Defending Our Most Vulnerable

April 24, 2012

The following post appears courtesy of  Acting Associate Attorney General Tony West

When we review the statistics, look in our communities, or read the newspaper, it is clear that our children face great challenges.  Whether at home, in school, on the streets, or online, our children are witnessing and experiencing intolerable levels of violence.  At the Department of Justice, we know that understanding the nature and extent of children’s exposure to violence is essential to combating its effects. 

Today, I’m pleased to announce that, with the support of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the department is releasing new data in a bulletin entitled Child and Youth Victimization Known to Police, School and Medical Authorities. This bulletin tells us when children report violence, what type of violence, and to whom.  It specifically looks at the victimizations that were known to the police, teachers and other school personnel, and doctors and other medical professionals.

Attorney General Eric Holder has made preventing violence against children a top priority at one of the largest law enforcement agencies in the world.  To that end, he established the Attorney General’s National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence, also called the Defending Childhood Task Force, which is working to identify the scope of, and solutions to, violence against children.  We are striving for a safe environment for our children so that they have the opportunity to develop into healthy adults.  This, we know, will determine the course of our nation’s future. 

There is much progress being made by the task force, but I want to highlight one area in which the department is hard at work—gathering nationwide data on childhood victims of violence. 

According to the new data, we know that, overall, kids are disclosing incidents of violence they suffered or witnessed at much higher rates than 20 years ago.  But too much victimization is still unreported, and we’ve discovered much about where reporting remains low.  For example, our findings indicate that authorities knew about a majority of serious victimizations, including incidents of sexual abuse by an adult, gang assaults, and kidnappings.  But authorities were mostly unaware of other kinds of  serious offenses committed by peers, such as instances of dating violence (15 percent reported) and completed and attempted rape by a peer (14 percent reported).  Moreover, authorities were much less likely to learn of victimizations of certain groups of victims (like boys, Hispanic youth, and youth from higher socio-economic status) or when the perpetrators were peers or family members.  And finally, authorities only knew about half of the episodes of children witnessing domestic violence. 

The sooner we know about a child’s victimization or exposure to violence, the better our chances are at intervening effectively and the more likely we are to restore hope in a child’s life.  We can help bridge the gaps between our partners in schools, law enforcement, and the medical community to ensure that children have access to effective prevention and treatment options.  The research also reminds us that for all the progress achieved in this area, still too many children suffer in silence, never getting the assistance they so desperately need. Getting them critical help that could make all the difference in their lives. 

Breaking that silence is the ultimate goal—our collective goal—for Defending Childhood.  So, if you or someone you know has been a victim, I hope you will take the first step.  Learn how you can take action to protect children at justice.gov/defendingchildhood If you're a victim of violence in your home, and wanthelp right away, call or visit: The National Child Abuse Hotline  at 1-800-4-A-CHILD or 1-800-2-A-CHILD (TTY).  Justice begins with you.

April 22-28, 2012 is National Crime Victims’ Rights Week (NCVRW). Each April since 1981, the Office for Victims of Crimes at the U.S. Department of Justice has helped lead communities throughout the country in their annual observances by promoting victims’ rights and honoring crime victims and those who advocate on their behalf.  Learn more at OVC.gov.