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Many consider children to be our future. With that idea in mind, how do the consequences of children being victimized play a role in our future? Some could say it will lead to an increase in drug use, an increase in crime, a continuation of the cycle of violence, or even an increase in mental illness. Victimization of children is not something new or unheard of to many. Many children experience many crimes and/or acts of violence, many of which fly under the radar of being reported and/or addressed. Then comes the concern of how these issues are addressed and resolved.
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Childhood victimization is a recurring issue within the United States. According to Allison Jackson and Katherine Deye, childhood maltreatment affects 1 out 8 children annually (Jackson & Deye, 2015). One may argue that childhood maltreatment and child victimization are not the same thing, but according to David Finkelhor, this would fall under the broader victimization concept that could be broken down into broad subcategories (Finkelhor, Turner, Shattuck, & Hamby, 2015). This broader concept covers things such as conventional crimes (rape, robbery, assault), acts that violate child welfare statutes (also can be called childhood maltreatment), and noncriminal juvenile crime equivalents (Finkelhor, Turner, Shattuck, & Hamby, 2015). This broader term allows us to see more a more overall picture how much childhood victimization is occurring throughout the nation.
While we know that this issue has been around for a long time, we only can find so many recordings of it. The National Crime Victimization Survey does hold records of childhood victimization, but it records information of incidents involving people ages twelve and up. “It also does not effectively encompass certain important forms of child victimization, such as child abuse, sexual abuse, and kidnapping,” (Finkelhor, Turner, Shattuck, & Hamby, 2015). Many common incidents of victimization among children are well known such as assault, physical abuse, sexual abuse, witnessing, hate crimes, school violence, peer and sibling victimization and so on (Finkelhor & United States. Office Of Juvenile Justice And Delinquency Prevention, 2009). Since the creation and utilization of the internet and technology, victimization that occurs through these sources have increased as well such as sexting, sextortion, online predators, and the role technology with sex trafficking (Jain, 2018). With so many ways for this type of victimization to occur, it tends to happen almost anywhere and does not have a specific location. Domestic violence can occur at home, but incidents of harassment and bullying can occur at school and victimization over social media can occur on any internet platform.
We already know that these types of victimization impacts children. The next question would be if there are any specific groups of children that are impacted or more impacted than others. While we know the problem is widespread, we can see risk factors among different groups of children that are more likely to experience victimization. A study done by Child Trends would suggest that children who are non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaskan Native, and multiracial children have higher rates of reported maltreatment (“Child Maltreatment – Child Trends,” 2017). Also, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention stated that children who are special needs or are under four years old are at risk for victimization as well as extensive list of perpetration contributing factors including community violence, concentrated neighborhood disadvantage, family concerns (social isolation and such), parents with a history of child abuse and or neglect (“Risk and Protective Factors|Child Abuse and Neglect|Violence Prevention|Injury Center|CDC,” 2019). Another article suggests that race, gender, age, and socioeconomic status may have key factors in what kinds of victimization a child may experience (Kilpatrick & Schnurr, 2000). There is a lot of overlap between risk factors. While we may not be able to group each child into a specific risk factor, it can give us an indicator of who is more likely to be victimized.
Though, these are clear groups of individuals, we do see the negative impacts that arise from a child being victimized. One belief that is held by many is that childhood victimization leads to an increase in crime. While being victimized as a child can lead to criminal behavior and activities, it is not the only outcome. According to Cathryn Hunter, intergenerational abuse or neglect, re-victimization, physical health problems, mental health problems, eating disorders and obesity, alcohol and substance abuse, high risk sexual behaviors, homelessness, aggression, violence, and criminal behaviors are all long-term consequences child abuse and neglect (Hunter, 2014). While these are only the long-term effects, there are short effects as well. Other consequences could be medical and physiological, cognitive and intellectual, psychosocial, and behavioral, (Understanding Child Abuse and Neglect, 1993), all of which effect children in the early stages of their lives. These behaviors do not affect one specific group of those children victimized but are all potential consequences that these children could face if the situation is not addressed properly and promptly.
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So, what can be done to better address this issue? One idea suggested is that the National Crime Victimization Survey be broadened in scope to cover more instances of victimization (Finkelhor & United States. Office Of Juvenile Justice And Delinquency Prevention, 2009). It is also suggested that the juvenile justice system be adjusted to give victims the comparable assistance as done in the criminal justice system, addressing barriers to reporting incidents, early intervention, and intervention programs that address more than just the instance but provide help to avoid other behaviors such as substance abuse and mental illness. Another suggestion is to reach across disciplines to have a combined effort to address the issue (Finkelhor & United States. Office Of Juvenile Justice And Delinquency Prevention, 2009). One of the ideas presented was to address barriers to intervention. These barriers prevent those children who need assistance from getting it until it is too late, or a lot of damage has been done. Increasing combined efforts across the board from school counselors to the police department to health providers to create an environment that allows children to be able to know when to say something and have someone they can say it to. It would take an increase of community involvement as well to really back the idea of addressing issues and identifying them sooner.
Victimization of children is something that is far too common within our country. With new technology, it can be seen in almost any aspect of life. While it does have risk factors that could indicate groups of children who are more at risk, any child is potentially at risk. The consequences can range from things that affect them mentally and physically short-term, but there are long term effects as well such substance abuse and revictimization. We should create a more cohesive force when addressing this issue instead of leaving it to each individual authority (schools, child welfare, police, etcetera) to handle. With a more unified approach, we would be able to see early signs and act faster to intervene.
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