The abuse and neglect of children is something that, I have been aware of from an early age. While I may not have been able to discern or articulate it in legal terms; I was aware of what appeared to be right and or wrong at face value. Having benefited from growing up in a stable home with responsible and loving parents, I was fortunate enough to have an appropriate example of what a safe, stable, and loving environment was. Observing the households of friends while growing up, I quickly was able to identify things that were outside the “norm.” I witnessed inappropriate language and threats being utilized while speaking to children; I observed chastising that went beyond the “normal” parameters of discipline, been present in homes that were unkempt, and peered on the inside of refrigerators where there was absolutely no food. While I don’t wish these circumstances on anyone, those observations to which I made taught me vital lessons that I’ve continued to use in my personal life as well as my profession as a police officer.
The mistreatment of children in American society is deeply rooted and extremely provocative. Child abuse can result from physical, verbal, or sexual harm. Abuse that is deemed physical involves the intentional harming of a child that may result in broken bones, burns, bruises, or beatings. Threats of physical harm, sexual harm, and belittling are deemed as mental or emotional abuse. Child neglect which is another form of mistreatment occurs when a parent or legal custodian of a child does not provide the necessities of life, either intentionally or with reckless disregard for the child’s wellbeing. This type of neglect is a result of things, such as withholding food, clothing, shelter, or medical care. Emotional neglect occurs when a parent or guardian withholds love, comfort, or affection from a child. Research has shown that these forms of mistreatment go on to cause mental and emotional trauma well into the adulthood of the affected victim(s). Luckily in today’s society legislatures at the federal, state, and local levels are more informed on these issues which result in the enactment of statutory measures to ensure the safety and security of children. Governmental formed agencies and non-profit organizations have been an intricate remedy for the prevention and enforcement of child abuse and or neglect.
As a police officer in a major metropolitan city, a vast portion of training received during the initial recruitment phase, and ongoing training throughout my career has dealt with the enforcement of child abuse and neglect laws. Officers are trained to seek out the signs and or symptoms that are readily visible and be particularly paying attention to detail in determining the signs that are not so easily visible. It is my experience that children who are abused are often afraid to disclose this information, because of the fears of retaliation, disavowing by a parent, or because they want to protect and love the suspect in such acts. This makes it difficult for any outside influence, up to and including police officers to gain the trust of the victim. Many jurisdictions don’t have the luxury of working for a large municipal government where child protective service resources are available 24/7. I happen to work for an agency and government that has the benefit of having these services available at all times of the day. These organizations have a deep affection for the care and wellness of children and are very professional when carrying out their duties. I have learned these advocacy groups/agencies in many instances, have perfected building trustworthy relationships with young victims; who in turn assist law enforcement and prosecutors gather important evidence for prosecuting the offender.
“Prosecution of child abuse presents special challenges for everyone involved” (National Center for Prosecution of Child Abuse 2004; Whitcomb 1992). The successful prosecutions of these cases are at times difficult; due to the emotionally stricken victims having to face the accused in adversarial proceedings. A majority of the time the offender in these cases is personally known to the victim. A child’s credibility is often questioned in court as well as in the court of public opinion; verified allegations of child abuse can oftentimes be met by skepticism if the accused is against an upstanding member of society. Children testifying to abuse can be vilified by family members or others who side with the offender and pressured to recant their allegations. The Sixth Amendment allows defendants to confront their accusers in open court; the victims then must relive the abuse in front of the accused, which creates a challenge for many victims.
Many states have statutory requirements, making it a requirement to report even the suspicion of abuse of a child. Law enforcement agencies become involved in a couple of ways, either a referral from a school, a doctor, child protective service agencies, or a notification made by a parent, neighbor, or family friend. The effective approach to successfully investigating cases involving child abuse or neglect is the multi-agency coordination and planning method. This includes social workers, doctors, therapists, and members of the criminal justice system all have important roles to play. All must work together to ensure the proper welfare of the child.
I have had the unfortunate experience as a police officer in responding, investigating, and preparing these types of cases to be presented to a detective or the United States Attorney’s Office. The preparation for such cases is exhausting and very demanding of the victims as well as the investigators involved. My experience is that a majority of these cases end up with the defendant being offered a plea deal. While this may not be ideal for the “layperson” societal view, it is important to understand the turmoil such a process takes upon the victim of these crimes.
The impact on children from a social point, who have been physically abused tends to be not so noticeable, but still substantial. The inability to form friendships, little social skills, underdeveloped cognitive and language skills, development of anger issues are just a few of the characteristics formulated from abused children. Once becoming adults, this mental health, behavioral health issues do not disperse, and at many times negatively affect victims’ relationships with their own partners or children. “All of these affect the community and society in general and are the social costs of physical abuse.”
Prevention of child abuse is proclaimed to be an important social policy, though I can attest that from an enforcement perspective little work has been done to research the effectiveness of preventative measures. The majority of programs focus on victims or suspects of child abuse and neglect crimes. Little to no emphasis, dependent upon jurisdictions is targeted towards preventing child abuse and neglect from occurring in the first place.
Researchers believe that the concept of treatment should be restricted to interventions that are therapeutic. It would much rather be appropriate to view therapeutic programs within a broader lens, one which includes social and legal agencies. Access to care is often decided and supplied or referred by social service or law enforcement personnel. The availability of these services is disproportionate in different social-economic environments. This results in many victims not being afforded the opportunity for treatment.
I have come to learn much more about the dynamic circumstances surrounding the maltreatment of juveniles. While there are many reasons why maltreatment begins, centers a majority of the time around the perpetrator’s own demons which then are projected onto vulnerable children. Through reading and my own experiences, it is clear that as heinous as these criminal acts are, they are very difficult to prosecute in many circumstances. While the accused enjoy the presumption of innocence and due process, this process tends to take a major toll on the victims in these instances, the long protracted span of time it takes to adjudicate these cases normally results in a plea deal offered by the prosecuting attorney’s office. Prosecutors traditionally use methods such as plea deals to prevent the victims and their family’s from enduring the heavy stressors brought upon by a trial which includes cross-examining of victims. I do not foresee in the near future the cases being adjudicated in a formal trial becoming any easier. The court’s framework is not built upon the comfortability of emotions but rather the traditional format of adjudicating cases, the most vial and despicable to the most emotional and draining.