Friday, June 22 , 2018, 1:08 am | Overcast 60º


Alana Walczak: Violence in Our Communities Hurts Children

It has been a tough few months in Santa Barbara County and throughout our nation. Every day, it seems, there is yet another story about violence in our communities. Exposure to this violence impacts each one of us, and especially our children.

My girls are only 7 years old. I try not to share too much of my distress about violence with them. However, I don’t want to shield them from the realities that are all around us. When, inevitably, they become aware of something that has happened in the world, it shakes them to their core.

“Will that happen to us, Mommy? Could that happen to someone we know?”

I give them honest answers, and I do my best to assure them that they are safe.

Unfortunately, not all parents can ensure this safety. The violence in our communities hits much closer for some children and families. One of the most insidious types of violence for children is violence that happens in their very own homes.

When a child — even an infant — hears her parents fighting, or sees one adult in her life hit or threaten the other, it impacts every part of her developing body. She is flooded with adrenaline. She sweats, her eyes dilate, her muscles twitch. She may become irritable or inconsolable.

Babies and young children are especially vulnerable because their brains aren’t fully developed, and because they can’t do anything to mitigate their fear. The stress and anxiety they feel stays inside their developing brains, reworking neural pathways, and within their tiny bodies, wreaking untold havoc.

October is Domestic Violence Prevention month. And, as we honor this month, I am deeply saddened by how common domestic violence is. Consider these facts:

Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women ages 15-44 in the United States; more than car accidents, muggings and rapes combined. 

» 1 in 3 women, and 1 in 4 men have been in abusive relationships.

» 1 in 5 women and 1 in 7 men have endured severe physical violence.

» 20 people are abused by an intimate partner every minute in our country, adding up to 10 million each year.

» Intimate partner violence accounts for 15 percent of all violent crimes.

» 1 in 3 female homicide victims are killed by an intimate partner.

At CALM, more than 40 percent of the children we treat are being seen because of concerns stemming from exposure to domestic violence.

Children who witness violence at home display emotional and behavioral disturbances as diverse as withdrawal, low self-esteem, nightmares, self-blame, and aggression against peers, family members or property.

Children who live in violent households may startle at the seemingly smallest things, such as a car door slamming or a glass accidentally falling to the floor. If their anxiety progresses, they may begin to eat less or have difficulty sleeping.

Family violence has hit particularly close to home this past summer. Not one, but two women — both mothers — were murdered by an intimate partner in the past few months.

These Santa Barbara County women leave behind children who are scarred both by the loss of their own mothers and by the violence they have experienced in their own homes.

It’s important for us to remember that domestic violence doesn’t just impact one family. It impacts our entire community — for generations.

Witnessing violence between one’s parents or caregivers is the strongest risk factor of transmitting violent behavior from one generation to the next.

But, please remember: We can end the cycle of violence.

By supporting those who share their stories, and by believing them, we can help make a shift for a struggling family. By providing therapeutic supports to children who have witnessed domestic violence, we can change the trajectory of their lives, making it less likely they will continue the cycle as adults.

Each of us has a role to play. I am very proud that CALM works with children — and the adults who care for them every day — to make our communities as safe, as peaceful, and as resilient as possible.

— Alana Walczak is CEO of the nonprofit CALM (Child Abuse Listening Mediation), a leader in developing programs and services that effectively treat child abuse and promote healing, as well as programs that help prevent abuse through family strengthening and support. Click here for more information, or call 805.965.2376. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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