Exposure to violence threatens children’s future
An astonishing 60 percent of American children have been exposed to some form of violence, crime or abuse, ranging from brief encounters as witnesses to serious violent episodes as victims.
The consequences can be serious: Poor performance in school, drug and alcohol abuse, long-term physical and psychological ailments, a life of involvement with juvenile and criminal justice systems. The Report of the U.S. Attorney General’s National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence concluded exposure to violence in any form harms children. In many cases, children are exposed to multiple forms of violence: sexual abuse, physical abuse, intimate partner violence and community violence. Children exposed to domestic violence in their own homes, for instance, might experience fear, grief, anger, shame and a sense of betrayal that interferes with important relationships for the rest of the lives.
We know the majority of children who are exposed to violence never receive services or treatment to help them stabilize themselves and heal their social and emotional wounds. Too often they suffer alone with problems of anxiety, depression, anger, grief and post-traumatic stress that can damage their relationships and family life and limit their success in school or work.
We can stem the epidemic of children exposed to violence. The problem is not one government alone can solve. We need to tap the strength of all Americans. The first crucial step in protecting our children is to identify and provide timely and effective help to those exposed to violence. A public aware of the problem and well-informed can help to ensure all children exposed to violence are identified, screened and assessed. A national initiative to promote education and training on how exposure to violence affects children will help prepare teachers, health workers and other professionals to become leaders in the drive.
Our children need safe, stable and nurturing homes. The National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence, supported by the Justice Department, concluded 40 percent of children between the ages of 14 and 17 had been exposed to family violence. We need to do everything we can to make families into the first line of defense against children’s exposure to violence. One way to do that is to provide families affected by sexual abuse, physical abuse and domestic violence with education and services to prevent further abuse and enable children to recover.
We also need to strengthen our efforts to prevent community violence in neighborhoods where children witness assaults and even killings of family members, friends and innocent bystanders. Our children should grow up learning violence is not normal. We need to organize local coalitions that bring together the resources of law enforcement, the courts, health care, schools, family services, child protection, domestic violence programs, rape-crisis centers, child advocacy centers, families and community members. Our goal must be to ensure all our children grow up in safety and security.
Barry Grissom is the U.S. Attorney
for the District of Kansas.