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Free «The Impact of Child Abuse and Mistreatment on the  American Criminal Justice System» Essay Sample

Child Abuse and Mistreatment

Child abuse and mistreatment occur at a very alarming rate in the American society.  A lot of people are preoccupied with the idea that children are being killed by strangers and youth offenders because the media portrays it as such.  However, many Americans are unaware that a large number of the cases of child abuse and mistreatment happen at home (Radford, 2011).  According to Hacking (1991), child abuse is considered to be the worst evil committed in private because people should protect children instead of hurting them.

There exist different definitions of the term ‘child abuse’ provided by scholars. Hacking (1991) defined child abuse in two ways: (1) “non-accidental physical attack or physical injury, including minimal as well as fatal injury, inflicted upon children by persons caring for them” and “inflicted gaps or deficits between circumstances of living which would facilitate the optimal development of children, to which they should be entitled, and their actual circumstances, irrespective of the sources or agents of deficits” (Hacking, 1991, p. 270). 



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It cannot be denied that child abuse and mistreatment of children are moral topics by their nature. It cannot be denied that hurting children is considered to be the most heinous crime in many societies. Child abuse, as a moral evil, takes various forms: willful neglect of a baby, incest, molesting children, and beating children (Hacking, 1991, p. 259). People, as well as law, consider these acts immoral.

Child Abuse and Mistreatment through Time

According to Hacking (1991) and Nelson (2012), child abuse and maltreatment first happened centuries ago and continue to occur now. The forms through which abusers conduct their abuse even develop. Prior to 1962, cruelty to children was not considered a social problem, although there were cases of abuse prosecuted from time to time. In 1962, a group of doctors from Denver published an article called the “Battered-Child Syndrome”; it stated that more children died from battery from family members than due to medical conditions (Hacking, 1991, p. 266). Later more articles about child abuse and battered children were published and sensationalized. Dr. Vincent Fontana criticized the Denver article published by Dr. Kempe; he claimed it to be narrow. Instead of just containing the definition of physical abuse, Dr. Fontana argued that the syndrome should also include “deprivation of food, clothing, shelter, and parental love.” Therefore, the term evolved through time as child abuse and neglect (Nelson, 2012, p. 190).

Current Situation and Prevalence

Child abuse develops every day. It transcends in many forms – not just physical, but also psychological, emotional, and sexual abuse (Hacking, 1991, p. 255). According to a Discovery News article, a great number of American children have been suffering from child abuse for the past decade.  Most of them are victimized by their own family members.  The article also stated that the USA was the worst in terms of prevalence of child abuse among other industrialized nations.  Abusive mothers and fathers are vastly present in the American society, according to statistics (Radford, 2011).  The image below shows the number of children’s deaths per day due to abuse and neglect from 1998- 2010 and it increases from year to year (Childhelp.org, 2012).

Although the rate of child abuse and mistreatment increases each year, it cannot be stated that it will continue. According to Bugental and Schwartz (2009), there are efforts conducted by the government and even non-government agencies to reduce, if not eliminate, child abuse by focusing on prevention activities.

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The general statistics of child abuse indicates that more than five children die every day as a result of child abuse and approximately 80% of them are below four years old. As research indicates, child abuse happens across socioeconomic levels, ethnic and cultural lines, educational levels, and other factors. Child abuse is a never-ending cycle for children who are abused and neglected will also abuse their children in the future. Statistics claims that this occurs in 30% of neglected children (Childhelp.org, 2012).

The Impact of Child Abuse and Mistreatment on the American Criminal Justice System

Although child abuse happens in private, it is a public concern. Being a crime and an abhorrent act, the prevalence of child abuse has a direct effect on the American criminal justice system. The following are the effects of child abuse on the US judicial System. First, child abuse events are difficult to prosecute because of lack of evidence; the victim, commonly the sole witness of the crime, is “too young to testify or immature to be credible” (Nelson, 2012, p.192). The criminal justice system, thus, becomes weak since it cannot properly prosecute and convict the offenders. Second, child abuse leads to criminal tendencies of the victims. According to Childhelp.org (2012), 14% of all men in US prisons were abused in childhood; 36% of all imprisoned women were abused as children. Child abuse has an effect not only on the victim, but on the society as well. Childhelp.org claims that children who experienced child abuse and neglect are more likely to be arrested for juvenile delinquency at an alarming rate of 59%. 28% of abused children are more likely to be arrested as adults. 30% of abused children tend to commit violent crimes (Childhelp.org, 2012). In addition, two thirds of drug addicts in treatment facilities are reported to have been abused or neglected in childhood. Hence, the more children are being abused now, the more offenders and law violators will emerge in the future.

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Child abuse bears grave consequences. Not only does it affect the family relations, it also affects society in general and the criminal justice system in particular. According to English, Widom and Brandford (2004), abused and neglected children are 11 times more likely to be arrested for criminal behavior as juveniles, 2.7 times when being adults, and 3.1 times more likely to be arrested for other violent crimes. The effects of this private crime affect the criminal justice system because the objective of this system is to rehabilitate the offenders for their reintegration into society.  If the incidents of child abuse continue to happen, there will be complications because the effects of childhood victimization stay even until adulthood (English et.al, 2004, p.23).

The future increase in crime rates will come as a ripple effect to the American criminal justice system. First, more cases of violations will be filed and litigated because the number of offenders will increase in future if child abuse is not prevented. Second, more government funds will be allocated for the rehabilitation of offenders and violators. Third, since the number of offenders increases at an alarming rate because of the effects of child abuse, more prison space, police officers, and other law enforcement employees will be needed. As a result, these needs will fuel incredible expenditure.

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There are many reasons why child abuse is prevalent in the American society. These causes, once identified, can be eliminated, thus dealing with other social issues. For example, parental empowerment may serve as a method of preventing or reducing mistreatment since parents who feel greater control in caregiving are less likely to commit maltreatment (Bugental & Schwartz, 2009, p. 287). There are other ways to prevent this social crux and the government should focus on those prevention strategies to minimize the criminal tendencies of children.

As proved by many studies and researches, crime rates will decrease if the number of child abuse and mistreatment cases decrease. There are also other things to be done in order to eliminate or minimize the occurrence of child abuse. Government and society’s response can be of great help in the proper assessment and solving of child abuse and neglect cases. These actions can help prevent negative results of child abuse (English, Widom, & Brnadford, 2004, p. 24). People caring for children, whether the real parents or foster care, should pay attention to the kids’ various needs, such as care and love, in order to prevent the risk of them being violent and criminals in the future.


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