This study aims to present the concept of child abuse in the view of the criminal justice system. It will also present the history of child abuse in the United States as well as the prevalence of child sexual abuse in the United States, particularly in the state of Michigan. This research paper will discuss the current federal policies on child abuse and the intervention strategies and policy scheme involving child abuse cases. Finally, the conclusion of this study will present the new laws that will prevent sexual abuses cases and the role of the government to revise and review policies reduce the incidence of child sexual cases, and to provide the ample treatment for victims of child abuse.
Keywords: child abuse, federal policies, policy scheme, intervention strategy, prevalence.
Background of Sexual Abuse
Graham (1995, p.170) stated that sexual abuse andsexual assault, particularly those involving children are difficult to prove. This is due to the fact there islack of corroborative evidence such as a physical or medical evidence or testimony from independent witnesses evidence to support the complaint for sexual abuse. In fact, the legal process of testifying in open court may be traumatic for the victims, especially if they are children because they have the tendency to refuse to testify before the court out of fear. The requirement of repeating the details of “allegations to strangers in open court for the public to hear during cross examination and face to face confrontation with the accused may cause an adverse effect especially in the case of child victims” (Graham, 1995, p. 170).
Adult sexual abuse cases and policieshave been widely known to the public, but such is not the case for child sexual abuse where public is still not familiar with. Child sexual abuse cases are considered as controversial because it shocks the moral senses given thedisparity of the age between the child-victim and the perpetuator. Johnson (2006) stated that“child sexual abuse or sexual abuse against children refers to an activity that involves minors who are regarded as forced victims of the sexual gratification or desire of a perpetuator” (p.26).
“Sexual abuse can be performed in several ways such as oral-genital, genital-genital, object-genital, object-rectal, hand-genital, hand-rectal or hand-breast contact, forced exposure of the victim’s sexual anatomy, pornography or pornography viewing”(Johnson, 2006, p. 17).In addition, sexual play is also considered a form of sexual abuse because it constitutes the viewing and touching the sexual anatomy of a victim who is less than 4 years of age.
Aside from the given definition above, child sexual abuse had been redefined numerous times by various institutions in order to encompass all aspects of the crime and its identification. Kinnear (2007) noted that the Children’s Bureau of the US Department of Health and Human Services defines that child sexual abuse as:
the involvement of the child in sexual activity to provide sexual gratification or financial benefit to the perpetrator, including contacts for sexual purposes, molestation, statutory rape, prostitution, pornography, exposure, incest, or other sexually exploitative activities.
Child sexual abuse is also categorized as either contact or noncontact abuse. Contact abuse encompasses acts such as kissing to oral sex and intercourse. Noncontact, on the other hand, pertains to exhibitionism and sexual talk to arouse either the child or the adult involved. Activities pertaining to sexual abuse tend to differ as well. A simple walk while being naked as well as acts closely related to sexual intercourse, such as exhibitionism, voyeurism, kissing, fellatio, vaginal or anal intercourse and child pornography all qualify as acts of sexual abuse. Under the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act of 1978, as cited by Kinnear (2007, pp.2-3), child sexual abuse is defined as using inducement, persuasion, inducement, enticement, or coercion of a child to engage in any sexually explicit conduct that may constitute to rape, molestation, incest with a child, prostitution, or any other form of sexual exploitation of children (Kinnear, 2007, pp. 2-3).
The definitions of child sexual abuse vary, especially in the legal context as it may be either a civil or criminal case. In a civil statute, sexual abuse as that of an act which children should be protected from and must be reported by professionals and child protection agencies to the concerned agencies in order to intervene. Sexual acts are considered criminal and punishable by law based on the intent of the perpetrator to have carnal knowledge with the child victims. Penalties vary based on the age of the child, the act committed and the relationship between the victim and the accused (Kinnear, 2007, pp. 2-3). While the definitions have varied among institutions and the legislation passed to protect children from sexual abuse, the consequences such acts bring to children are severe and traumatic.
Child sexual abuse is not easily identifiable given the physical and mental trauma it causes for its victims. Hence, the government should enact intervention policies in order to decrease in number of child intervention policies by requiring the mandatory reporting of sexual abuse.
Statement of the Problem
Throughout the years, the number of victims of child sexual abuse has increased around the globe and in the United States alone; the numbers clearly show that the problem had significantly grown. The prevalence of sexual abuse in this country gradually increased by the time of the 1960s, however, the records throughout the ‘60s to the early ‘80s lacked detail due to the lack of awareness on the issue. The National Incidence Studies report has shown that there is an increase of 67% based on the reported child sexual abuse cases covering the years 1986 to 1993, with the total number of 1,553,800 children reported as victims. Notably, the official records of child sexual abuse cases are noted to have declined throughout the same period due to the lack of evidences and actual response by the authorities on reported cases (Putnam, 2003). By 2000, child sexual abuse cases only constituted 10% of all reported child abuse cases, which was lesser than the peak estimate of 149,800 cases in 1992. The same National Incidence Studies report had shown that there are 12% to 35% of women who have been reported of unwanted sexual acts that they have experienced during their youth; while 4-9% percentof men experienced unwanted sexual acts. Rates of child sexual abuse cases from other nations have showed trends similar to those reported in the United States (Putnam, 2003, pp. 269-270).
In the United States, the statistics for child sexual abuse cases have provided indications as to how victims are treated by perpetrators. In statistics were cited during the US v. Banks case, at least 70% of reported sexual assaults occur to children ages 17 and under, either through physical sexual abuse or sexual solicitation on the Internet. There are 39 million Americans who have reported backgrounds of child sexual abuse, but differ in themanner and variance of abuse. In the case of intimate and violent crimes, the statistics also indicate that children sexually abused by family members made up 30-40% of all reported cases, while another 50% were abused by a family friend or someone they knew and trusted. Only 10% among these statistics were abused by total strangers. The statistics also showed that child victims of sexual abuse tend to keep their experiences to themselves because they do not know if they have indeed been abused or asked by anyone whether they experienced abuse. Myers (1997, p. 437) stated that in the event that the child victims happen to disclose the abuse to anyone, the authorities may state on record that their reports are fabricated.
In the 2011 Child Welfare League of America report, almost 120,977 referrals were recorded on issues on child abuse and neglect in 2009, while 75,441 reports were forwarded to concerned authorities for investigation. In the same year, 10,601 children were substantiated or indicated as abused or neglected in Michigan, which is a decrease from the 2006 statistics. Almost 4% of these children were sexually abused. Records have also proven that 58 Michigan children have died as a direct result of abuse . Given the numbers proving the prevalence of child sexual abuse, there is still doubt why these numbers continuously increase and whether there are still victimsfailed to report their cases to the authorities.
What should the government at both the federal and state levels need to do to recognize the signs and symptoms of child sexual abuse? What problems arise in reporting such cases and how does one report child sexual abuse cases, particularly in Michigan? Are there any laws or policies implemented by the federal government or the state of Michigan regarding child sexual abuse cases? This paper will discuss the signs and symptoms of child sexual abuse, reporting child sexual abuse in Michigan and the current policies implemented to protect child victims from perpetuators at both the federal and state levels.
Discussion and Analysis
In the issue of child sexual abuse, there are various criminal justice theories that can be used to understand the nature of the crime which is a self-gratification offense, the policies to counter the crime, and intervene for the safety of the victim and punish the criminals involved. The first theory that is applicable to child sexual abuse is the classical theory or the rational choice theory. According to Akers and Sellers (2004, p.9), the rational choice theory is the 1980s formulation of classical criminology, which outlines rational, logical, and philosophical explanations to explain abusive and inhumane system of justice. The founder of the theory is CesareBeccaria (1738-1794), an Italian nobleman who wrote the classic book “On Crimes and Punishments” in 1764, which showcases his arguments on criminal justice and reform. According to this theory, the crime occurs due to the person’s pursuit of interest. The act would mostly be done to satisfy their urges without considering the consequences of their actions, concentrating more on the expected reward criminals could attain for committing such act . This theory applies very well to child sexual abuse as perpetrators commit the crime for the sake of sexual conquest despite the trauma it could cause to the victim and the impact that could deter the victim’s overall development.
Another possible theory to explain the nature of child sexual abuse is thedevelopmental theory, which explains that criminals differ from noncriminalsfrom their biological and psychological traits. According to Siegel (2011, p.296), the pioneers of the theory are Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck, who conducted research to understand the reasons as to why criminals tend to commit crimes. In their research, the Gluecks identified personal and social factors, as well as biological and psychological factors that influenced criminals. Factors such as quality of discipline, family relations, economic stability, and vulnerability are some notable examples of personal and social factors identified in the study of the Gluecks. When it comes to biological and psychological factors, body type, intelligence, personality, and behavior can impact the overall behavior of children and adults in committing crimes. The Gluecks had also surmised in their research that the continuation of a criminal career would likely be influenced by both internal and external situations, affecting the criminal’s state of mind . Applying this theory to child sexual abuse, perpetrators may commit the crime due to their personal experiences of being sexually abused by their family or caretakers or overall social behavior towards others.
Finally, the general strain theory may be able to explain as to why child sexual abuse persists. Siegel (2011, p.297) wrote that the theory is founded by sociologist Robert Agnew, who then explained that individuals who feel stress or strain are most likely to commit crimes due to pressure. In explaining the theory, Agnew stated that criminality is ‘the direct result of negative affective states – anger, frustration, and adverse emotions that emerge in the wake of negative and destructive social relationships.’ The source of these emotions can come from failure to achieve a positive goal, disjunction of expectation or achievements, removal of positive stimuli or purpose, and finally, presentation of negative stimuli. The first cause of strain can occur when the person aspires for goals like fame and fortune; however, he may fail in achieving this goal due to educational or financial incapacities. The second cause of strain can occur when a person compares himself to another and wonders as to why the same positive achievement is attained in his personal life. The third cause of strain may be due to the losses and major changes in life such as death of a love one or getting a new job or home. Criminality in this type would then be triggered if the person could not accept the changes or loss, which may influence their behavior. Finally, the final cause of strain identified by Agnew occurs when a person has received pain-induced social interactions such as abuse, punishment, and conflict, or experienced a stressful event such as school failure, family breakups and dissatisfaction. Either one of these sources of strain would continue on to the individual’s negative affective state, which then causes antisocial behavior and criminality. In the case of child sexual abuse, perpetuators may commit the crime due to their incapacity to catch the attention of the opposite sex or maintain a strong mutual relationship. It is also possible that these criminals commit crime because they feel the strain of changes and losses in their lives that they would require an outlet to vent their frustrations. It is also likely that these criminals commit the crime for the very reason that they also became victims to child sexual abuse.
History and Nature of CSA in the US
According to Koverko (2010, p. 52), child maltreatment in any form has been under meticulous scrutiny of the public due to the attentiongiven to it by the medical community. A report in 1961 by the Michigan Department of Human Services showcased that doctors have discovered hundreds of children who were found signs of physical abuse by their parents and loved ones. The MDHS report stated that these children were determined to be suffering from “battered child syndrome” as they were brought to hospitals with injuries related to physical abuse. Soon after, the Children’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare discussed means of reducing occurrences of child sexual abuse across the country, as well as mediums to use for intervention and resolution. The meeting of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare made it mandatory that states adopt reporting legislations that would allow certain institutions to report suspected victims of child sexual abuse. The federal government, through the Congress and the Senate, passed the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act or CAPTA of 1974, which was designed to support state programs and intervention frameworks for CSA cases. The CAPTA also required that individuals report child abuse, while protecting witnesses who reported cases in good faith.
Once the definition of child abuse was expanded to include sexual abuse, reports of child sexual abuse increased significantly. The government and other institutions handling child sexual abuse cases during that time gradually recognized that the issues had affected the country more severely than previously thought. Reports of sexual abuse from all around the country included a large number of child sexual abuse victims, and the number among those who are sexually abused by their parents is particularly high. However, the rates of such reports are not equal in all states and in some, such as in Michigan, are seeing that the number of confirmed child sexual abuse reports is in decline (Koverko, 2010, p. 52-53).
With regards to the nature of child sexual abuse, Kinnear (2007, p.4) found that victims of child sexual abuse tend to be mostly girls rather than boys, and this had proven mostly by statistics of recent child sexual abuse cases. In the cited study by Rebecca Bolen and Maria Scannapieco in 1999, almost 13% of boys were sexually abused while 30-40% was girls. While the statistics point out that, in general, girls are more at risk for being victims of child sexual abuse, there are several exceptions. For example, in recent studies pertaining to sexual abuse cases involving the Catholic Church, the statistics show that more boys have been abused than girls. Surveys even suggest that 81% of sexual abuse victims of the Catholic Church are boys, which may be due in part to the fact that they tend to play as sacristans, assistants, and priest’s aides. Regardless of the present statistics of child sexual abuse cases, researchers agree that child sexual abuse cases are still under-reported. In the case of males, they tend to keep their experiences quiet (Kinnear, 2007, pp. 4-5).
Brown (2010, p.105) wrote that even children with disabilities become targets for child sexual abuse. These children are also less protected by mainstream and specialist agencies whenever they are threatened or abused. Brown (2010,p.108) explained that children with disabilities are at risk because they may be taken away from their families in some point, either by force or voluntarily, because of their unique characteristics and needs. In such cases they are taken care of in congregate settings under various caregivers, who then may target them because of their vulnerability. In addition, perpetuators may then move in to the disabled child once they see that the child is isolated from his or her peer group, and has difficulties in communication and information analysis. Disabled children who also have low self-esteem tend to become susceptible to grooming and deception, which makes them prime targets for some perpetuators. Statistics have also shown that deaf children are more at risk of being victims to sexual abuse (Brown, 2010, pp. 105-108).
Based on recent studies, strangers tend to be the most prevalent perpetuators of child sexual abuse cases as many believe that child safety is most threatened by people the child donot know personally (Kinnear, 2007, p. 4). However, children who are victims of sexual abuse are often abused by people they know, such as – parents, siblings, other relatives, or even teachers. It is important to be aware that sexual abusers could also be nearly anyone, including those who have high socioeconomic standing. Siblings also are potential abusers, especially if they themselves have been victims of sexual abuse. Perpetrators often deny any form of child abuse even if the signs indicate the possibility of such. Abusers tend to turn to children because they may have difficulties speaking with other adults, in either individual or group social situations, and they are sexually aroused by children, which is why they tend to play several of their sexual fantasies using children as their victims. Abusers are also frequently seen to demonstrate signs of other addictions, such as substance abuse, and other psychological incapacities and disorders such as depression and a poor sense of self-worth and image.
Policy on Child Endangerment
It is vital that a valid policy on the issue of child endangerment should be mandatorily implemented by the Department of Job and Family Services. The reason for the existence and establishing the law is to provide protection for the children to help them develop the aggressive behavior seen in their homes. Thus, it is suggested that child who may be a victim of sexual abuse, child abuse, or drug or alcohol related offenses in the household who has reported at least two documented offense of domestic violence should be reported to the authorities. Thus, it will be for the best interest of the child abuse victim to be taken away from their parents, guardian, and caregiver who have engaged in aggressive conduct. The removal of any child abuse victims from the homes will protect them to develop trauma after undergoing the difficult problems in life which can trigger the child’s violent tendencies.
Therefore, placing the child in the care of the state, or foster care services will relieve the child from the emotional baggage caused by the sexual abuse and to shield the child from developing a violent behavior. It is recommended for the child and his or her parents to undergo the process of healing to receive adequate counseling, family therapy sessions, mental health treatment, anger management and other parenting classes. Thus, a six-month period of separation from the parent will release the child from emotional stress and reestablish proper orientation of normal childhood.
Psychologist Nicolas Groth wrote that there are two categories of child abusers: regressed and fixated (Kinnear, 2007, pp. 6-7). Regressed abusers are those who live normally and have normal interpersonal relationships. The pattern seen in regressed abusers is that they develop a sense of sexual desire to be with children, especially young girls as they reach their thirties. On the other hand, fixated abusers develop their sexual abuse tendencies early on and are never sexually attracted to their own age group. A third category was created by another expert, John Crewdson, is the crossover abuser who is mostly attracted to children. What makes crossover abusers to regressed abusers is that most crossover abusers tend to be the fathers of the victims . In addition to these categories, there are also several subcategories of abusers. Pedophiles, a well-known subcategory of abusers, tend to be more dangerous than all other possible abusers to children. Pedophilia denotes a person who experiences recurring urges and sexual desire for prepubescent children or those younger than 13 years old. Pedophiles often reason that they did commit a sexual act against a child because they wish to educate the child on the issue of sexual activity and importance to society. Some even claim that the child was provoking them to commit the act. Pedophiles also difficult to record or identify as they rarely seek medical attention or speak about their sexual urges(Kinnear, 2007, pp. 5-8).
Role of the Department of Job and Family Services
It bears stressing that the Department of Job and Family Services was correct in associating the relevance of the policy to the social learning theory of aggressive children who learned the same tactics from their parents whenever they engage in social interactions. In fact, this has been proven by Siegal (2007, p. 110), who make reference to the study conducted by social learning theorists who claim that “children of who were victims of abuse are more expected to employ aggressive tactics themselves, as opposed to the children coming from the general population, especially if their mothers were victims of psychological distress caused by the abuse” (Siegel, 2007, p. 110).
Child Sexual Abuse Prevention
It is vital to develop interventions that will aim to prevent child sexual abuse by focusing the attention on the role of the criminal justice systems to prevent and respond to sexual abuse among children (Smallbone, Marshall, &Wortley, 2013, p.16). The criminal justice system is mainly composed of three core elements compose of the courts, police and corrections. Each of these elements plays a significant role in the prevention of child sexual abuse. In the case of the police force, they have the duty to investigate crimes involving child sexual abuse and to carry out immediate detection of crimes to prevent further harm to the victims. In the case of the courts and corrections, they have the joint obligation towards the attainment of four (4) goals: retribution, deterrence, incapacitation and rehabilitation (Smallbone et al., 2013, p. 16).
The formal activities of the criminal justice system shall begin with the detection and investigation of crimes which shall be carried out by the police and other investigatory and law enforcement agencies. The investigation and detection is generally being handled by the police to locate potential offenders of child sexual abuse. Thus, in order to assist the police officers to reduce the crime rate, there is a need to increase the number of police officers. In addition to this, there is a need to increase random police patrols and to concentrate the attention of the police on crime hotspots. It bears stressing that increasing the frequency and improving the quality of police-citizen contacts or community policing will aid the police in arresting the offenders. Lastly, there is a need to identify and minimize the proximate causes of the crime (Smallbone et al., 2013, p. 18).
The allocation and administration of punishment is the cornerstone of criminal justice policy because punishment is applied for retributive purposes (Smallbone et al., 2013, p. 20). Although punishment may be viewed as a form of retribution, it does not in itself serve the crime prevention purpose. Hence, there is a need to shift the focus on the utilitarian purpose of punishment which is to be made applicable to criminal justice settings. This shall be the role of the courts and the corrections to provide the just punishment for the offenders of child sexual abuse offense. The recent study of Smallbone et al. (2013, p. 20) have shown that punishment is effective in suppressing target behavior, but should hold sufficient severity and the punisher must be perceived as relevant by the person being punished. Hence, in the case of the child sexual abuse offenders, they should respect the decision of the court because it is part of the judiciary and empowered by the state to impose punishment.
However, it is noteworthy to state that evidence appears to contradict assumptions that increase the severity of the punishment for crimes such as child sexual abuse will result in general or specific deterrent effects. This may be the result of the justice system having limited control over the certainty of punishment that severity is no longer material (Smallbone et al., 2013, p. 24).
Aside from this, incapacitation is the third ultimate goal of criminal justice interventions for persistent sexual offenders. Through incapacitation, it will banish or lessen the crime rate by removing the criminal opportunities for the individual offenders. In the past, some of the methods used for incapacitation shall include banishment, exile, transportation, mutilation and death of the offenders (Smallbone et al., 2013, p. 25). However, modern methods to incapacitate the offender shall include chemical castration and imprisonment of sexual offenders for indefinite periods (Smallbone et al., 2013, p. 25). Chemical castration has been regarded as one preventive method that will reduce the sexual drive of offenders. This is as opposed to physical castration that will require the removal of the testes, which produce the chemical testosterone among males. Removing the testes will result to elimination of sexual drive and can result to prevention of sexual offending (Smallbone et al., 2013, p. 24). However, due to the critical side effects of this method is related to ethical issues. Thus, the modern view of Western countries stands as they no longer allow physical castration except for life-saving interventions. While in the case of chemical castration, it shall require the administration of anti-androgen which is a hormonal agent that has the capacity to eliminate the production of testosterone among males. As a result, the sexual urges of the offenders can be controlled. The purpose of the pharmacological agents is to reduce the sexual urges among the offenders, but does not necessarily eliminate the sexual drive of non-habitual sexual offenders. There are only a small number of offenders who might need to undergo chemical castration since only those sexual offenders who have difficulties in expressing their sexual interests who are required to undergo such procedure (Smallbone et al., 2013, p. 25).
Another method to prevent child sexual abuse is to amend and revise the criminal laws to confine them beyond is considered as otherwise normal prison sentence for specific crimes such as designation of the offenders to “dangerous offenders” so that the public will be well-informed