pointed out that the results indicate that there is a strong connection between childhood physical abuse and psychopathology in the later life which may comprise mental disorders. In line with a research carried out in Canada, juvenile criminal behavior and adult criminality were found to have a strong connection with childhood physical abuse and neglect. In the study, children that have been subjects of physical abuse are eleven times more prone to arrest result from criminal behavior in their adulthood and about three times more likely to be arrested for one of a number of forms of violent crime (Fergusson and Lynskey 2001). That does not mark the end of it, but rather the consumption of illicit drugs seems to also come in as a consequence of childhood abuse of an individual. This is according to the Canadian National Institute on Drug Abuse, which found out that in a research done by the institute, those people who had experienced physical abuse during their childhood comprised 2/3 of the total number of individuals attending drug treatment programs.
The role corporal punishment
In the mid 1990s, researches were made in bid to draw the connection between the corporal punishment (spanking) and its long term effects on the child. Corporal punishment has for long been a subject of contention in many a places in society with some people arguing that it should be allowed since it plays a major role in instilling discipline in the child and adjusting the child for the better (Jackson, 2007: 29). The sympathizers of corporal punishment have received a significant denigration from the critics who maintain that corporal punishment meted to a child is not only detrimental in spoiling the child’s future behavior but it also amounts to gross violation of human right which can only be equated by an assault. The results of the studies of the mid 90s showed frequency of the corporal punishment and its severity have a directly proportional relationship with the child’s aggression and mental health problems. Nevertheless, the findings of the studies did point out too that in the short-term corporal punishment can produce positive results which will in the long run be outweighed by the negative effects on the child. Another study by Elizabeth Thompson of the NCCP (National Center for Children in Poverty) backed up the earlier findings by pointing out that as much as corporal punishment is meted on a child during childhood, the very child is more likely to become brutal to his or her own children or spouse and thus subject them to molestation and victimization. They are also more likely to engage in antisocial or criminal behavior in their adult life.
Abusive behavior among parents has often been connected to abusive experience of the parents during their childhood and the estimation is that among those physically abused one third of them are eventually projected to victimize their children. This provides evidence for a cycle of violence such that people that experienced physical abuse ore victimization in their childhood are highly likely to be subjects of violent crime or be involved in criminal behavior.
In another research, Lindsay, Quinna, Smarta and Smitha (2000) endeavored to determine the extent to which sexual abuse and physical abuse have an impact on an individual’s later criminal or violent behavior. A total of ninety-four subjects were chosen for the study where 46 were sexual offenders while 48 were male nonsexual offenders. Comprehensive evaluations were made over a period of no less than one year, and were performed autonomously by a range of professionals. Their findings revealed that out of the subjects of the study who had had physical abuse, 33% of the violent offenders had experienced childhood physical abuse. Thus in relation to much research that has been carried out about the likely outcomes of child abuse and victimization, the effects may be of varied degree depending on a number of factors and may have consequences that may be severe or mild; the consequences may disappear after a while or take the whole lifetime. On the individual child, the effects may take a physical nature, may cause a psychological damage, behavioral influence or may be in a combination of the three forms (Roberts 2004: 343 also Horowitz and Kenneth 2001). The strong bond that exists between child maltreatment (or corporal punishment) and other phenomena such as domestic violence and intimate partner violence has elicited a greater deal of attention in the recent past such that even the AAP (the American Academy of Pediatrics) advocates that pediatricians should evaluate and assessment to see if there is presence of victimization. This is a strategy to combat child abuse.
In conclusion, there are two significant factors that have an immense impact in criminal behavior in an individual in the later thus increasing the chances of violent behavior or criminal acts or behavior. According to the hypothesis of cycle of violence which postulates that children who are abused in their childhood subsequently become abusers later in life violence can be generationally transmitted. This generational transmission of acts of violence is widely a basis for argument of the fact that particular criminal behavior and acts of violence can be traced back to such acts in ones childhood life. Thus, abuse in its entirety and victimization count as the two most significant factors in determining an individual’s crime or criminal behavior. In addition, sociologists (Power 2008: 104; Horowitz and Kenneth 2001; Lindsay, Quinna, Smarta, and Smitha 2001 also Roberts, 2004: 356) have demonstrated that patterns of processing social information in some measure mediate the effect of early child victimization on later conduct problems and thus there is a strong positive relationship between early childhood victimization and later crime, criminal or violent behavior. As much as corporal punishment has been found to have some short-term benefits in child upbringing, the long-term negative effects may just be a sufficient justification to denigrate it given the costs the society has to incur in later crimes and dealing with violent behaviors; the cycle of violence as it is much believed in must not be allowed to perpetuate.
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