Child Abuse and Adulthood Crimes

Child Abuse and Adulthood Crimes

Background to the Problem

Many psychologists and criminologists have linked child abuse in its various forms, to adverse psychological and behavioral changes. These changes are strongly correlated with the development of criminal behavior, especially if abuse is consistent and long-lived (Connolly & Woollons, 2008). The forms of child abuse most commonly linked with this unfortunate development include physical abuse, sexual abuse, and general neglect. The consensus among scholars and researchers is that children who are exposed to various forms of violence such as sexual abuse, physical abuse, and general neglect, or those exposed consistently to these factors develop behavioral factors that reinforce precursors to criminal behavior such as reliance on violence to solve personal and social issues. The victims not only learn to depend on these precursors to criminal behavior, but they also reinforce them in their behavior as well as those around them.



Scholars have long desired to understand what effect child abuse has on their future lives. A fact of life is that the manner in which younger children are treated contributes significantly to their behavioral, psychological, and social growth later on in their life. The increased rate of crime witnessed in the last few decades has warranted research effort into the effects of a common vice among human beings – child abuse. These researchers not only desire to understand the current precursors to criminal behavior from the perspective of criminology and criminal justice but also comprehend to what extent child abuse contributes to criminal behavior development.

Therefore, this fragile connection between child abuse and criminal behavior warrants continuous and increased research effort. While it is common for the same effort to get biased towards the child welfare component of the matter, there is a need to understand child abuse from the perspective of criminal behavior Connolly & Woollons, 2008). Perhaps the results could shed more light on delinquency, and continued criminal behavior.

Research Problem

This research proposal identifies the existence of a distinct connection between child abuses, in its various forms, with the development of criminal behavior later on in life. Therefore, the research problem is identifying to what extent child abuse factors into the development of criminal behavior later on in life.

Research Aims and Questions

The first aim of this proposal and it is subsequent will be to understand the full extent of child abuse as an independent factor in human behavioral development. Then it will investigate to what extent this factor contributes to the development of known and potential precursors of criminal behavior. Finally, the research process will establish the extent to which child abuse contributes to crime in the victims.

Naturally, the research question is; what is the connection between child abuse in its various forms with the development of criminal thinking and subsequently; criminal behavior?

Literature Review

For a considerable amount of time, criminal justice scholars and psychologists have identified the existence of a connection between child abuse and the development of criminal behavior (Hayes & Bunting, 2013). Child abuse comes in the form of several seemingly interconnected forms. These include sexual abuse such as rape and molestation, physical abuse such as beatings and harassment, as well as general neglect leaving the child exposed on a physical and mental manner (Abrams, 2013). These factors not only change the mental growth of a child who expects care and love from their society, it causes small but distinct behavioral and psychological changes as well.

Such forms of abuse catalyze the development of criminal behavior precursors of various forms. These are behavioral changes in the child that slowly reinforce behavior that is associated with crime and criminal intent (Cuadra, Jaffe, Thomas, & DiLillo, 2014). Abuse causes the child to begin forming attitudes and other corresponding factors such as beliefs related to use of violence, theft, harassment, and bullying to protect themselves and those around. The development of such factors is not a direct phenomenon as not all children who have been exposed to abuse at a younger age grow up to exhibit criminal behavior (Salter, 2017). However, a considerable body of knowledge suggests that the correlation between child abuse and the development of behavior precursors that usually develop into criminal behavior.

Different forms of child abuse influence their criminal behavioral development when it happens. Studies show that many of the criminal adults who engage in violent crimes were subjected to violence while they were young (Hayes & Bunting, 2013). Similarly, criminals who engage in crimes of a sexual nature such as rape were also subjected to some form of sexual child abuse. Interestingly, this development is not longitudinal, thanks in part to the complex nature of human behavior. For example, some criminals who were subjected to sexual abuse end up committing crimes of a violent nature such as murder (Abrams, 2013). Therefore, these complexities of human behavior coupled with the urgent need to understand the connection between child abuse and criminal behavior, later on, make such studies even more necessary.

Cognitive scientists have studied the brains of children who have been exposed to various forms of abuse and reported interesting findings. They suggest that the majority of children who undergo sustained and extensive abuse suffer various degrees of maladaptive cognitive changes related to the brain’s interpretations of the self and precursors of criminal behavior (Salter, 2017). The changes related to the self are associated with self-defense and offensive initiatives aimed at lashing out for the suffering during the period of abuse. These findings explain why many abused children eventually develop behavioral changes that are consistent with criminal intent and activity.

While studies suggest the presence of a non-longitudinal relationship between child abuse and criminal behavior, the relationship between these two issues is strong (Cuadra, Jaffe, Thomas, & DiLillo, 2014). Other factors such as social precursors, drug abuse, and psychosis have been linked with criminal activity, but these do not have as strong a relationship as that between child abuse and crime. Studies are still ongoing to establish the extent of the link between these two issues given the complexity of human behavior and its variations at the different stages of growth and development.


Study Design and Methodology

Most of the studies that target an understanding of the changes in complex human behavior do not benefit as much from quantitative methods of research. One reason for this is that quantitative methods seem to align with define and discrete mathematical and statistical rules while human behavior is significantly more fluid. Conversely, qualitative methods seem to be more adapted based on the various outcomes of research that depend on previous and predictable or forecasted changes.

Based on this premise, a study aimed at understanding the relationship between child abuse and criminal behavior would benefit more from a qualitative approach. From the different types of qualitative methods used in research, phenomenological qualitative research seems best suited to understanding the underlying relationship between child abuse and adult criminal activity. It involves using various media such as previous peer-reviewed literature, interactive data collection tools such as interviews, and video or mainstream media to understand the respondents’ experiences. All these factors come together to form a defined methodology of handling this research endeavor’s theoretical framework.

Timeline and Expected Outcomes

Research into factors forming a relationship between children and adults is perhaps one of the most extended study exercises. Sometimes these studies last decades. However, based on the time limitations, this research endeavor will last several weeks. During this period, questionnaires could be formulated to inquire about the experiences of abused children, with their guardians’ and relevant authority permission and consent of course. Six to twelve weeks would be adequate timing to gather enough data from both ends of the research endeavor’s spectrum – children and adults.

Several outcomes are expected based on hypothetical and theoretical frameworks. First, it will be evident that child abuse, in its various forms, changes the cognitive and psychological growth of children. More so, when the same abuse is consistent and lengthy. Another expected outcome is that there is a distinct relationship between child abuse and the development of the precursors of criminal behavior. Finally, the research exercise will also establish how child abuse usually results in predictable but never defined criminal intentions and behavioral changes. However, the development of such behavior is not always direct due to other factors such as drugs, socio-economic factors, and psychosis (Connolly & Woollons, 2008). The specific findings are going to be established after the actual research exercise has occurred. Using the literature review presented, theoretical framework and research methodology, significantly factual findings are a possibility.



Abrams, D. E. (2013). A Primer on Criminal Child Abuse and Neglect Law. Juvenile and Family Court Journal64(3), 1-27. doi:10.1111/jfcj.12006

Connolly, M., & Woollons, R. (2008). Childhood sexual experience and adult offending: an exploratory comparison of three criminal groups. Child Abuse Review17(2), 119-132. doi:10.1002/car.1019

Cuadra, L. E., Jaffe, A. E., Thomas, R., & DiLillo, D. (2014). Child maltreatment and adult criminal behavior: Does criminal thinking explain the association? Child Abuse & Neglect38(8), 1399-1408. doi:10.1016/j.chiabu.2014.02.005

Hayes, D., & Bunting, L. (2013). ‘Just be Brave’ – The Experiences of Young Witnesses in Criminal Proceedings in Northern Ireland. Child Abuse Review22(6), 419-431. doi:10.1002/car.2242

Salter, M. (2017). Organized Child Sexual Abuse in the Media. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Criminology and Criminal Justice. doi:10.1093/acrefore/9780190264079.013.113

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