Name: Stephanie Oppermann
Student Number: n8545146
Tutor: Judith Meiklejohn


The Artefact
The artefact is an emotive photograph of a child who has suffered from child abuse. The photograph is from an ad campaign to stop child abuse that has been circling on famous social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. As you can see in the photo is a child who has written across her chest “daddy’s little secret” along with the words “help me” written on her hands. Accompanying the photo is a statement claiming that “40 million children suffer from child abuse around the world each year”. This photo is bluntly showing what millions of children suffer from and indicates that it should be stopped.
Public Health Issue
Humans are intelligent creatures that learn from experience. Hence, crime is a human act that can develop as a reaction to one’s surroundings and nurture. During childhood children learn the basic beliefs and values they need to grow into respectable members of our society. This is challenged though for children who have suffered from some sort of abuse as a child, whether it be verbal, physical or sexual. Studies have shown that children who have suffered from child abuse have grown up with some sort of psychological effects, some of which have lead to crime. This webpage will look at the how abused children can develop criminal tendencies, the demographic characteristics of children whom are or were abused and why this is a public health issue.
Literature Review
Some people assume that criminal behaviour is due to a person’s upbringing and life experiences “nurture”. Others suggest that criminal behaviour is more complex and involves a person’s genetic makeup “nature”. Are people just born that way? Is criminal behaviour pre-determined at some point in people’s lives?

According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, when the basic need for an individual is not met or self esteem is threatened, the individual will turn on his or her defensive mechanism as reaction to this perceived threat (Maslow, H. 1943). In Australia, state and territory governments have the statutory responsibility for protecting children from child abuse and neglect. According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies (2012) child abuse is categorised into one of four harm types: physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotion abuse and neglect. As you can see in this chart the most common type of abuse if emotional abuse, followed by neglect. There were over 40,466 confirmed cases of child abuse across Australia in 2010-11 making this a very real and pressing issue in our society.


The link between child abuse and crime comes from many theories regarding the upbringing and forms of socialisation children receive. Levenson (1992) talks about a learning/developmental theory which argues the importance of environmental contributions to psychopathy. “Psychopaths have suffered from emotional deprivation, punishment, neglect, ostracism or some other form of early socialisation that severely cripples their ability to identify with other people, empathize with them or learn social values”. All of the contributions Levenson speaks of relate directly to how a child is raised. A child who comes from a loving and caring home is less likely to develop criminal tendencies than a child who has grown up with abuse. As stated by Blumstein (1986), low socio-economic status and poverty are both contributions of juvenile and adult involvement in crime. Where children are raised and the social standing they or their families hold in a community can be some of the reasons behind crime and criminal behaviour of an individual.

According to Sigmund Freud (1930), all humans have criminal tendencies. However, the process of socialization curbs these tendencies by the developing of inner controls that are learned through childhood experience. Improperly socialised children may develop personality disturbances that cause them to direct antisocial impulses inward or outward. The child who directs them outward becomes a criminal, and the child that directs them inward becomes a neurotic. According to (Trolla, Wagner, Rabinowits & Tubman, 2002) Juvenile delinquency is one of the most serious social issues within our society. They discuss how it is not only an emotional strain on our community but a physical and economic hardship felt throughout. Studies show that Juvenile offenders consume a large proportion of child welfare, juvenile justice, special education, and mental health resources. This takes away from other members of the community and might mean that more deserving persons miss out. It has been studied that serious juvenile offenders have been linked with health issues, low education and personal skills, all resulting in serious consequences in adulthood.

A study was done by Maxfield and Widom (1996) of incarcerated persons and reasons behind their criminal activity and it was discovered that perpetrators of sexual assault reported previous victimisation, 30% of the boys and 44% of the girls had been abused. They also reported that violent crime in adults seemed to be related to abuse and neglect in childhood. In Maxfield and Widom’s (1996) report on the cycle of violence, the pair reported their findings of child abuse cases that they had followed some 22 to 26 years later and the criminal records that had arose from those cases. They found that children who were victims of physical abuse were 1.9 times as likely to be arrested for violence, and victims of neglect were 1.6 times as likely to be arrested for violence. One conclusion that they came too was “child maltreatment continues to have a demonstrable impact on later criminal and violent behaviours in young adulthood” (Maxfield and Widom. (1996), p.150).

Incarceration is one of the methodologies used as a deterrent of crime and criminal behaviour. Within jails there are many different sectors which are in place to help rehabilitate criminals and hopefully help them to renter society to live fulfilled lives. According to the Australian Institute of Criminology (1999) the chance for successful rehabilitation depends not only on the type of treatment offered, but also on the conditions under which it is delivered. Research shows that programs delivered in community settings produced better outcomes in rehabilitation than those delivered in institutions. The reasons behind this stem from staff motivation and organisational resistance in the jail systems and they would need to be addressed before implementing more successful programs in prisons. The issue here is that prisons are more likely to contain offenders more in need of help and reshaping in order for them to be law abiding citizens in our society.

It is important for health professionals to be able to both recognise and correctly distinguish between the social and cultural reasons behind criminal behavior. As previously discussed the people most at risk of criminal behavior are those with high levels of unemployment, low income, and low levels of education. Health professionals should start by identifying who is at risk and working on preventative measures to stop the chance of children from disadvantaged families ending up incarcerated. It is important that this issue is openly available for people to gain information on as the steps to working towards a better community must be made by all.

Sampson & Groves (1989) discuss the theory of social learning. This theory is compiled on the basis of people learning through the observation of others, with family and peers being a major factor. Attitudes, beliefs and behaviours are some of the most easily witnessed and learned attributes and traits of other people. With all this being relevant to a sort of ‘monkey see, monkey do’ attitude, a person can learn their criminal behaviours by being witness too or victim too criminal behaviour. This all ties back in to child abuse and why it is such an important issue for public health in today’s society. As discussed previously it can be linked to Sigmund Freud’s theory of human criminal tendencies; meaning we all have them. He discusses the idea that socialisation curbs these tendencies, so a child who has suffered from some sort of abuse has a greater potential to be involved in criminal activity later in life.

Crime is a serious issue in our society and preventative measures should be taken in steps to prevent future crime. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (2011) an interview of 17.7 million people aged 15 years and over in Australia 486,500 were victims of at least one physical assault and 594,300 were victims of at least one threatened assault, including face to face threatened assaults. With such pressing numbers being present it is important to find where all this crime is stemming from. Is it indeed coming from early childhood experiences and if it is what can be done to prevent these experiences happening and crime prevailing throughout adulthood.

I think that the artefact I chose strongly represents the issue at hand. Child abuse is present every day and the campaign poster shows the consequences that can come from it. I think it is a very affective photo as it is aimed towards peoples’ emotions and their sensitive side. Nobody likes to see children who have been hurt or injured especially not by someone who they deem responsible for the child. I think it gives some clear views of what to look for in a child that has been abused and it openly states that it is a loved one who is doing the abusing. Personally I think that child abuse is one of the most disgusting acts played out by humans. I think children are so young and innocent and can’t protect themselves that for someone to pray on that naivety is a horrible act. After reading all the information about how important a child’s first encounters and experiences are, going into the health care profession I will make sure that I look and assess situations relating to children very carefully. I think in the future when dealing with delicate situations in the health care profession this assessment has really made one realise that some situations which might seem bad can get increasingly worse.

  • Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2011). Personal Crime. Retrieved from:
  • Australian Institute of criminology. (1999). The Rehabilitation of Offenders: International
  • Perspectives Applied to Australian Correctional Systems. Retrieved from:
  • Blumstein, A., Cohen, J., Roth, J.A. & Visher, C.A. 1986, Criminal Careers and Career Criminals, vol. 1, National Academy Press, Washington DC. Retrieved from:
  • Freud, S. (1930). Civilization and its discontents. New York : Jonathon Cape and Co.
  • Maslow, H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review 50, 370-396
  • Maxfield MG, Widom CS. The cycle of violence: revisited 6 years later. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 1996;150:390-5. Abstract
  • Trolla, M. S., Wagner, F. E., Rabinowitz, J., & Tubman, G. J. (2002). Understanding and treating juvenile offenders: A review of current knowledge and future directions. Aggression and Violent Behaviours, 7, 125-143. Retrieved from
  • Sampson, R. G. B. (1989). Community Structure and Crime: Testing Social-Disorganization Theory. American Journal of Sociology 94(4), 774-802.