Most abuse is committed by parents, but stepparents also commit abuse, and this is another social factor that can lead to child abuse. Many sociologists believe that stepparents have less of a bond with stepchildren than their own children, and they may be led to abuse their stepchildren while they do not abuse their own children (Wilson & Daly, 1987, p. 217-220).
The Religious Theory
The religious theory of social cause cites control as a large cause of child abuse. From a very young age, the child is controlled by both the parents and the religious order. One sociological expert notes, "Believing parents do not merely indoctrinate their children on the virtues of their own religion. They warn their young against embracing other religions, against following their customs and beliefs" (Innaiah, 2003). Thus, children attend church from a very young age, and are controlled by their parents to attend church, believe in certain values and customs, and that anything else is wrong. Writer Innaiah cites several forms of child abuse that can result from religious practices and beliefs. They include: sexual abuse by priests in the Catholic Church that has been ignored or downplayed for decades, the condoning of female genital mutilation by some religions (Islam, for one), isolation of low-caste children in some Hindu societies, lack of health care for some children whose parents do not believe in using health care because of their religious beliefs, and male circumcision in the Jewish faith (Innaiah, 2003). These are only some examples of how religion can create socially acceptable child abuse and child brutality. This theory is not as accepted as other traditional social causation factors in child abuse, but it is a very real consideration when thinking about the many social causes of child abuse in the nation and the world today.
Other Social Phenomena
One major social phenomenon that has increased throughout society since the 1960s is violence. Researchers note that society has become increasingly violent in the last decade, and society has also become much more concerned about violence and violent behaviors in society. Much of this violence seemed unwarranted and unnecessary to many (such as political assassinations, terrorist activities, and the Vietnam War), and it fostered sensitivity to violence and more public awareness of violence. As society becomes more violent, it seems to send a message to society members that violent behavior is "OK" and even desirable in many cases. Thus, many abusers justify their behavior as acceptable.
Another phenomenon was more social awareness of the women's movement and in tandem, battered women. This brought more public understanding of violence in the home, and less acceptance of violent behavior toward women and children. This helped create more interest in studying why people become abusers, and led to more understanding of abuse in general and child abuse in particular. Often in history, physical and mental abuse in the home was not acknowledged at all by the family members. To the outside world, the family seemed normal and functional. When society became more aware of abuse in the home, they became less accepting of this behavior, and encouraged victims to get help and remove themselves from the violent situation. This also helped make abuse less acceptable, but also created more opportunities to study and understand the causes of abuse.
Child abuse can be stopped, and early intervention is one way many experts attempt to identify and combat child abuse. Abusers are encouraged to view misbehavior in their child with different attitudes, and they are also taught positive reinforcement and coping strategies for when they are tempted to abuse their children. Sociologists and psychologists have developed different strategies to deal with the different types of abusers, and so it is important to identify the type of abuser the subject is, in order to treat them effectively and make sure the treatments have a positive effect on further abuse. Since most child abuse (over 3/4ths according to many accounts) is by parents, it is important to give social workers, educators, and other public service providers the tools to recognize social triggers to child abuse. If a family history of abuse exists, then workers should also be aware that abuse could happen again.
Unfortunately, intervention does not always work. Many cases of child abuse go unreported, and even if it is reported, there is quite a low rate of controlling the problem by therapy or other intervention. Some studies do show that intervention in the guise of increased parental awareness and understanding so they can deal with social stressors in more effective and acceptable ways has helped in a number of child abuse situations (Newberger, 1987, p. 243).
In conclusion, it is quite clear that a wide variety of different social causes can lead to child abuse. It is also clear that these many social causes lie outside the abuser themselves and instead are often out of the abusers control. Many studies have linked child abuse to people who were abused as children themselves, but studies are now showing that a majority of abusers were not abused in childhood, and this also indicates social, rather than biological or ecological causes for abuse. It is clear that child abuse is a pervasive and troubling issue in society, and that there are a wide variety of causes. Some may be biological and others may be ecological in nature, but the biggest causes of child abuse in this country are social causes, and until these social pressures and stresses can be eliminated, then child abuse is bound to continue.
Understanding the social causes of child abuse can help treat the abuser and prevent abuse from occurring in the first place. In addition, since the family is the most common social unit in our society, families who are dysfunctional tend to create more social problems and unrest in society. When a family passes down abuse from one generation to the next, the pattern continues and multiplies. Understanding the social phenomena that can lead to child abuse can also help people learn how to recognize the cycle and break it before it begins. Child abuse is one of the worst forms of abuse facing our nation today, and it must be controlled - for both the abusers and the children's sakes.
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