Studies included in our review consistently report that physical abuse, neglect, and sexual abuse are all associated with violent behavior in the victims. The evidence also suggests that violent offenders have endured more physical abuse than nonviolent offenders, and this is also true for sexual abuse and probably trauma (neglect remains an open question). Therefore, we reiterate the conclusion drawn by many others, that interventions that prevent child abuse, and interventions with abuse victims, have enormous potential for preventing violent crime.

Unfortunately, abused children may manifest multiple adverse outcomes, including bad behavior, and the instinct to punish them may outweigh the instinct to help. Addressing their problems is also complicated by the fact that the best remedies may operate through parents, and parents of these children may have serious problems that reduce their utility as a locus of help for the children. In addition, there are other distractions—custody disputes, social service interventions and foster care, and criminal justice interests if arrests have been made. Finally, the mechanisms between abuse and consequent violent behavior in children are myriad and likely to include brain damage, cognitive impairment, peer problems, educational problems, alcohol use, and, in serious cases, profound psychological sequelae such as trauma, dissociation and psychopathy. Cases of severe abuse are messy and complicated, to say the least.

“Best practices” that have been outlined for social workers in addressing domestic violence include ensuring the safety of all family members, holding perpetrators accountable, and providing multiple points of service for the multiple needs of children and families (Edleson, 2006). Thus, the elaborate system that is already in place is not specially designed to prevent future delinquency in the child victims of abuse but is, instead, spread pretty thin across many goals. We suspect that the diffusion of goals and services offered to families in these straits may substantially detract from this very important goal; thus, the poor outcomes we see in many abused children are not really surprising, just very sad.

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