Do Decreases in Child Abuse Explain Decreases in Violent Crime?

February 15, 2010 Crime in Amerrica.Net

In January we posted an article on why crime rates were falling. We stated that there was no universal explanation for crime rates regardless as to whether they were rising or falling.

We admitted that this was confusing to people not in the justice system; the criminological community simply cannot agree on the factors associated with changes in crime rates. For every “expert” who states that a bad economy “causes” crime to increase, there are an equal number of “experts” who disagree.

Wading into this argument was the Washington Post who editorialized that the justice system should figure out an answer to falling rates of crime so we could harness this information for future use.

But it seems that we are equally inept; in a recent article we offered a variety of data driven reasons for the decrease in crime but we did not include child abuse; we were unaware of data indicating that child abuse had declined. That changed with a recent report from the US Department of Health and Human Services showing dramatic reductions in many (not all) measures of child abuse.

The report states that there were an estimated 553,000 children who suffered physical, sexual or emotional abuse, down 26 percent from the estimated 743,000 abuse victims in 1993. The number of sexually abused children decreased by 38 percent. The number of children experiencing physical abuse decreased by 15 percent. The number of children emotionally abused fell by 27 percent.

The Connection to Crime

We believe that child abuse is strongly connected to crime. This belief is shared by virtually all associations who count themselves as child advocates. Ask anyone on the front lines; criminal offenders consistently cite abuse problems as children. An endless number of pre-sentence reports and US Department of Justice research substantiates this.

The bottom line is that offenders are, more often than not, mistreated as children. This does not excuse their criminality. But when the majority self diagnoses themselves as having mental health and substance issues (per US Department of Justice research) and when you match that with data on neglect and abuse as children, it’s not a great leap of faith to conclude that child abuse and neglect and criminality are strongly intertwined.

It’s also reasonable to conclude that if child abuse and neglect goes down, crime rates will go down. That’s exactly what’s happened. According to the National Crime Survey the overall violent crime rate fell 41 percent and the property crime rate declined by 32 percent during the last 10 years.

Yes, crime and criminality is complex with an endless number of interpretations as to why. And yes, coloration does not equal causation (just because things are connected does not mean one causes the other). And yes, police, judicial, correctional and parole and probation tactics can claim an impact.

But we live in a world of offenders who engage in an endless array of poor choices while drinking and drugging themselves on a regular basis. When you hear about the absence of biological fathers and non-caring mothers and boyfriends/girlfriends with dubious motives and endless examples of offenders raising and feeding themselves as children and the astounding rates of sexual abuse directed towards younger female offenders, then you wonder why child abuse is not a top priority of government, parents and individual citizens.

We believe that child abuse is a principal reason for crime and a wide variety of social ills. We believe that reductions in child abuse lead to reductions in crime. We believe that intervention in the lives of at-risk children and their parents should be a principal method of crime control.

See for our previous article on explanations for falling rates of crime.

See for access to our original article on decreases in child abuse.

See for all additional research. Go to the publications header (top left) or search by topic.

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