Presents findings from the National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence, the most comprehensive survey to date of children’s exposure to violence in the United States. The survey was conducted between January and May 2008, and surveyed more than 4,500 children or their parents or adult caregivers regarding their past-year and lifetime exposure to violence.This research (pdf) is important because so often we make incorrect assumptions about when and where children are exposed to violence. Children in the US are exposed to more violence than adults in the US and a recent study found those aged 12 to 19 were twice as likely to be victims of violent crimes than the general population.
This exposure to violence and victimization has lasting impact but can be made worse or reduced depending on how adults respond or fail to respond. One response I see too frequently when girls are victims of sexual violence is the labeling of those girls as sluts or whores or declaring they were no innocent victims. This secondary verbal assault often comes from people who present themselves as moral which sends a very negative message about what it means to be moral.
Over 60% of the children surveyed were exposed to violence in the past year. Nearly half of the children and teens surveyed were assaulted at least one in the past year and more than a tenth were injured in an assault. Just over 10% suffered from child maltreatment and 6.1% were victimized sexually.
18.7% of girls aged 14 to 17 reported having been a victim of sexual assault or attempted sexual assault. When these numbers include attempted sexual assaults or even completed sexual assaults instead of completed rapes too many times I will hear people, especially men, dismiss this number because to them an attempted or even completed sexual assault might not be something they view as a big deal. This tolerance or even acceptance of many acts of sexual violence is a huge part of the problem.
The study lists these types of victimization:
- sexual contact or fondling by an adult the child knew
- sexual contact or fondling by an adult stranger
- sexual contact or fondling by another child or a teenager
- attempted or completed intercourse
- exposure or "flashing" sexual harassment
- consensual sexual conduct with an adult
The peak age group for sexual harassment is 10 to 13 and this makes sense since children this age are beginning to physically mature which many people use as reason to excuse sex offenders. Lies told by a sex offender whose victim was 5 years old start getting accepted when their chosen victims are viewed as old enough to start experimenting sexually.
To dismiss the harm done by those who present themselves as a lifeline or an ally to a child because the victimization they do is classified as consensual is very dangerous.
To me these various numbers indicate that violence prevention must be integrated into daycare, preschool, grade school and faith organizations. And the same must be true for services which help children who have been traumatized or who have gotten into legal trouble.
To protect children we must challenge attitudes held by adults which contribute to children's exposure to violence. This change needs to be strategic since the problem is so severe and pervasive and this strategy is being explored in many areas including child maltreatment.
We also need to look to see where exposure to violence is linked to substance abuse and high risk sexual behaviors.
Domestic abusers who only target adult partners need to understand that they are harming children who see or hear this abuse whether the adult means to harm them or not. Non-violent adults who excuse certain types of violence as just part of growing up or boys being boys need to be challenged when they make these types of statements. If certain fatalistic views helped children cope as they endured exposure to violence then as those children become adults they need to review their childhood beliefs to see if they can contribute to reducing violence.