Trayvon Martin and Community Violence

Much has been said about the Trayvon Martin case in central Florida this past month. Much more could be said and even more will probably never be known for sure. What we do know is that Trayvon was walking home from a nearby store when he was approached by neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman. Accounts vary as to what happened next, but the outcome left Martin dead from a gunshot wound.

However, what isn’t being talked about so much is the environment where this tragic incident played out.

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Human Trafficking: Global Phenomena. Domestic Concern.

Human Trafficking: Global Phenomena. Domestic Concern.

Over the last several years, the topic of human trafficking – or modern day slavery as many advocates call it – has captured the attention and pulled on the heart strings of the American public. U.S. citizens became indignant as they realized that slavery, something they thought fixed a century ago, was still growing in the world. Since then, countless organizations, advocacy campaigns, and fundraisers have been created to help the victims of global trafficking, especially the women and girls trafficked in our country.

Unfortunately, many people still don’t know that these same horror stories happen in their state, their county, their city. Recent reports cite that American born girls and boys are just as likely to be trafficked domestically as immigrant children. Amy Fine Collin recently wrote a story for Vanity Fair on domestic sex trafficking about two trafficked American girls, Gwen and Alicia, and the police officers, lawyers, social workers, and doctors who helped free them. “A pound of heroin or an AK-47 can be retailed once, but a young girl can be sold 10 to 15 times a day—and a “righteous” pimp confiscates 100 percent of her earnings,” Collin writes. This is an American reality, one that unfortunately is targeting younger and younger children.

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Can war cost a child’s health?

War is a costly thing. I think most of us know how badly exposure to the violence of war affects our service men and women and the trauma they have to deal with once returning home. What’s less known is how badly the exposure hurts those who are left behind. Each year, 2 million U.S. children have at least one parent deployed in the military. Sometimes those children don’t even get to meet that parent right away, or sometimes not at all. We are just now learning how detrimental that deployment is for those children as they grow up.

A new study from the University of Washington suggests a startling picture. An article from The News Tribune shares that the “new study suggests that when parents are deployed in the military, their children are more than twice as likely to carry a weapon, join a gang or be involved in fights.”

The outcomes from this study indicate a connection to the problem of secondary violence exposure in children. Secondary exposure to violence includes witnessing the violence or hearing about a violent act against a family member.  The National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence finds that children “suffer from difficulties with attachment, regressive behavior, anxiety and depression, and aggression and conduct problems. They may be more prone to dating violence, delinquency, further victimization, and involvement with the child welfare and juvenile justice systems” (p. 2).  This supports the new study and that boys and girls alike are affected by the departure of their parents.

The most important thing to remember is that children can be more affected than we think, because the study shows that “according to the findings, 8th grade boys who had at least a deployed parent were at a 1.77 higher risk of physical fighting and 2.14 higher odds of gang membership while girls in 8th grade with at least one parent in the military were at twice the risk of carrying a weapon.” So, health professionals and caregivers must watch for the signs of distress in children and stop them before they start.

Below are some resources to help get families and practitioners started:

  1. Safe Start Center Families and Caregivers Online Resources
  2. Military Children and Family Resource Page
  3. Resources Especially for Military Families

Children exposed to violence is a global epidemic

Tanzania report reveals extent of violence against children

This post from the UK Guardian Poverty Matters Blog, discusses a new breakthrough study conducted in Tanzania and put out by the Muhimbili University in Dar es Salaam and the CDC. Study findings note that close to 75% of all children had been exposed to some type of violence before reaching adulthood. In addition, the researchers note that reports show that violence exposure in childhood can cause numerous social and emotional problems for the rest of the child’s development.

The outcomes of the Tanzanian study also parallel the findings of the National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence (NATSCEV) and The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study which also reiterate that children coming into contact with violence and trauma may experience long-term detrimental  effects, sometimes in spite of their natural resilience. The NATSCEV in particular notes that, “All too often, however, children who are exposed to violence undergo lasting physical, mental, and emotional harm. They suffer from difficulties with attachment, regressive behavior, anxiety and depression, and aggression and conduct problems. They may be more prone to dating violence, delinquency, further victimization, and involvement with the child welfare and juvenile justice systems” (NATSCEV 2).

Finally, several nations are working to address children’s exposure to violence through studies and legislation. In early 2008, Swaziland was the first African country to conduct a survey of the level of violence exposure of women and children. More recently, in June 2011, in Australia a study was released reiterating that the idea, that children exposed to domestic violence are experiencing a form of child abuse, is becoming a more widely accepted thought. Also, early this month Tanzania committed itself to strengthening laws against violence exposure.

Witnessing or directly experiencing violence, especially children, is becoming a widely recognized problem on the international level. Cultural and emotional barriers exist all over the world which inhibit the recognition and treatment of the effects of this exposure, particularly the mental and emotional health of the survivor. This new study demonstrates the ongoing breakdown of the taboos that surround discussion and treatment of this issue. Such progress is the first step in increasing awareness and supporting prevention, and creating a more trauma-informed global society.

Other Related Studies and Links:

Safe Start Center

Research Studies and Reports

UNICEF United Republic of Tanzania

 Violence Against Children: United Nations Secretary-General’s Study

Ten Things Everyone Should Know About Violence Against Children and Young Women in Swaziland

A Brief from UNICEF Swaziland




Special Representative of the UN Secretary General on Violence Against Children Praises Tanzania’s work pioneering work in data and research on violence against children!













Creative Way to Save and Expand Domestic Violence Services!

Sound Mental Health takes over Kent’s Safe Havens domestic violence visitation center

This article provides an interesting look at how a domestic violence services center, after losing Federal funding, was able to achieve sustainability for their program by merging with a local private non-profit behavioral health services provider.

It also provides an overview of how the combination of these two organizations will not only sustain the center but increase the opportunities and availability of services from both organizations to address the complex needs of the children and families exposed to or recovering from domestic violence.

Overall, the new pairing of Sound Mental Health and Safe Havens offers a clear example of how organizations can sustain themselves beyond Federal funding, implement and share their programs, and fully integrate themselves into their communities to increase prevention and expand services.

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