While it’s easy to see children as victims of crime when they are abused, neglected, assaulted, or stolen from, we haven’t always thought of exposure to violence as a type of criminal victimization. Fortunately, the field is increasingly recognizing that vicarious trauma matters. Exposure to violence matters to all of us, and as professionals, we worry about empathy burnout.
But it matters to children in a unique way. Children are vulnerable; their bodies are developing and changing rapidly, their brains are in a constant state of flux, and their emotional development is setting the stage for a lifetime of coping with the world around them.
Witnessing a crime may affect a child just as severely as experiencing a crime directly. Yet, in family court decisions, this fact is often disregarded as custody may be given to or shared with an abusive parent who “only” abused the other parent.
What can we do about children’s exposure to violence? The Attorney General has launched a new website designed to provide specific and practical resources to professionals like judges, police officers, attorneys, and advocates. There are also tips for parents, teachers, faith communities, and others. Everyone can play a role in recognizing and addressing the impact of children’s exposure to violence.