YOUTH VIOLENCE AND VICTIMIZATION
“Those who have studied child victimization have often noted that the national
concern over cruelty to animals has been stronger than that over children”
(Walklate, 1989; cited in Brown, 1998:114)
During the last 20 years, there has been an enormous amount of theorizing and debates about the relationship between early childhood maltreatment and later antisocial behaviour in adolescence. Runyon et al (2006) report the possibility of various emotional, behavioural, psychological and interpersonal difficulties experienced later in life. To mention a few, Runyon et al (2006) report “common emotional responses included anger, hostility, guilt, shame, anxiety, and depression...and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder” (p.30). Those who experienced childhood physical victimization often display behaviours such as poor-problem solving, aggressive outbursts, lack of empathy and lack of communication skills (Runyon et al, 2006). In addition, when compared to non-abused youth, children who experience physical maltreatment sometimes alienate themselves from others and commonly interpret social interactions with peers as hostile, resulting in them acting out.
It is important to continue to monitor the behavioural outcomes of childhood physical abuse due to the fact that, as mentioned by Briere (1992) childhood physical abuse can increase violent and aggressive behaviours later in the individuals life. Briere (1992) asserts that physical abuse is repeated in adulthood and aggressive criminality committed by those who experience physical abuse in childhood may not be best dealt with through incapacitation. He suggests that abuse specific programs should be administered to those who have suffered from physical abuse in the past as a way to mediate or decrease the chances of future aggression and violent offending. Johnson et al (2002) examine the behavioural and emotional outcomes of child abuse and also find that victimization was a significant predictor of aggression and depression. In Johnson et al‟s (2002) study, they examine the different internalized and externalized behavioural outcomes of physical abuse. According to their study, internalized behavioural outcomes associated with previous childhood physical abuse include problems such as withdrawal, anxiety, and depression; externalized problems include conduct disorder, aggression, and delinquency.
Impact of Sexual Victimization
Child sexual abuse has been well researched and the impact and outcomes of this type of victimization has been documented by many. We know females are often more at risk than males for experiencing childhood sexual abuse and both are at an increased risk when living without a natural parent (Runyon et al, 2006). The impact of child sexual abuse can vary depending on the developmental stage of the child at the time the abuse happened, but also depending on the coping strategy of the child. Various studies (Johnson & Kenkel, 1991; Leitenberg, Geenwald, & Cado, 1992; 35, as cited in Runyon et al, 2006) report coping strategies such as avoidance, self-blame or denial foster more negative emotional and psychological reactions to childhood sexual victimization. Runyon et al (2006) report “although some children suffer full-blown PTSD, major depression, sexual behaviour problems, and other severe and sometimes long –lasting psychiatric difficulties, other children appear to be asymptomatic, particularly in the immediate aftermath of a disclosure and investigation” (p.34). These findings are supported in a study conducted by Beitchman, Zucker, DrCosta, Akman & Cassavia (1992) who find evidence of long-term negative behavioural characteristics in a sample of females who were sexually abused in childhood. According to Beitchman et al (1992) these negative characteristics included “sexual disturbances, depression, anxiety, fear, and suicidal ideas and behaviour” (p.1119).
Those at an increased risk of sexual abuse during childhood are individuals who live in an environment without a biological mother or father at some point during childhood (Sink, 1988). According to Sink (1988), school-aged children who have experienced sexual abuse in early childhood exhibit serious psychological disturbances including aggression, impulsivity, destructive behaviour, and fearfulness. When looking at the behavioural characteristics of adolescents who have experienced sexual abuse in childhood, Sink (1988) finds “24 percent were symptomatic with anxiety, depression, and obsessive concerns and 21 percent showed dependent, inhibited qualities” (p.85). Evidence indicating inappropriate sexual behaviour is also noted within the sample of sexually abused youth. In a study by Friedrich, Urquiza, and Beilke (1986), externalized problems were found as a behavioural outcome of sexual abuse with slight gender differences. Friedrich (1986) finds that 35% of the boys and 46% of the girls show externalized problems such as aggression, depression, and social withdrawal and inappropriate sexual behaviour from the sexually abused boys.
Of significant concern is the fact that these outcome behaviours could be placing youth at an increased risk of adult sexual victimization. In a study by Biere (1984, as cited by Beitchman et al, 1992), 40% of sexually abused women report victimization in adult relationships. It is suggested that one of the reasons for the high frequency of revictimization is in part due to the fact that women who experience childhood sexual abuse may have a feeling of worthlessness and blame themselves for what has happened to them. As a result of this negative feeling, women seek men who are exploitive and will confirm their negative self-image.
Understanding and identifying the effects of childhood sexual abuse can be difficult to accomplish. Dietrich (2002) illustrates the important fact that sexual abuse may not have the same physical indications as would physical abuse. She mentions that one way to identify those who may have suffered from sexual abuse is they may separate themselves from family members and may express knowledge about sex and sexual language that in most cases would not be considered normal for children of that age. The impact childhood sexual abuse can have on later adolescent behaviour is important to consider when looking at aggression in adolescence as it is important to provide the correct type of counselling and intervention based on previous experiences.
With regards to the impact of neglect on behavioural tendencies later in life, Runyon et al (2006) finds both short-term and long-term effects of neglect. Some impacts of neglect include the development of anxious attachments, lacking enthusiasm, being easily frustrated and angered, being non-compliant and also being overly dependent on their mothers for help. According to Runyon et al (2006) “observations indicate that young children (ages 3.5 – 6 years) display poor impulse control, rigidity, a lack of creativity, and general adjustment problems” (p.27). In addition, neglected children are often emotionally withdrawn, inattentive, lacking in self-esteem and self-confidence.
Looking at the statistics from the Home Office Statistical Bulletin 2010/2011 we find that many of the youth victimisation categories have increased since the previous Bulletin twelve months prior. Knowing what we know about youth victimisation, it is important that we increase public awareness of the issue and put pressure on those in charge to not only focus on young people as “delinquent” or as “offenders” but to also be sure to take time to view young people as being high risk to victimisation.
*References available upon request.