This week the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) in the U.S. Department of Justice released The National Survey on Children’s Exposure to Violence. OJJDP calls the report “a precedent-setting survey because it gives us the first real estimates â€” as the most comprehensive survey to date – on the nature and extent of violence in children’s lives.”
It is the first time data has been collected across all age ranges, and all types of violence, to define the full scope of violence-related experiences in a child’s life – whether it be as victims or witnesses, and whether it be in the home, the school or the community. This is also the first time data has been collected on the cumulative exposure to violence over a child’s lifetime.
The report indicates more than 60 percent of the children surveyed were exposed to violence within the past year, either directly or indirectly. Nearly one-half of the children and adolescents surveyed were assaulted at least once in the past year, and more than 1 in 10 were injured as a result.
Respondents also reported they were the victim of a robbery, vandalism, or theft. Some said they were victims of child maltreatment, including physical and emotional abuse, neglect, or a family abduction. 1 in 16 were victimized sexually.
Attorney General Eric Holder called the figures “staggering.”
The violence that millions of children and youth are exposed to in their homes, schools and communities, whether as direct victims or as a witness, can disrupt their development in many ways. This disruption in development comes from the impact of the stress or trauma on the child. It can be exhibited in how they think, interact, learn and develop relationships.
Each child responds to exposure to violence differently and many children are resilient. Others need support to address trauma reactions to prevent further adverse reactions. The Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention support initiatives like Safe Start to prevent and reduce the impacts of children’s exposure to violence.
OJJDP supports the training necessary to reach across disciplines to identify children who are at risk of exposure to violence, such as witnessing domestic violence, and to coordinate the delivery of services to these children. Because the survey tracked children’s lifetime exposure to violence, researchers can develop more accurate estimates on the total number of children in a certain age group who have been exposed to a particular form of violence. It illustrates more clearly the full extent of exposure and the cumulative effects of multiple exposures to violence and how exposure to one form of violence may make a child more vulnerable to other forms of violence.
Armed with these facts OJJDP will also work with those who come into daily contact with youth and children to assess and identify those who are suffering emotionally, socially, physically and developmentally from exposure to violence.