Previously children were perceived as idyllic and innocent creatures, with the possibility of them being the perpetrators of serious offences hardly a possibility. Unfortunately in recent years this perception has begun to change to stigma of youths as trouble makers. Often adults complain about the increase in Youth drinking and drug taking, and increased activity outside their family life, loitering on corners etc. Although the start of this transformation is difficult to pin down, Brown puts forward the notion that events like the Bulger Killing in 1993 contributed greatly to the loss of adults’ sense of belief of children as innocent.
This comes mainly from the fact that the murder was committed by two ten year old boys, who had no motive or committed previous serious offences. To the vast majority of people the event came as a great shock, yet also enlightened many to the painful reality that anyone, of any age, could commit heinous crimes. Brown goes on to sum up her analysis by stating that, ‘The real violence of the Bulger case is arguably the violence it did to adult notions of childhood (Brown 1998: p. 2). Yet the fact lies that people still perceive children as more perpetrators of crime that recipients.
This essay aims to first cover where this stigma arises in practice and what policies are in place to combat youth crime. It will then go on to outline in depth some areas where children are being victimised, specifically in the case of domestic violence, but also with regard to bullying and internet pornography. This will show that the current attitude towards children in fact contributes to an increasing amount of child abuse in this country, and that without rapid policy implementation severe damage could be done to this country’s youth.
When looking at youth offences it is important to take into account what types of crimes are being committed. Over 80 percent of youth crime is ‘property related’ i. e. handling stolen goods, stealing from shops, cars or schools and burglary. There is little violent crime committed by young people. Whereas the more serious offences like murder, rape, assaults and muggings are predominantly carried out by adults, children are actually the prime recipients of personal crime (Curtis, 1999: p. 89).
Although this may seem to go against the idea of youths as dangerous and adults as the recipients of their crimes, there is still the issue of what causes youths to commit the levels of property offences that are being seen, and how it could be stopped. A lot of the blame goes on parents for youth crime. An unfriendly family atmosphere is said to drive some children to depression, and can lead to drug abuse or delinquency (Curtis, 1999: p. 91). But additionally, treatment in education, generally the ‘I hate school’ attitude, but also bullying, can also lead to delinquency and truancy.
In the case of drug abuse it is difficult to measure the effect on society because while there may be an increase in drug abuse among youths, drugs are still being almost exclusively supplied by adults to minors, which is where the real problems amount on that issue. Delinquency is also a contentious issue because when does it become a crime? In reality it is not delinquency itself which causes crime, but what it leads to. As Paul C. Friday puts it in Giller and Morris’ book Providing Criminal Justice for Children, ‘anti-social behaviour of youth is often viewed as a precursor to more serious acts.
Consequently, much of the available research tends to operationally define delinquency as youth crime, but nonetheless, draw etiological generalizations from prior anti-social behaviour’ (Giller & Morris, 1983: Chap. 3, p. 40). The question therefore arises; can government treat youths as offenders before they’ve committed crimes, on the pretence of stopping it from ever happening? That would be a policy issue which, while having clear benefits in reducing crime, would be treading a fine line between that and infringing on civil liberties and rights.
Interestingly in the same book Ray Jones draws on some important conclusions to delinquency as the major ’cause’ of youth crime. He notes that while delinquency is the major precursor of juvenile crimes it is difficult to react harshly to it because of three major reasons. Firstly, only 7 percent of delinquency related crime is violent, most amounting to only small thefts and minor damage to property. When considered in perspective with the levels of serious crimes being committed by adults it is hard to justify a hard line. Secondly, the majority of delinquent youths are ‘victims’ of our social structure, i. e. from deprived backgrounds.
It would therefore be unfair to single them out, as some would call it ‘blaming the victim’. Thirdly, and most simply, it would likely lead to more delinquency (Giller & Morris, 1983: Chap. 6, p. 92). A significant implication here is that an effective policy for stopping delinquency, and subsequently a major source of youth crime, would simply be to improve standards of living. Moving away from the concept that there’s always ‘a cause of a cause etc… , ‘ many argue that because the majority of youth crimes are small scale petty crimes, committed against the community, a policy of Restorative Justice could be employed to stop re-offending.