January | February 2012

National Task Force Holds Public Hearing on Children's Exposure
to Violence in Rural and Tribal Areas

Defending Childhood logo.On January 31–February 1, 2012, in Albuquerque, NM, the Attorney General's National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence held the second of four public hearings to identify promising practices, programming, and community strategies to address children's exposure to violence.

The hearing focused on children's exposure to violence in rural and tribal communities and featured testimony from practitioners, policymakers, academics, and community members.

"Our children are exposed to far more violence than we realize," said Associate Attorney General Thomas J. Perrelli, who delivered introductory remarks at the hearing. "The task force will enhance how we work together to serve our children in cities and towns, on reservations, and in rural areas throughout the nation."

Photo of Joe Torre and Robert Listenbee.
Robert Listenbee (left) and Joe Torre, co-chairs of the Attorney General's National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence, listen to testimony on children's exposure to violence in rural and tribal communities. Mr. Listenbee is Chief of the Juvenile Unit of the Defender Association of Philadelphia. Mr. Torre is Major League Baseball's Executive Vice President for Baseball Operations and Chairman of the Board of the Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation, an organization that educates students, parents, and teachers about the effects of domestic violence.

Four panel discussions provided an overview of the challenges of seeking help and safety in rural areas; economic and geographic barriers that prevent youth exposed to violence in rural areas from receiving adequate services; the difficulties rural courts, law enforcement, and social services agencies face when trying to provide services; and strategies for using the strengths of American Indian/Alaska Native traditions and culture to address the problem of children's exposure to violence.

In her opening testimony, Esta Soler, president and founder of Futures Without Violence, cited findings of the OJJDP-supported National Survey of Children Exposed to Violence: more than half of American children witnessed or experienced violence in the previous year; 1 in 3 will be exposed to violence in the home by the time they are 17 years old; and 1 in 10 experience more than five kinds of victimization. Ms. Soler emphasized the need for, among other measures, routine screening and assessment, early intervention, gender-specific and culturally appropriate services, and an ongoing commitment to raising public awareness.

"We must bring the public along with us, both because they—we—are the society, the culture that is also influencing our children; and because people cannot help if they don't know what is going on or don't know what to do," Ms. Soler said.

Gil Vigil, board member of the National Indian Child Welfare Association, discussed the urgent challenges faced by children and families in Indian country, including having the highest poverty rate of any racial group, higher drug and alcohol abuse disorder rates than the general population, and a rate of rape and sexual assault that is 3.5 times higher than that of other races.

"Considering these experiences, it is clear why American Indian/Alaska Native children are at 2.5 times greater risk of experiencing trauma than mainstream populations," he said. "The sustained nature and frequency of this trauma over several generations has produced much of the modern-day trauma that is experienced by children in tribal communities."

Other speakers at the hearing included Carole Justice, coordinator of the Indian Country Methamphetamine Program; Coloradas Mangas, member of the Mescalero Apache Tribe (New Mexico) and youth board member of the Center for Native American Youth; Paul Smokowski, director of the North Carolina Academic Center for Excellence in Youth Violence Prevention; Mato Standing High, Attorney General of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe (South Dakota); and Dolores Subia Big Foot, director of the Indian Country Child Trauma Center and Project Making Medicine, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

Photo of Lyle Claw, Coloradas Mangas, and Maria Brock.
Among those testifying at the hearing were (from l. to r.) Lyle Claw, President of Changing Lives Around the World, Inc.; Coloradas Mangas, member of the youth board, Center for Native American Youth and president of the Mescalero Apache Tribal Youth Council; and Maria Brock, tribal home visiting project director, Native American Professional Parent Resources, Inc.

As part of the Attorney General's Defending Childhood initiative, the National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence is charged with raising national awareness, increasing the scientific knowledge base about the problem and related issues, and gaining insights into potential policies that may be developed and recommended to the Attorney General for preventing, responding to, and mitigating the effects of children's exposure to violence.

The task force is composed of 13 leading experts from diverse fields and perspectives, including practitioners, child and family advocates, academic experts, and licensed clinicians. Based on the testimony at the public hearings, comprehensive research, and input from experts, advocates, families, and communities nationwide, the task force will issue a final report in late 2012 to the Attorney General presenting its findings and policy recommendations. The report will serve as a blueprint for addressing this issue across the United States.

Future hearings will take place in 2012 in Miami, FL (March 20–21), and Detroit, MI (April 24–25). Details on these hearings can be found on the Defending Childhood Web page. The first public hearing was held in Baltimore, MD, on November 29–30, 2011.

Findings of the National Survey of Children's Exposure to Violence

The National Survey of Children's Exposure to Violence (NatSCEV), sponsored by OJJDP and supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, provides the most comprehensive information available on the incidence and prevalence of children's exposure to violence.

NatSCEV is the first attempt to measure children's exposure to all types of violence in the home, school, and community across age groups from birth to age 17 and the first attempt to measure the cumulative exposure to violence over a child's lifetime. The reports of lifetime exposure indicate how certain types of exposure change and accumulate as a child grows up.

In interviews conducted by the University of New Hampshire's Crimes against Children Research Center between January and May 2008, researchers gathered data on both past-year and lifetime exposure to violence across a number of categories, including physical assault, bullying, sexual victimization, child maltreatment, dating violence, and witnessed and indirect victimization.

OJJDP is producing a series of publications to highlight the findings from NatSCEV. The following bulletins are available online:

In the coming months, OJJDP will release two more bulletins in the NatSCEV series—one on child and youth victimization known to police and other authorities (see New Publications); and the other on victimization and delinquency.


More details about the National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence and the hearing in New Mexico are available on the Defending Childhood Web page.