More than half of America’s children and teens are in some way exposed to violence in their homes, schools and neighborhoods every year, according to a 2009 U.S. Department of Justice study. Many are victims of violence themselves, but many more will witness violent crimes or share the trauma when their families, school friends or neighborhoods are targets of violence and abuse. Unfortunately, many of these young people will experience violence from multiple sources, compounding the trauma and its effects.
The consequences of this kind of exposure can be difficult to measure, but the harm is real.
We know that children and teens exposed to violence are more likely to experience anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress. They are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. They are also more likely to fail at school, be absent from school and experience learning difficulties. These children are also more likely to enter into, and stay in, abusive relationships. They are also at higher risk of going on to commit crimes themselves.It comes as a surprise to find that I agree so strongly with a US Attorney. Witnessing violence or being in the middle of it can have long-lasting effects on children. We should do more to protect children from violence.
A good place to start for all of us is by listening to young people and being engaged in their lives.Well, now...that seems a tepid approach to the problem she describes. Wait, though. She has more:
If you’re interested in learning more about the effects of violence on children, the U.S. Department of Justice has produced a video series Through Our Eyes: Children, Violence, and Trauma, available at www.ovc.gov/pubs/ThroughOurEyes/index.html. The DOJ also has launched the Defending Childhood initiative to address the exposure of America’s children to violence as victims and as witnesses.A video? I would have preferred a more robust response but she is a busy woman. Maybe she doesn't have time to think of more effective ways to lessen the violence that surrounds children. If it isn't too presumptuous of me to think that I can help, I came up with a few ideas. Maybe she can use her powerful voice as US Attorney to promote ideas that would have a more immediate impact on reducing violence than, say, a video.
Stop shooting the family dog. When I was small, I witnessed a neighbor drive over and kill one of our dogs. It was an unfortunate accident but it was a terrible thing for a small child to see. Imagine how terrifying it must be for children to see a law enforcement officer--someone who is supposed to protect and serve--shoot their family dog.
Stop sending SWAT teams into homes where children are present when that level of force is not necessary. People, including the children, have been hurt and killed in those raids. Watch this video of a SWAT raid in Columbia MO and try to imagine being a child in that home. Radley Balko estimates law enforcement agencies carry out over 100 SWAT raids every day across the country. How many children are affected by violence in their homes perpetrated by law enforcement?
Stop putting so many people in prison. The United States has 2.2 million prison inmates. According to Families Against Mandatory Minimums (famm.org), one in 28 children have a parent in prison. This doesn't count the kids who have a sibling or other family member in prison. How does that affect children?
Stop relying on mandatory minimum sentences to push a defendant into taking a plea agreement and start proving your cases in court. Introducing mandatory minimum sentences has increased sentence length even for crimes that do not carry a mandatory minimum. Tearing families apart is traumatic for all family members. Tearing them apart for longer than necessary is cruel.
Children in homes with a drastically reduced income, children with a parent struggling to be everything to everyone--prison spouse, mother and father--in the midst of his or her own grief, children grieving for the family member in prison, children unable to visit the prison because distance and expense are too great...these children suffer a violence that the US Attorney does not address.