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The Causes of Crime

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For centuries, the one plague that human civilization faces is a disease that has no evident cure – crime. Before one can even try to find solutions for it, one must understand what a crime is and the nature of crime. Crime itself is defined as any offence harmful against society. The nature of crime however deals with the motives and causes of crime, which has no one clear cut explanation. There are several different theories on the cause of crime such as heredity, gender and mental defects, but each one is not substantial enough to explain crime and why it takes place. The theory on heredity as being the source of crime is based on the idea that criminal activity is predisposed by human genes. Gender being the root of crime suggests that testosterone, the male hormone that causes aggressive behaviour is encouraged in male-dominated societies, thus leading to criminal behaviour. Both heredity and gender are based on “nature”, but in effect, lead to “nurture”.

Beginning mental defects can be caused during pregnancy (i.e. smoking and drinking while pregnant) or any disturbance to the central nervous system during childhood. In fact all these apparent causes can be linked in one way or another to childhood upbringing. While a child grows up, economical factors that interfere with his/her lifestyle such as poverty can lead to petty theft. Scientific proof shows that testosterone does cause aggressive behaviour in males, so why does society still encourage it in young males then? Domestic abuse can have enormous consequences to a child’s “mental” state, which in turn can cause “mental” imbalance. When all the theories are added up, the sum total is equal to childhood upbringing. Therefore, the way a child is nurtured the influence of economical, social and traumatic factors contribute to the causes of crime in modern western society.

First of all, the world in which we live in depends a lot on financial standards. This includes poverty, social classes and the simple fact that money makes the world go around. However, it is not fair enough to say all criminals come from a poor background, but evidently a majority of crime does exist among “the projects”:

“…postcode areas with high levels of poverty tended to have significantly higher levels of parenting deficients such as childe neglect; there is a strong relationship between the level of child neglect/abuse in a postcode area and the level of juvenile participation in crime in that area,”

Obviously it is implicated that children raised in the ghetto are more susceptible to crime. Youth crime is probably the most direct link since such poor living conditions, as mentioned above, can cause a youth to find comfort in stealing or protection and affection from gangs. The quotation also mentions neglect and abuse through childhood, which correlates with mental defect. Since it is an economical situation in childhood that can lead to mental defect or youth crime itself, the theory of mental imbalance is not really needed as its own branch. Also, organized crime and their leaders usually have poor beginnings. These leaders usually don’t have a case of mental problems, but growing in the middle-class or the lower -class is not their idea of a nice cup of tea. Take for example the infamous mobsters in early twentieth century America. “Tough guys” such as Al “Scarface” Capone and Lucky Luciano grew up in middle-class families, watching their parents work so hard for the American dream but sadly come home to the hardships of life. Both these notorious gang leaders did not want to live that sort of life so they turned to organized crime. It is a simple fact that the lack of money needed to raise a child in such a socially conscious way is far more plausible.

Secondly, society and its own standards play a great role in a child’s development. “Society prepares the crime; the criminal commits it.” The social standard in which modern western civilization lives in is far from perfect and public institutions, and the values and morals of society still need revamping.

“…individuals who commit crimes can do so in large part because they lack the capacity to be affected by how their victims feel. …The capacity to be affected by how others feel is developed in the earliest years – before the age of about three. What is more significant is that this capacity cannot be learned or taught or put into a person after that age with any known method of treatment. This capacity to be affected by how others feel is developed most strongly when infants and toddlers are empathically cared for by the same few people all the time – people who are willing and able to meet the child’s emotional needs.”

During the early stages of childhood, the most important part of development takes place. If there is a significant lack of attention and interaction during this time, the child may end up being drawn away from society and isolated. Sometimes it is the parents’ fault for not being able to raise socially competent children and other times it is institutions such as public schools. Certain children need that extra help or support that may not be provided at school. These children then end up turning to crime such as theft or drug dealing in order to compensate. Their life lesson is in the streets not in the homes or schools. Also, this idea of social norms put such an emphasis on acceptance that children who do not fit in become alienated. A healthy life needs some acceptance from friends and family, but if a child experiences a lack of it, the results could be tragic. Take for instance the Columbine Shooting. The two students involved were the “odd ones” of the school and people knew they were isolated and probably made fun of. It did not seem as if the teachers or parents had much concern about the two and this ended in a mass murder. This accumulation of anger, due to the deficit of social awareness during the early stages and throughout childhood, causes such crimes to be committed.

Finally, the most common factor in childhood upbringings is childhood trauma. This includes a wide range of abuse from physical to sexual, to emotional and verbal. All these things can mentally damage a child and result in later criminal behaviour. The most popular seems to be serial killers and their violent childhood. Both parents are equally responsible; it’s just the matter of who had more effect on the child. The adoptive mother of the “Hillside Strangler” Kenneth Bianchi was pathologically overprotective and Kemper’s mother locked him in the basement when he grew too big and scared his sisters. In this case it seems to be the fault of the “uptight mothers”. It is quite often though that the “sadistically disciplinary father” is a main figure that ends up in “the serial killer’s family tree” . One may also note the idea that adoption is quite disturbing to children and can be a traumatic event within their life.

Another example of childhood trauma that can lead to harmful behaviour is spousal abuse. Children, males in particular, who witness fathers beating mothers are at a much higher risk of becoming violent husbands in the future. Rapists too, who are usually just normal people, have had some sort of sexual abuse in their childhood from a trusted authority figure. The Correctional Service of Canada conducted a study in 1992, which showed that almost one-half of male inmates had been abused as children. However, this notion of gender is not really applicable since an independent study showed that eighty-two percent of women in provincial prisons have been physically or sexually abused as a child. Basically, child victims of abuse and neglect end up suffering throughout life. The inability to trust and learn social skills properly lead to violent outburst and criminal activity.

Consequently, a childhood that includes economical, social and traumatic events is the foundations of a criminal. If it continues to go unaddressed, the community itself is just adding to the problem. Since the first few years of a child are so critical, it is important that not only does the parent get involved, but the government too. By creating better living opportunities, maybe all children will soon be able to benefit and become productive members of society, rather than the pests and vermin of crime. However, how long will this really take and how much will it cost? Determining the cause of crime is just baby steps compared to the journey ahead to try and eliminate crime.

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