Juvenile Delinquency among Trauma Exposure Youth

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According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (2018), over 800,000 individuals under the age of 18 were arrested in 2017 for violent crimes such as murder, rape, aggravated assault, and property crimes such as burglary, theft, and arson. Many researchers have attempted to explain delinquent behavior by making connections to variables such as mental health, home environment, IQ, peer association, etc. Recent studies however, have linked the increase in delinquency and violent crimes to childhood trauma exposure. Trauma exposure can be defined as witnessing or experiencing any event, physical, emotional or sexual, that could result in serious injury or death. A study conducted in 2004 reported that “over 90% of incarcerated youth had experienced at least one traumatic event and over 80% had experienced more than one traumatic event” (Abram et. al). If juveniles who have experienced a traumatic event receive adequate treatment and care, and their mental health improves, juvenile delinquency and violent crime rates will drastically decline.

Research confirms that incarcerated youth are more likely than their non-incarcerated peers to both witness and experience a traumatic event. Traumatic events are often categorized as physical, emotional or sexual. Of the three categories, physical and sexual are the most researched. In regards to the trauma of physical violence, research finds that both experiencing and witnessing violence can lead to significant rates of delinquency. In fact, Odgers & Reppucci (2002) found that “up to 90% of females in the juvenile’s justice system have experienced violence” prior to being incarcerated. Similarly, a study which interviewed children that grew up in homes where intimate partner violence occurred (IPV) reported that “65.1% of the individuals had at least one delinquent offense during adolescence,” (Ireland & Smith, 2009). Juveniles who experience violence in their home or peer environment are more likely to believe that violence is normal.

Like physical violence, sexual abuse can have a detrimental impact on the normal development of a child. Children who have been sexually abused often have trouble in school with grades and socialization, they can develop mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, substance use and PTSD, and they often have issues with conduct and behavior. In regards to the trauma of sexual violence, research shows that not only are victims of sexual abuse more likely to sexually victimize others but they are also more likely to be physically abusive. In fact, a study conducted by Savage and Martin (2014) found that “30% of juveniles who were sexually assaulted were also violent offenders,” further validating that the interaction between the three trauma categories can lead to dramatically increased violent crime. Likewise, Siegel and Williams (2003) found that girls that had been sexually abused were “4x more likely to commit a violent crime” than their non-sexually abused counterparts.

There is a significant amount of research regarding the detrimental impacts that childhood trauma can have on the holistic wellness of an individual. Likewise, it is well documented that incarcerated youth are more likely to experience and witness a traumatic event including physical, emotional or sexual abuse. Furthermore, the connection between physical and sexual abuse and delinquency has been proven again and again. However, fewer studies have examined the impact that witnessing or experiencing emotional abuse has on juvenile delinquency and violent crime rates. Research shows that emotional abuse is the only category of trauma that impairs emotional functioning and often, delinquency occurs because juveniles have a difficult time controlling impulses (Gore-Felton, 2001). Therefore, there is reason to believe that emotional abuse could have the most extreme impact on juvenile delinquency. The purpose of this study is to examine the correlation between experiencing vs. witnessing emotional abuse as a child and juvenile delinquency and violent crime rate.

By establishing which categories of trauma are significantly correlated with juvenile delinquency and violent crime rates, mental health professionals such as psychologists, counselors, and social workers, will be able to better distinguish which juveniles may be at a higher risk for delinquency and therefore, will be able to better help with the implementation of early intervention strategies. Similarly, other research has found that juveniles who are at a higher risk for delinquency are also having difficulties with education. Administrators and teachers in schools can help develop preventative models for children who may have experienced trauma. Lastly, it is also important for survivors of trauma to acknowledge their own feelings, thoughts, and behaviors, in that they too may be at a higher risk for delinquency.


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Juvenile Delinquency among Trauma Exposure Youth. (2021, Jan 22). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/juvenile-delinquency-among-trauma-exposure-youth/

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