Social Learning, Sexual and Physical Abuse, and Adult Crime
• Research shows that children who have been physically or sexually abused are more likely to commit violent
offenses as adults than children who have not been victimized
• According to this argument some children learn to do what has been done to them (as well as what they
witness). The child victim later becomes a perpetrator, resulting in what has been called the intergenerational
transmission of violence.
• According to attachment theory, mistreatment of any type leads children to think that the world is a hostile
place and interferes with their ability to develop satisfactory relations with others
• Control theory also implies that abuse weakens bonds with parents, which then leads to a variety of criminal
• According to those who take a frustration–aggression approach, stress and other aversive stimuli result in angry
or reactive aggression. From this perspective abuse should be more strongly associated with homicide and
assault than other crimes, as the former are more likely to involve angry aggression (as opposed to instrumental
• Strain theory stress results in a variety of criminal behaviors. From this perspective, one might expect abuse to
be associated with offending but it should not affect the type of crimes offenders commit.
• Specialization is due to a special etiology, i.e., the variables that lead individuals to commit sexual offenses are to
some extent different from the variables that lead to other crime.
• If different offenses have a common etiology, then offenders should be versatile, i.e., they should commit a
variety of crimes
• Offenders who commit multiple offenses should repeat offenses of the same type over their criminal careers.
• To the extent physical abuse results in violent offenses and sexual abuse results in sexual offenses
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• Social learning theory suggests that sexual and physical abuse have different effects. Specifically, it predicts that
o (1) Sexual abuse during childhood is associated with adult sexual offending, particularly sexual offenses
o (2) Physical abuse during childhood is associated with adult violent offending.
• According to attachment theory, abuse produces a hostility bias, which should produce the following pattern:
o (3) Physical and sexual abuse are both associated with adult assaultive violence (vs. other offenses).
• Should increase the likelihood of criminal behavior. Strain theory would make the same prediction. As we only
study offenders, these perspectives would predict that:
o (4) Sexual and physical abuse are unrelated to the type of current offense.
• 60% of respondents were in prison for committing nonviolent offenses. The most frequent nonviolent offenses
involve drugs (26.5%) and property crime (19.5%).
• Sexual offenses are relatively rare; approximately 7% of the sample committed these offenses.
• The odds of an offender committing a sexual offense against a child (vs. a nonviolent offense) is more than eight
times higher if he has been sexually abused.
• Table II also suggests that offenders who have experienced physical abuse are more likely to commit violent
offenses than nonviolent offenses.
• Blacks are more likely to engage in violent offense than nonviolent offenses and they are less likely to engage in
sexual offense against children.
• Hispanics are less likely to engage in sexual offenses than nonviolent offenses.
• Older offenders are more likely to engage in sexual offenses and less likely to engage in robbery.
• Finally, offenders with more education are less likely to engage in sexual offenses against children and less likely
to engage in assaultive violence.
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Social learning, sexual and physical abuse, and adult crime. From this perspective, one might expect abuse to be associated with offending but it should not affect the type of crimes offenders commit. Specialization: specialization is due to a special etiology, i. e. , the variables that lead individuals to commit sexual offenses are to some extent different from the variables that lead to other crime. As we only study offenders, these perspectives would predict that: (4) sexual and physical abuse are unrelated to the type of current offense. Discrimination prediction: 60% of respondents were in prison for committing nonviolent offenses. Over 90% of current sexual offenders have not been prosecuted for that offense before. In larger residential units, communities try to exclude deviant youth by not letting their children to associate with them: strong conformist traditions and relatively higher religiosity are other factors that contribute to preventing juvenile delinquent acts.