Most of the serious crimes committed in the United States and elsewhere are committed while the suspect is under the influence of alcohol or of a drug. Until recently in California, fully one third of the population of our state prisons is in custody serving 90 day parole violations for testing dirty for illegal substances while on parole. Most of the people serving time in our jails and prisons are there for committing drug and drug related offenses.
At the same time, in studies conducted in prisons and published by child advocates, it is reported that 65% of the men in prison admit on their intake interviews to having been molested as a child. The statistics for women in prison who were molested as children is staggering. Child advocates report that in America one in three girls are molested before age 9, while one in four boys are molested before age 14. This awful truth has been known, yet little has been done to break the cycle of abuse.
The correlation between child molest and substance abuse is complex and little studied. However, it is not difficult to understand how a child who is molested, most often by an adult in a position of relative authority to that child, will grow up with a lack of understanding of boundaries and a lack of respect for authority. This child is further handicapped by shame and lack of self-esteem which can easily lead to a cycle of substance abuse as a form of self-medication. The substance abuse can lead to a secondary wave of abuse by the perpetrator, who further berates the child as a “worthless addict or alcoholic.”
Although alcoholism and drug addiction has been recognized and treated as “a disease,” the correlation between alcoholism and drug addiction to child molest and abuse has not gone un-noticed. For years, Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous have recognized the need for addressing the underlying issues of the individual in their “fearless and searching moral inventory.” But the issues are often so shameful and painful to the recovering alcoholic or addict that the issue is suppressed for years before they are addressed, if ever.
If alcoholism and drug addiction is indeed a genetic disease it should be treated aggressively under a medical disease model. However, the cycle of child molest and abuse passed down from generation to generation, and sometimes skipping a generation, can look like a genetic disorder. A child who grows up with a lack of a healthy understanding of boundaries can become a parent or aunt or uncle or grandparent visiting his or her disease upon the child of the next generation.
It is with this perspective on child abuse, alcoholism, drug addiction and crime that I advocate teaching lawyers and paralegal professionals criminal procedure from the perspective of the client. I do not intend to imply that we should excuse people for the crimes that they commit. Accepting that we are responsible for our own actions is the beginning of learning societal boundaries. However, if we are ever to address the issues of crime and drug abuse in this country, we must open our eyes to see the relationship that they have to one another and to the problem of child abuse.
In order to break the cycle of crime, it is clear that we must address the issues of alcoholism and drug addiction in our society. We can break the cycle of alcoholism and drug addiction by the rigorous pursuit of sobriety by a host of recovery modalities and education. And to ensure a safer and healthier future for our children, we must develop education and methodology to address the root problem of child abuse. Longer periods of incarceration and larger prisons will not protect us from this problem.