Author:Gilad, Michal
Position:Comprehensive Childhood Crime

Introduction 2 I. The Scope and Prevalence of the Triple-C Impact 3 II. Identifying Gaps in Law and Policy 19 A. Statutory Mapping 21 B. Statutory Application 24 C. Root Causes 27 III. Understanding the Consequences 34 A. Criminal Justice 35 B. Substance Abuse 47 C. Mental Health 45 D. Physical Health 50 E. Education 55 F. Economic Weil-Being 60 G. Methodological Limitations 64 IV. The Spill-Over Effect 65 Conclusions 67 Appendix: 50-State Survey Results 70 INTRODUCTION

When a snowball starts rolling down a snowy hill, it continues to exponentially grow and gain momentum, unless stopped by an external force. The effects of crime on children assume a similar pattern. If not brought to a halt by intervention or treatment, the effects can linger and escalate throughout the child's life into adulthood. Crime impacts all aspects of the individual's life, ranging from physical and mental health to fundamental life outcomes, including employment, education, and economic well-being. As is true in many different contexts, timing is everything:

[V]iolence experienced during childhood and adolescence may be particularly damaging to health over time. This is because childhood and adolescence are the periods in which important personal and psychological resources that guide cognition and decision-making, and ultimately influence health, are typically developed.... [W]hereas violence experienced at other stages of life might ultimately have relatively fewer life course consequences. (1) Comprehensive Childhood Crime Impact, or "Triple-C Impact," is a term we coined to embody the distinct effects that direct and indirect exposures to crime have on children. (2) This Article aims to gauge and measure the devastating harm that results from the states' failure to provide effective intervention to millions of affected children nationwide, thus enabling the Triple-C Impact snowball to continue careening down the steep slope.

Part I of the Article introduces the foundation and pillars of the Triple-C Impact. It also elaborates on the scope and prevalence of the Triple-C Impact problem in our society today. Part II illuminates the existing failures and gaps in states' response to this problem by examining the results of a comprehensive fifty-state survey. This Part also identifies and analyzes the root causes of these deficiencies in states' responses. Relying on empirical evidence and data, Part III provides a detailed explanation of the consequences and risks of the abovementioned gaps in state response, and outlines the pathways leading to these adverse outcomes. Part IV discusses the "spillover effect"--how these issues reach beyond individual children to our society as a whole. Conclusions will follow.


    Informed by scientific findings, the Triple-C Impact hinges on a set of factors that differentiate children from adults. (3) Evidence shows that the timing of exposure to crime is a critical factor in determining the level of risk for long-term harm. (4) Despite common misperceptions, children are not merely miniature adults--many more substantive differentiators are at play besides physical size. From a physiological and anatomical perspective, a child's brain is extremely malleable during the early years of life. (5) The plasticity of a child's central nervous system leads the human brain to be dramatically affected by early experiences. (6) Exposure to crime and violence during childhood causes heightened levels of stress and overstimulation of certain brain structures, which can lead to chemical imbalances in the child's brain and to abnormal development of neurological and cerebral systems. (7)

    Children are also in the critical stages of their emotional and cognitive development. (8) Their identity is not yet formed, their personality traits are in transitory stages, (9) and they are less mentally stable than adults. (10) Exposure to crime at this critical stage interrupts the delicate and complex process of maturation, (11) affects the timing of developmental trajectories, and disrupts children's progression through age-appropriate milestones. (12) This state of psychological immaturity also makes it difficult for children to process and cope with trauma without assistance. (13) Children are at increased risk that damage caused by exposure at this delicate developmental stage will become permanently embedded in their core personality structure. (14)

    Because of their social and psychological immaturity, children are dependent on adults for their survival and basic psychological and emotional needs. (15) As a consequence, they have little choice over their living environment (16) and the people they associate with. Additionally, they do not have the capabilities or resources to remove themselves from harmful circumstances created by crime and violence. (17) When caregivers are incapacitated by victimization, illicit substance abuse, or incarceration, their ability to make coherent fundamental decisions on behalf of their children, and to fully consider the child's best interests, is inevitably diminished. (18) The dependent children, therefore, are often deprived of the care, guidance, and protection essential for their development.

    Lastly, children are in the midst of legal socialization (19)--the process through which they develop an inclination towards compliance with the law and cooperation with legal actors. (20) The process is highly influenced by childhood experiences with crime, law enforcement, legal actors, and the justice system. (21) Disruption of this fundamental developmental process, (22) particularly as a result of childhood exposure to crime, could increase proclivity towards criminal behavior and illicit substance abuse later in life. (23)

    These fundamental differences between children and adults necessitate specialized legal solutions tailored specifically to the unique needs of minor children, rather than superimposing improper, adult-oriented policies on them. Accounting for these differences will set solid foundations for effectively protecting this especially vulnerable group.

    Empirical studies also show that due to the aforementioned differences between adults and minor children, the understanding of crime-induced harm to children must be expanded beyond the conventional perspective of direct victimization. (24) That is to say, even when a criminal offense is not committed directly against the body of the child, and the child is "only" indirectly exposed to a crime, this indirect exposure can leave marks that are acute and long-lasting. (25) In response to these findings, we designed the Triple-C Impact concept to incorporate the full range of direct and indirect forms of exposure to crime that commonly affect children. When evaluating which forms of childhood crime exposure should be included under the Triple-C Impact umbrella, the primary criterion we used was whether there is significant empirical evidence that supports and demonstrates potential harm to the child that rises to, or nearly meets, the harm caused by the "gold standard" of direct victimization. (26) Meticulous review of over 150 studies examined the many aspects of the effects that exposure to crime has on all facets of children's lives and identified five categories of exposure that meet this rigorous standard. These are direct victimization, exposure to family crime, exposure to community crime, parental victimization, and parental incarceration. (27) As science evolves and advances, this list could change to adapt to new findings, relying on similar harm-based criteria. (28)

    As noted, the first and most obvious and commonly recognized form of exposure to crime is direct victimization. It occurs when an act defined by law as a criminal offense is committed against the person of the child. As a result, the child can be physically injured during the act, suffer emotional and mental impairments, or both. (29)

    Few data sources exist that measure the number of children affected by crime across the nation. To provide the most accurate prevalence indicators for the Triple-C Impact categories outlined below, we utilized the raw data of the National Survey of Children's Exposure to Violence (NatSCEV III). (30) We designed a customized analysis model of this nationally representative dataset that tallies the categories and definitions of the Triple-C Impact. (31) Our analysis found that 52.31% of minor children nationwide were direct victims of a violent crime during their childhood years. (32) This includes physical assault with or without a weapon, sexual assault and kidnapping, or attempts to commit any of these acts against the child. When the prevalence percentages are synthesized with population estimates, the result indicates that 38.8 million minor children were direct victims of a violent crime nationwide. (33) Boys are affected at a higher rate than girls, 56.14% compared to 48.3%. (34) This is the category in which the difference between boys and girls is the most significant.

    The second and most well-known manifestation of indirect exposure to crime is witnessing family crime and violence. These are cases where the child witnesses (35) a crime committed in the home, among immediate family members, but does not suffer direct physical harm as a result of the witnessed crime. The presence of crime and violence in the home disrupts the sense of safety, security, and stability that this environment is meant to foster in a child, which is vital for healthy development. (36) Affected children are often preoccupied with fear of losing a parent, whether it is the battered parent who is in imminent danger of being severely injured or killed, (37) or the batterer who may be incarcerated or even executed. (38) The developmentally ego-centric thinking of children frequently leads them to be burdened by profound guilt, as they are inclined to believe that they are at fault for...

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