It may come as no surprise, but children are much more likely to witness acts of violence than adults. According to the Department of Justice, about 60 percent of children report being exposed to violence.
This year, Multnomah County will lead a team of government, community and nonprofit partners to research how violence affects the lives of children in the area and what can be done about it. The program is funded by a grant from the Department of Justice.
Peggy Samolinski, division manager with the Multnomah County Department of Human Services, says the work over the next year will provide an important base to launch future programs targeting childhood exposure to violence.
She said it fits the county's current mission of addressing problems that are getting little notice in other areas of society.
"The county is strong in addressing domestic violence and improving the response to commercial sexual exploitation," she said.
The planning program will be lead by a steering committee chaired by County Commissioner Judy Shiprack, which will include school districts, nonprofits, the Department of Human Services and others. On the ground, there will be a subcommittee of other stakeholders and interested persons. Samolinski said the effort will not be "county centric" even though the county is leading the effort and applied for the national grant.
A National Pastime
The playground fight is something nearly everyone viewed as a child. And luckily, when the Department of Justice says that most children have been exposed to violence, this is the kind of violence they're talking about.
"In general, however, the types of exposure that were most prevalent among younger children were less serious, such as assaults without a weapon or without injury, assaults by a juvenile sibling, or bullying and teasing, all of which were most com¬mon among 6- to 9-year-olds and declined thereafter," the DOJ report states. "Older adolescents ages 14 to 17 were the most likely to experience more serious forms of violence, including assaults with injury, gang assaults, sexual victimizations, and physical and emotional abuse, and to witness violence in the community."
But there are children exposed to more serious types of violence, such as sexual victimization (6.1 percent), maltreatment (10.2 percent), dating violence (1.4 percent), assault with a weapon or injury (14.9 percent) and witnessing family or community assaults (9.8 percent and 19.2 percent respectively).
While there is a peak of violence among 6 to 9-year-olds that declines after these years, the more serious kinds of assaults increase in the teen years. The Department of Justice does not identify how many children are instigators of violence or how many victims have also committed assaults.
The Safe Start initiative, which aims to prevent and reduce the impact of children's exposure to violence, was started in 1999 by then-deputy Attorney General Eric Holder.
"For me, the issue of children's exposure to violence has been both a personal and professional concern for decades. As our nation's Attorney General and as a parent, it remains a top priority," said Attorney General Holder. "Through renewing and refocusing our efforts to serve the nation's most vulnerable and most distressed children, we can transform the country we love for the better – one child at a time."