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Literature Review




Elise Amonette

Clarion  University of Pennsylvania

CRJT 400

Dr. Bell

October 12, 2020








There has been an upsurge concern on the increase in risks of later forms of antisocial and aggressive behavior resulting from childhood trauma and abuse. Studies show that up to 70% of criminals have a history of child abuse or have been associated with different kinds of trauma that have, over time, bred violence and aggressive behavior in them (King et al., 2019). When children experience deep trauma, it critically impacts a person’s social, emotional, physical, and psychological aspects of life (Armstrong et al., 2008). Thus, it is evident that when children undergo abuse or traumatic experiences, they tend to exhibit crime and violence perpetration. Therefore, the link between childhood trauma and crime in adult life is too strong to be neglected. This literature review is intended to explore the inherent link between child abuse/ trauma and violent behavior.

To begin, abuse in a child’s early stages causes the development of criminal behavior, which has become evident through the increase in juvenile delinquency over the years. Several theories have also been formulated to explain the potential connection between child abuse and adult criminal behavior. For instance, the Developmental Psychopathology Perspective theory which states that neglect and abuse are violations of a child’s natural environment in which they are to thrive in. thus, neglect and abuse deprive children of mature biological processes, for instance, their ability to develop healthily in moral judgment, self-control, social understanding, cognitive abilities, regulation of emotions, empathy and problem-solving, which ultimately translates to careless behavior such as violence (Kerig & Becker, 2014). Abuse and neglect have also caused children and adolescents to indulge in drug abuse, which further destroys their moral judgment. Abuse in the early years of childhood cause children to become violent and aggressive towards their peers and causes antisocial behavior, becoming an ultimate pathway into adult criminal behavior. Thus, the majority of juvenile delinquents are victims of abuse, proving the DPP theory.

Similarly, researchers have established that up to 80% of prisoners suffer from mental health disorders whose origin is said to stem from abuse and traumatic childhood experiences (Driessen et al., 2006). Most of these prisoners also wide-range antisocial personalities and psychological disturbances. This further proves that there is a close link between aggressive or violent behavior and traumatic experiences during childhood, which is the hypothesis for this paper. Victims of abuse also tend to have problems or be negatively involved with the justice systems due to various offenses even as early as the adolescent stage (Kerig, 2019). Most perpetrators or criminals who have had backgrounds of abuse also tend to abuse their victims physically, some even to the extent of murder, which explains why most receive heavy judgment, in most cases, life imprisonment (Driessen et al., 2006). Children who have undergone abuse or trauma tend to have low-stress tolerance, which often manifests itself as withdrawal or aggression, which is as per the DPP theory.

Contrastingly, researchers have discovered a ‘cycle of violence’ amongst individuals that have had a history of abuse, neglect, and trauma. This is a type of intergenerational sequence where individuals victimize or abuse other because they themselves have experienced the same. The increasing domestic violence rates and inter-partner violence in society today have raised concerns (Kerig, 2019). Intimate Partner Violence (IVP) is the primary outcome of child abuse, neglect, and victimization. Exposure of children to threats during domestic feuds disrupts their mental functions and capability, which may cause antisocial behavior or aggressive behavior towards their peers as they grow. In a bid to find the root causes and factors leading to domestic violence, it has been discovered that childhood traumatic experiences can be linked to domestic violence in the adult life of the victims. Most children who have witnessed violence are likely to practice violence because, for them, violence could be the only means they know to solve issues. In other words, domestic violence is a precursor for later domestic violence (Feldman, 1997). As a matter of fact, individuals that have been victimized with child abuse and neglect are more likely to perpetrate criminal activities that people who have not been maltreated.

By the same token, sexual offenses amongst adults have also been linked to maltreatment and abuse during childhood. Individuals begin practicing sexual offenses such as rape and sexual harassment during adolescence and become much more conspicuous in adulthood. A study conducted by Delisi et al. (2014) proved that over the years, a large percentage of incarcerated male juvenile offenders had had a history of sexual abuse. Furthermore, a large percentage of people who have been neglected in their junior years have attested to having anger management issues, agitation, and uncontrollable rage (Kerig, 2019). Therefore sexual abuse during childhood does increase the likelihood of the individuals’ involvement in the same kind of behavior in later years, proving that there is an inherent cycle of violence or related behavior.

Conversely, the bivariate analysis also shows that there is a close connection between neglect and adult criminality. Both publications, incarcerations, convictions, and self-reported crimes reveal that subsequent types of victimization indirectly impact adult life and cause criminal behavior (King et al., 2019). In other words, although there is a close connection between adult criminality and child abuse, the impact is indirect. On the other hand, multivariate models suggest that criminality is also highly dependent on factors such as minority racial status, education levels, marital status, and financial status of the perpetrators making the correlation between crime and child abuse/ neglect nearly insignificant (King et al., 2019).

There is, therefore, a great need for interventions that will focus on reducing the negative consequences of child abuse, perhaps through the timing of developmental concepts (Armstrong et al., 2008). In other words, antisocial behavior should be targeted at its early stages, i.e., during childhood, to interrupt the persistence of aggressiveness and antisocial behavior. Interventions should also advocate for high-quality parental relationships to curb the menace of neglect and abuse. Additionally, interventions targeting adults should work to resolve relationships with antisocial peers and romantic partners so as to curtail the normalization of criminal behavior (Armstrong et al., 2008).

Nonetheless, not all individuals who have undergone childhood trauma engage in violence and crime (King et al., 2019). Reports concerning the identification of developmental considerations about the impacts of exposure and existing models of the influence of traumatic exposure during childhood show that child abuse and trauma ultimately translate into aggressive behavior later on in their adult life (Driessen et al., 2006). Nevertheless, the studies conducted have not fully proven if the relationship between child abuse and aggressive behavior is causal or correlation, and this presents an inherent gap in knowledge.










Armstrong, G. J., & Kelley, S. D. (2008). Early Trauma and Subsequent Antisocial Behavior in Adults. Brief Treatment and Crisis Intervention, 8(4), 294-303. DOI:10.1093/brief-treatment/mhn016

Driessen, M., Schroeder, T., Widmann, B., Schönfeld, C. V., & Schneider, F. (2006). Childhood Trauma, Psychiatric Disorders, and Criminal Behavior in Prisoners in Germany. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 67(10), 1486-1492. doi:10.4088/jcp. v67n1001

Feldman, C. M. (1997). Childhood Precursors of Adult Interpartner Violence. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 4(4), 307-334. DOI:10.1111/j.1468-2850.1997.tb00124.x

Delisi, M., Kosloski, A. E., Vaughn, M. G., Caudill, J. W., & Trulson, C. R. (2014). Does Childhood Sexual Abuse Victimization Translate Into Juvenile Sexual Offending? New Evidence. Violence and Victims, 29(4), 620-635. doi:10.1891/0886-6708.vv-d-13-00003

Kerig, P. K. (2019). Linking childhood trauma exposure to adolescent justice involvement: The concept of posttraumatic risk‐seeking. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 26(3).doi:10.1111/cpsp.12280

Kerig, P. K., & Becker, S. P. (2014). 12 Early Abuse and Neglect as Risk Factors for the Development of Criminal and Antisocial Behavior. The Development of Criminal and Antisocial Behavior, 181-199. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-08720-7_12

King, A. R., Kuhn, S. K., Strege, C., Russell, T. D., & Kolander, T. (2019). Revisiting the link between childhood sexual abuse and adult sexual aggression. Child abuse & neglect94, 104022.







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