Arguably, legal and social addressing of child abuse may be the most problematic concern of the society, and because the issues combines the most vulnerable population with a broad range of equally disturbing offenses. On one level, some hold that abusers are victims of mental disorders themselves, and consequently not fully accountable for their crimes. On another, the consistently heinous nature of all child abuse triggers outrage so extreme, the public is largely unable to consider mitigating circumstances. In the following, a number of issues within the subject are explored, and with the emphasis on the society’s ultimate responsibility to protect children from offenders, and no matter what motivates the crimes.
Regarding punishment or treatment for known offenders, the primary consideration seems to me no “either/or” scenario as reasonable. More exactly, the need to punish is not automatically removed from an imperative to apply treatment, just as in other crimes the two responses depend upon the specific case. The abuser not diagnosed with a disorder and who consciously victims children as a choice, at least hypothetically, deserves treatment only based upon the belief that no such abuse is fully sane or within the offender’s control. More important is that, no matter the direction of therapy and/or incarceration taken, the offender is denied the opportunity to abuse again, and even in cases where it is determined that treatment and medication have greatly reduced potentials of new abusing. This, as will be reiterated, must be the overriding concern in all approaches to the subject.
Concerning a convicted abuser as required to inform social partners of their crimes, and the imperative to protect children notwithstanding, the answer is in the negative, and because of that social component. There are mandates in states and jurisdiction requiring that communities be informed of offenders within them (Wallace & Roberson, 2015, p. 173), but the hypothetical requirement here is different and inapplicable. This would translate into a legislating of morality and an intrusion of personal liberties because, in all social relationships, those involved are accountable for coming to know the other as the relationship develops. If this seems lax in regard to dangers, as when a person is dating a convicted child abuser and unaware of that reality, it must be remembered that the law correctly does not restrict all opportunities for released offenders of felonies. On a basic level, personal liberties demand as much in the way of responsibility as individuals are entitled to protection, and the parent of children entrusting them to someone not fully known is acting irresponsibly. The law should intervene in any cases wherein a released offender is deemed a potential threat. At the same, such a potential should not be permitted to exist as such within the society.
Extending the above scenario and if a child was abused within one, impacts are virtually inestimable. Any case of child abuse has severely harmful consequences, no matter the specific nature of the crime. The offender’s neglect of the child in this case may be as damaging as overt physical abuse (Wallace & Roberson, 2015, p. 176), because neglect alone may take so many forms, from depriving the child of a meal to the abuser’s ignoring an urgent plea for help from the child. Then, the situation adds other harms. The mother would likely, if not inevitably, suffer traumatic guilt for having unknowingly enabled the victimization. The child, similarly, would be harmed by a radically lessened trust in the mother, apart from the harm inflicted by the abuser. Both parent and child would then confront a severely damaged relationship probably affecting how they each behave in their own, wider environments. The primary point, however, remains that the association between mother and abuser, her ignorance of the danger aside, would create deep conflict between her and her child.
Interestingly, and the trauma of the above case notwithstanding, reporting the crime could have a healing effect for both mother and child. The latter would be given the sense that the mother is committed to acting upon the wrong, which would help to reestablish trust. Any reporting would also draw both mother and child together in working toward a shared resolution; more exactly, the mother would be more entering into the child’s experience of victimization. Also, this mother would have a far greater understanding of her responsibilities, and recognize that trusting her child to another demands the utmost confidence in that person. At the same time, the lasting effects of this instance of abuse would be as negatively impactful as any other case. Child victimization that is not ongoing, which may or may not apply in the hypothetical case, is no less traumatic for the child. Verbal and/or physical abuse invariably scars the child psychologically.
Senses of self-worth are threatened or destroyed at the most formative stage of life, so the effects impair the child on the most fundamental levels of being. Early Life Stress (ELS) in the form of sexual and physical child abuse has another, related insidious effect, in that victims frequently develop suicidal impulses later in life (Nemeroff, 2016, p. 897). There is also the cyclical quality, in that victims often become abusers themselves as a means of transferring the trauma they experienced. Essentially, any form of child abuse is a situation in which the most vulnerable individual is exposed to harm they are incapable of resisting, which reality must create enduring senses of helplessness, inadequacy, guilt, anger, and other assorted responses to what equates to torture. Adding to these impacts in the proposed scenario is the child’s awareness that a kind of adult complicity allowed the victimization to exist.