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Emotional Child Abuse And Criminal Behaviour

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Emotional Child Abuse
  3. Development of Substance Abuse
  4. Recommendations
  5. Conclusion


Emotional child abuse has been extensively documented to have diverse negative impacts on a child’s neurological, social, and emotional behavior development (Slep, Heyman, & Snarr, 2011, p. 783-784). The primary focus of this literature review will be to both illustrate and highlight the diverse effects that emotional child abuse has had on Sam and its connection with his delinquent behavior. First of all, emotional child abuse is typically noted via verbal or symbolic parental or caregivers’ inappropriate acts, such as yelling or cursing at a child (Slep et al., 2011, p. 785). Alternatively, failure by either a parent or caregiver to provide a child with adequate emotional nurturing is also detrimental to a child’s self-worth and social development (Broadley, Goldsworthy, Price-Robertson, Bromfield, & Richardson, 2018, 2. Emotional Abuse, para. 1; Slep et al, 2011, p. 785). Children who experience this unique form of psychological abuse, in which the weapons are invisible, are at a heightened risk of developing depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicide, obesity, substance abuse, anti-social behavior, and criminal behavior (Shin, Cook, Morris, McDougble, & Groves, 2016, p. 210; Hornor, 2012, p. 438). Furthermore, a correlation has also been found between the development of antisocial behavior during adolescence and the frequency of police contact and arrests for serious crimes and activities (Jung, Herrenkohl, Lee, Klika, & Skinner, 2015, p. 1005). This connection illustrates the negative impacts that arise from individuals who suffer childhood emotional abuse and their participation in illegal behavior in later life (Shin et al., 2016, p. 211).

Emotional Child Abuse

Emotional child abuse consists of either, or both, commission, such as verbal abuse, or omission, not granting a child affection or attention, into emotionally maltreating a child (Rosier, Scott, Price-Robertson, Bromfield, & Vassallo, 2017, How many Australian children are emotionally maltreated? para. 1). The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare Child Protection Australia 2015-16 Report illustrated the increased acts of emotional abuse towards Australian children. This report found that nationally, emotional abuse was the most common primary form of abuse or neglect inflicted on children, with 45% of Australian children being subject to emotional abuse (Rosier et al., 2017, p.22). The report also highlighted the co-occurrence of emotional abuse with other forms of abuse, such as physical abuse, with an average co-existence of 33%.

Emotional maltreatment is challenging to assess in comparison with other forms of child abuse, as well as having more detrimental and lifelong effects as opposed to other categories of abuse (Juntunen, 2013, p. 210; de la Vega, 2011). Consequently, emotional abuse is commonly identified with other forms of neglect or abuse, including inadequate nurturing or emotional support, exposure to chronic or extreme domestic violence, encouragement of drug or alcohol abuse, acceptable maladaptive behavior, and isolation from peers within and outside of the home (Juntunen, 2013, p. 210). Sam, who has been subject to continual emotional abuse by his father, has been both a witness to and participant in domestic violence events. Sam and his brother continually witnessed the abuse that their mother suffered from their father until their mother left the family household. Sam was severely injured by his father during an aggressive physical dispute between his parents, which would have had damaging consequences on his psychological development. Such events within Sam’s childhood and adolescent period would have likely increased Sam’s chances of developing poor behavioral outcomes, impacting both his present and future choices and actions (Yoo, & Huang, 2012, p.2465).

Furnell (as cited in Doyle & Timms, 2014, p. 17) converses how emotionally abusive behavior is acts that belittle, terrorize, or demean a child, instantaneously affecting their comfort, dignity, and their development. Child emotional abuse behaviors include acts in which a child is subject to threatening, discriminating against, ridiculing, rejecting, isolating, terrorizing, corrupting, rejecting, and verbal abuse by either their parent or caregiver (Rosier et al., 2017, How many Australian children are emotionally maltreated, para. 1; de la Vega, de la Osa, Ezpeleta, Granero, & Doménech, 2011). In Sam’s circumstance, his father continually rejected and ignored Sam with both his interactions and place within the family home, in which he was ultimately recoiled due to his deviant behavior. Sam’s father continually belittled Sam by referring to him as a failure to the family as a result of his criminal record. Furthermore, Sam’s father has refused to make contact with Sam, rejecting him completely from his life. The emotional abuse acts committed by Sam’s father would have greatly affected Sam’s self-worth and needs; eventually leading to a negative, long-term effect on both Sam's emotional growth and psychological development (Broadley et al., 2018, 2. Emotional abuse).

Development of Substance Abuse

Research conducted into emotional child abuse and its prevailing consequential negative actions following such manipulation has linked the development of substance abuse problems amongst youth who have been victims of psychological maltreatment (Rosenkranz, Henderson, Muller, & Goodman, 2012, p. 171). Victims of emotional child abuse are at an increased risk of developing an earlier age of onset alcohol use, further developing into a dependency for substances in later life (Schwandt, Heilig, Hommer, George, & Ramchandani, 2013, p. 984). Schwandt et al. (2013, p. 988), found a direct correlation between the severity of childhood emotional abuse and emotional child abuse victim’s dependency on alcohol. Schwandt et al. (2013, p. 988) also exposed that any form and severity of emotional child abuse dramatically increased an individual’s likelihood of developing substance abuse, primarily alcohol dependency. Sam has been engaging in alcohol consumption with his friends since age 15, with his friends who are legally able to purchase alcohol supplying it to the younger individuals. Sam’s engagement in consumption and dependency on alcohol is most likely occurring as a form of self-medication to reduce the mental anguish from his emotional child abuse (Treatment, 2012, The scary effects of trauma, para. 2). Sam may also be consuming large quantities of alcohol to suppress or control another aspect within his life, such as anxiety, anger, and guilt, which are likely to have also stemmed from being a victim of emotional abuse (Treatment, 2012, The scary effects of trauma, para. 2).

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Royse (2015, p.67) uncovered that whilst some victims of emotional child abuse may slowly reintegrate back into society, a large majority of victims were most likely to develop long-lasting consequences and dependency’s on illicit substances. In a South Africa study of 2,700 men and women between 16 and 26 years old, it was revealed that men who reported being often subject to emotional abuse were 3.4 times more likely to suffer from depression, in addition to being near “two times more likely to be abusing drugs” (Royse, 2015, p. 72). This corroborates both Schwandt et al. (2013) and Royse's (2015) writings and reinforces the problematic issues that arise from emotional child abuse and its connection with problematic substance abuse. Furthermore, Dube, Felitti, Dong, Chapman, Giles, and Anda (as cited in Royse, 2015), investigated adults’ responses to a standardized health assessment survey which included 10 inquisitive questions regarding their upbringing and home environment. Dube et al. (as cited in Royse, 2015) discovered that children who had parents who used illicit substances and who were victims of emotional abuse were more likely to engage in illicit drug use during their early adolescents. Since Sam’s exposure to emotional abuse and his involvement in a physical domestic violence incident, Sam’s consumption of both marijuana and alcohol has increased. Sam engages in phases where he will smoke up to 25 cones per day for a week, in which he does not attend his apprenticeship and instead hangs with his friends. Both of Sam's parents have also been involved in growing, selling, and consuming marijuana, with Sam being fully aware of his father’s use and distribution of marijuana. Sam has disclosed that marijuana makes him feel relaxed and that he does not plan on not consuming it. Sam’s use of marijuana, similar to his use of alcohol, would most predominately be a form of self-medicating and a coping mechanism to alleviate both his violent trauma and emotional child abuse (Treatment, The scary effects of trauma; Cheng & Lo, 2010, p. 1735).

There is an extensive amount of evidence that illustrates a clear association between childhood emotional abuse and criminal behavior (Jung et al., 2015, p. 1004). Emotional child abuse is linked with the development of later antisocial behavior amongst children, teenagers, and young adults (Jung et al., 2015, p. 1004). Research conducted by Smith and Thornberry (as cited in Jung et al., 2015, p. 1005) found a correlation between the frequency of maltreatment and anti-social behavior in youths. Smith and Thornberry (as cited in Jung et al., 2015, p. 1005) discovered that the development of anti-social behavior and the frequency of emotional child abuse also lead to an increased chance of participation in serious and criminal activities from ages 13 through to 17. Smith and Thornberry’s (as cited in Jung et al., 2015, p. 1005). Research also indicated an increase in the rate of police contact and arrests for children who had developed anti-social and criminal behavior from emotional child abuse. Furthermore, Widom and Maxfield (as cited in Jung, Herrenkohl, Kilka, Lee, & Brown, 2015, p. 2239) discovered similar findings to Smith and Thornberry (as cited in Jung et al., 2015, p. 1005). Widom and Maxfield (as cited in Jung et al., 2015, p. 2239) found that individuals who had been subject to emotional child abuse were at an increased risk for perpetrating violent crimes as both juveniles and adults, in addition to the likelihood of being arrested by police at least once before reaching adulthood. Sam has had continuous contact with police since his increase in both consumption of alcohol and marijuana, as well as following his arrest. Sam was arrested by local police after consuming a large quantity of alcohol and marijuana in which he then violently assaulted a patron at the local bar. Sam's engagement in increasingly violent, criminal acts has only begun since the frequency of emotional child abuse by his father has amplified. This behavior, reinforced by the finds of Smith and Thornberry (as cited in Jung et al., 2015, p. 1004), illustrates a clear correlation between the severity and occurrence of emotional child abuse and the development of anti-social and criminal behavior.

Furthermore, research conducted by Shin et al. (2016, p. 214) found a correlation between property crime and emotional abuse victims. Shin et al.’s (2016, p.214) findings highlighted individuals who had experienced emotional child abuse had an urgency when conducting any crime, with the primary crime being conducted by emotional child abuse victims being property and fraud. Sam has actively voiced his participation in criminal activities with his friends within his community. Sam has engaged in both graffitiing council bridges, as well as breaking into local neighborhood homes, and stealing electrical goods. The electrical goods stolen by Sam and his friends from local properties are then taken to a nearby town, in which they are sold for cash. Sam’s engagement in property crime is likely to directly originate from his emotional abuse; with an urgency been conducted by Sam to sell the stolen goods to receive an income to support himself and his lifestyle (Shin et al., 2016).


In order to address Sam’s criminal activity, substance abuse, and negative consequences from being subject to continually emotional child abuse, Sam and his family should engage in a family support program. The organization ‘Act for kids’ offers an intensive family support program for families who are at risk of entering the child protection system (Act for kids, n.d., para. 1). Act for kids seeks to address issues such as substance abuse, domestic violence, and mental health services whilst also providing support and resources for child health and wellbeing (Act for kids, n.d.). The participation of Sam, and his family, within this program would enable the family to build positive relationships, whilst enabling Sam to seek help for his substance abuse while developing strong life skills (Act for kids, n.d.). Participation in this program would also enable Sam to connect with other services and networks within his community, allowing him to participate in programs that will aid in alleviating his primary issues (Act for kids, n.d.). Sam and his family would need to attend Roma, approximately three hours by bus from Sam’s hometown of Augathella, to partake in this program. However, this is an improved situation for gaining support than his current method, which includes an eight-hour bus trip to attend meetings. While participating in this program, Sam should continue to maintain contact with a youth justice worker via telephone to ensure that the program is addressing all of his issues and needs, as well as to guarantee that Sam is making progress within his life. By participating in Act for kids’ intensive family support program, in addition to maintaining contact with a youth justice worker, Sam can address his emotional child abuse, substance abuse, and other difficulties, enabling him to better his life chances.


Emotional child abuse will remain to be at the forefront of child abuse cases throughout Australia (Rosier et al., 2017). The repeated patterning of parents making their children feel damaged, unloved, endangered, worthless, and unwanted, will continue to damage their children’s interactions and behavioral development (Hornor, 2012, p. 436). The negative consequences of emotional abuse will persist to be prevalent, with victims of child emotional abuse highly likely to develop antisocial behavior and engage in delinquent activities (Jung et al., 2015). Victims of emotional child abuse are also at an increased rate of developing substance abuse for both alcohol and illicit drugs (Schwandt, 2013, p. 985; Rosenkranz, 2012; Royse, 2015, p. 67). A clear relationship has been established between emotional child abuse and property-related offenses, with urgency being involved in criminal activities carried out by victims of emotional maltreatment (Shin et al., 2016, p. 214). In order to prevent the development of negative consequences arising from individuals who have been victims of emotional child abuse, direct action needs to be taken to both alleviate and address victims’ continuing difficulties. In the case of Sam, who was repeatedly emotionally abused within his family home, the participation in a program to address both his and his family’s issues would provide tremendous support. By participating in an intensive family support program offered by Acts for kids (n.d), Sam would be able to both address his issues stemming from emotional child abuse, his continual abuse of substances and eliminate a proportion of the conflict within his immediate family. Emotional child abuse will continually be involved in issues regarding domestic violence and child health and welfare; however, the effective use of intensive family support programs can aid in reducing and eliminating the amount of abuse within a household, helping to generate a safer environment for children to develop and grow.

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Emotional Child Abuse And Criminal Behaviour. (2021, August 19). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 26, 2024, from
“Emotional Child Abuse And Criminal Behaviour.” Edubirdie, 19 Aug. 2021,
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