This month the Safe Start Center is honoring National Women’s History Month by profiling women who have made an impact on the issue of children’s exposure to violence.
Dr. Sherry Hamby is currently Research Professor in the Department of Psychology at Sewanee, the University of the South and part of the team who developed and conducted the National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence (NatSCEV). A licensed clinical psychologist, Hamby is founding editor of the Psychology of Violence journal, published by the American Psychological Association, and has written a variety of publications on family violence and youth victimization. With Mary Beth Skupien, she also conducted the first reservation-based study of intimate partner violence among American Indians.
Why do you feel children’s exposure to violence is an important issue and how did you get involved?
Starting with children is our best chance to break the cycle of violence and reduce the psychological, physical, and financial burdens of violence. Like virtually everyone, I have seen the price that loved ones pay when they are exposed to violence. My own work in the anti-violence movement started with domestic violence, which is also a key part of the solution to reducing the societal burden of violence. David Finkelhor knew I liked questionnaire development and he asked me to help develop a measure that could assess the full spectrum of violence. That turned into the Juvenile Victimization Questionnaire (JVQ). More personally, having children of my own has changed the way I view the problem of violence. Becoming a mother has been a big part of my developing a focus that is more child-centered and family-centered and less oriented around institutional categories.
What have you learned through your work on NatSCEV?
I learned that the interconnections among all forms of violence are stronger than I ever even imagined. Who knew that victims of sexual assault are also at higher risk for property crime? Early work tended to look for connections across seemingly similar types of violence, such as domestic violence against an intimate partner and physical abuse against a child. It turns out this “matchy-matchy” approach is wrong. Other forms of child maltreatment, such as neglect, are more closely tied to domestic violence, for example. Most of the underlying vulnerabilities that lead to poly-victimization (multiple victimizations) are not specific to any one type of violence.
What would you like to see develop in research, policy and/or communities regarding children’s exposure to violence?
I would like to see a more developmental approach. In many ways, the needs of a 6-year old who has been maltreated are more like the needs of a 6-year old who has been bullied than they are like a 16-year old who has been maltreated. Services would be better organized around the main developmental stages of childhood, not by specific types of violence. Zero-to-Three is one such model. Why stop at 3?