Social Causes of Child Abuse Term Paper

Pages: 8 (2728 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 9  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Children

¶ … child abuse in the United States. Specifically it will discuss the social causes of child abuse. Child abuse is one of the country's most pervasive problems, and it occurs for a number of reasons. Many abusers come from families with histories of abuse, many others abuse children for a variety of reasons outside themselves. Many studies show there are several social causes of child abuse, and there are four basic types of abusers. By understanding what triggers child abuse, experts can also understand and develop more ways to help stop child abuse. They can also learn how to identify abusers before they begin their patterns of harm and abuse.

A brief history of child abuse indicates that the problem was "discovered" in the early 1960s by researchers who, after research and education, decided child abuse was a social problem, and an important one (Vander Mey & Neff, 1986, p. 13). That is not to say that child abuse was not acknowledged before that time. At the turn of the 20th century, child labor laws went into effect that helped protect children from outrageous and dangerous working conditions. Child abuse at home, however, was a much more delicate subject, and it was not acknowledged with any effectiveness for decades.

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After child abuse was "discovered," more studies were developed to understand child abuse, and more studies began to uncover the underlying social causes and phenomena that help lead to child abuse. It is still not known exactly how many children are abused in this country each year, because many events still go unreported and undiscovered. However, the numbers that are known are staggering. One reporter notes, "It is estimated that each year in the U.S., 1,500,000 children (up from 900,000 in 1986) are moderately to seriously abused" (Morales, 1998). Part of the problem is that the crisis of child abuse was not acknowledged until so recently in our own history. Amazingly, it was only 30 years ago that a national act against child abuse was passed in the Congress - it was 1973, and so, much work and research has had to be accomplished in a relatively short amount of time.

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When the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act passed, the measure also allowed for a National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, and this center has continued the studies that have led to more understanding and reforms toward stopping child abuse in the country. There are both physical and emotional types of child abuse. Often, the public does not want to know the lurid details of child abuse, especially when it is sexual in nature. However, sweeping child abuse under the rug by not acknowledging its existence or seriousness will never pave the way for understanding and eventual control of this behavior. The only way to address the problem of child abuse is to confront it, understand it, and then control it.

The Types of Abusers

Research and studies on child abuse and abusers indicate there are four basic types of abuser. The "accelerator" sees the child as having some kind of negative affect. (the child may remind them of a former spouse, or be inadvertently blamed for the break-up of a relationship). The abuser may take out their anger and frustration at these situations on the child. The "mediator" has some kind of reason that rationalizes the abuse, such as Biblical passages or "folk" wisdom that seem to support some kind of harsh discipline ("spare the rod and spoil the child"). In the "brakes" abuser, the abuser cannot control their actions and impulses and so allow their impulses to rule over their common sense.

Finally, the "reinforcer" finds some kind of emotional payoff from the abuse. They feel more in control, they can ignore other problems in their life, etc. Some studies have also indicated there is a fifth type of abuser, the "displacer" who displaces other personal problems onto the child (Tzeng, Jackson & Karlson, 1991, p. 37-39). Each of these types of abusers create havoc in the home and with their children, and each of these types of abusers can point to different social causes that have led them to turn to child abuse as a way to cope, control, or rationalize their situation and their use of abuse.

Studies also indicate that social or outside causes may be the cement that holds abusers together. Child abusers come from all walks of life, all educational levels, and have few commonalities except their penchant for abuse and neglect. Thus, if the causes were internal, abusers might have more similarities. If the causes are social, however, they can affect anyone at any level of society, and this is another argument for the social causes of child abuse. Social pressures, societal norms, and many other social causes can lead to child molestation and abuse, and while there can be other causes, such as biological or psychological, most researches agree that a majority of child abuse cases are caused by social and societal reasons

The Social Systems Theory

One theory regarding the social causes of child abuse is the Social Systems Theory. Researchers define the theory: "According to the social systems theory, child abuse is said to be rooted in environmental and structural factors such as socioeconomic status, cultural values, situational stressors, social isolation, and lack of community supports" (Tzeng, Jackson & Karlson, 1991, p. 42). Thus, outside values and social constructs affect the family and how they deal with them, and often, children become victims as a result. Proponents of this theory believe there are two main social causes that lead to physical abuse: structural stress and cultural norms. Each of these causes will be discussed in more detail.

Structural stress can be lack of adequate finances, illness, low education and employment, and other social factors that create stress in the family. These structural stresses often lead the parent (or parents) to abuse the children as a way to deal with their own anger, frustrations, and feelings of inadequacy. Abuse can make them feel powerful and in control of at least some aspect of their lives, and if the structural stress continues, chances are the abuse will continue, too.

Cultural norms are another cause of child abuse in the Social Systems Theory. When cultures condone violence and corporal punishments, then abuse is more socially accepted, and parents believe they are justified in using violence or corporal punishment in dealing with their child and their child's transgressions. These two causes can be interrelated, as these authors note, "If the use of violence is culturally approved, those under structural stress are likely to react violently in response to stress" (Tzeng, Jackson & Karlson, 1991, p. 42). Thus, outside social causes can negatively affect the family and how the family deals with stress, social concerns, and cultural phenomena that are usually beyond their control.

Socialization/Role Strain Theory

This theory recognizes the family as the primary social group or unit in our culture and the family's purpose is to socialize the children of the family. The family must communicate basic values and societal norms to the children, and when this role is altered, then the role of the family is altered and the family suffers "role strain." These researchers note, "As a dependent unit (dependent upon other families and institutions), a nuclear family must avoid role strain" (Vander Mey & Neff, 1986, p. 33). However, when role strain occurs, it can create stressors in the family, and these stressors can lead to child abuse. This theory is often used in discussing incest, because it is often tied to the sexuality and sexual workings of the parents, which can contribute to role strain and ultimately to child abuse. Much of this role strain is geared to societal norms and what is expected of a married couple and a family. If there are differences inside the family, this can also lead to role strain, stress, and eventual abuse. For example, if the woman is the stronger parent and wields the most authority in the home, the father may retaliate by abusing the child because it gives him a feeling of power and control over a situation that is out of control.

The Social Interaction Theory

This theory is based on two agents: an individual's characteristics and social stressors, such as divorce, marital distress or separation, poverty, illness, unwanted pregnancy, isolation, substance abuse, even family size and availability of social support, along with many other issues can add to the stress in the home and lead to child abuse (Tzeng, Jackson & Karlson, 1991, p. 44). Often, the parents in this theory have few coping skills, and research has shown that the family simply interacts with each other less frequently than in most family units (Tzeng, Jackson & Karlson, 1991, p. 57). This lack of interaction, combined with social stressors, can lead to increased patterns of child abuse in the family.

Thus a wide variety of social factors can induce stress in the parents that can… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

Social Causes of Child Abuse.  (2005, June 22).  Retrieved September 20, 2021, from

MLA Format

"Social Causes of Child Abuse."  22 June 2005.  Web.  20 September 2021. <>.

Chicago Style

"Social Causes of Child Abuse."  June 22, 2005.  Accessed September 20, 2021.