A 21 year old man named Brian Belanger was arrested for the offense of enticing a ten year old child to produce sexually explicit videos of himself and send them to him via email. The man, who hails from Worcester in Massachusetts, is alleged to have met the child online through PlayStation 3 where he told the child that someone was seeking to kill him. He then convinced the child that he could help him by availing to him those videos which he would subsequently turn to another person.
It is further alleged that Belanger continued to give directions to the child on what to do, in the videos. The child is alleged to have emailed Belanger the sexually explicit videos for a period of over three months whilst attaching video files to the email that depicted the child engaging in obscene conduct. The child hails from the Albany County in New York area.
The Social Bond Theory, which later developed into the Social Control Theory, offers quite an interesting perspective on crime. It was propounded by Travis Hirschi and it seeks to offer explanation for a number of social problems such as crime. Before applying the theory as explained by Hirschi, it is imperative that we understand the theory as enunciated by the theorist. He stated that the elements of social bonding include the attachment that persons have to their families and their commitment to social norms and institutions such as schools as well as involvement in activities and beliefs that are of importance. The theory basically lays an emphasis on the argument that there is a lack of social attachments in the case of juvenile delinquents. He preferred the argument that a human being is a product of his environment and that families, friends and other members in one’s networks affect the lives of such persons in a myriad of ways. He submitted that human beings are a direct descendant of the actions of the people that surround them.
According to the theory, the adolescence age is the most critical stage in the lives of persons, at which there is need for strong and positive social ties. Hirschi argued that if the social ties in the life of a person are negative and delinquent, it then follows that a negative result does set in. The central elements of the social bond theory as propounded by Hirschi is attachment, commitment, involvement in either conventional or deviant activities and lastly, the common value system, pervading in one’s community or group. Attachment in this context has been defined as the level of values that are held by an individual in the society. This is more important especially with respect to one’s parents or parental figures as a strong social bond with one’s parent acts as a huge deterrent factor against the commission of crime. The theory further suggests that the attachment that one person has towards his peers, is also crucial and supportive as long as it is positive and does not gravitate towards delinquency.
Hirschi also argued that other attachments such as schools do play a great role in the conventional society and may affect an individual either positively or negatively. Secondly, the commitment that a person has towards abiding by the legal prescriptions that are laid down is relevant. For instance, a person who has grown in a home where drugs are easily sold and used has a greater propensity to involve himself with drug and crime in his life than one who has not grown in such a family. Similarly, the bond between a person and his family such as father and mother which points to their commitment to family may have an effect on their likelihood of engaging in crime. The third element is the choice between being involved in conventional behavior versus engaging in deviant behavior. The choice of what to engage in by a person is made soon after the teaching of the basic rules in life of what is right and wrong. In the event that there is no formulation of what is wrong or right, the adolescent tends to involve himself in the behavior that makes the greatest sense to him.
The final element in the social bond theory is that if a person shares values and norms with others in his group, it becomes difficult to overcome the motivation to deviate. This theory makes a lot of sense given the fact that there are a variety of social bonds that exist in virtually all aspects of a person’s life. Hirschi basically predicated his theory on the fact that whenever social bonds are either weakened or broken, delinquent behavior usually occurs. In particular, Hirschi states this, “The more weakened the groups to which [the individual] belongs, the less he depends on them, the more he consequently depends only on himself and recognizes no other rules of conduct then what are formed on his private interests”. It is also notable to put forward a criticism of the theory as propounded by Hirschi. The theory as postulated is not foolproof and it has its weaknesses in its endeavor to explain crime.
Firstly, Hirschi does not make any distinction between the various elements of his theory yet there are differences between the elements. For instance, reports suggest that a high number of adolescents engaged in criminal behavior cite the element of involvement, yet Hirschi argues that this causes a reduction of crime. It is the case that when adolescents or young adults engage in delinquent behavior outside of their home, parental control over them weakens and they have more opportunities to commit crime.
More so, Hirschi argues that any form of attachment is of benefit to a person even towards deviant parents and peers. This cannot be true as such attachment only works to increase the chances of delinquency by supporting and nurturing the act of antisocial behavior. An individual with deviant family members and peers is likely to engage in crime. In addition, Hirschi seems to overlook the fact that social bonds do change with time. At the time of the study conducted by Hirschi, the family as we know it today was somewhat different. In the contemporary society, there are many single families and other lifestyles that do not reflect the typical family that was existent at the time. There is a difference to the effect that strong bonds with some dysfunctional families that are the case in our society are not beneficial to a person.
In our instance case, we find that the sex offender, Brian Belanger, has been engaged in sexually explicit conduct with a child. The age of the offender is instructive. He aptly falls into the category of a young adult who is barely out of his adolescence and thus strongly affected by the social bond. The fact that he states that someone is on the lookout for him so as to murder him suggests that he is a person of delinquent behavior. This is a manifestation of a possible weak social bond with his family members and peers. With regard to the first element of the social bond theory, it is clear that Belanger has little or no attachment to his family as evident in the paucity of information regarding his family. As such, there is the absence of parental control which is critical at his age where there is need for strong and positive ties as cited by Hirschi. With respect to the element of commitment to values and norms of the society, it is the case that Belanger is less committed to the values, beliefs and activities even at his school, if any. This is reflected in the fact that he committed the crime in cyberspace which points to a lack of a bond with his peers both at school and home and little regard for the values and norms in his society. Concerning the issue of acting in the conventional way versus acting in a delinquent manner, it is the case that Belanger as an offender is well aware of what is right and wrong. In fact, he tells the child who is the victim of the crime that he is being sought after to be killed. This is evidence of his knowledge of what is right and wrong. He however, chooses to engage in the wrong behavior which supposedly makes more sense to him.
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FBI. (2014, February 07). Massachusetts Man Arrested on Charges of Enticing an Albany County Child http://www.fbi.gov/albany/press-releases/2014/massachusetts-man-arrested-on-charges-of-enticing-an-albany-county-child. The FBI Federal Bureau of Investigation, p. 1.
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