As has been well-reported in these pages, Pine Bluff is engaged in a protracted struggle to wrench itself from the jaws of violent crime. Many opinions have been offered as to what might be done to right our ship of state. An equal number have been proffered as to why things are as they appear to be. A recently released study funded by the National Institute of Justice may prove useful in coming to grips with the crime we confront locally.

As has been well-reported in these pages, Pine Bluff is engaged in a protracted struggle to wrench itself from the jaws of violent crime. Many opinions have been offered as to what might be done to right our ship of state. An equal number have been proffered as to why things are as they appear to be. A recently released study funded by the National Institute of Justice may prove useful in coming to grips with the crime we confront locally.

The nationwide study, Preventing Children’s Exposure to Violence: The Defending Childhood Initiative by Sarah B. Berson, Jolene Hernon and Beth Pearsall examines strategies developed by many communities to address childhood exposure to violence.

The authors frame their findings in the context of five disturbing statistics: Sixty percent of American children were exposed to violence, crime or abuse in their homes, schools and communities; Almost 40 percent of American children were direct victims of two or more violent acts, and 1 in 10 were victims of violence five or more times; Children were more likely to be exposed to violence and crime than adults; Almost 1 in 10 American children saw one family member assault another family member, and more than 25 percent had been exposed to family violence during their lifetime; Exposure to one type of violence increased the likelihood that a child would be exposed to other types of violence and exposed multiple times.

These researchers are not alone in their concern over this issue. The Family Violence Prevention Fund states, “…Growing up in a violent home may be a terrifying and traumatic experience that can affect every aspect of a child’s life, growth and development… children who have been exposed to family violence suffer symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, such as bed-wetting or nightmares, and were at greater risk than their peers of having allergies, asthma, gastrointestinal problems, headaches and flu.” In addition, women who experience physical abuse as children are at a greater risk of victimization as adults, and men have a far greater (more than double) likelihood of perpetrating abuse.

Beyond this, many studies substantiate that women and children in minority communities face a disproportionately high risk of victimization. According to the Women of Color Network, a national grassroots advocacy initiative responding to violence against minority women and families, “African American women experience intimate partner violence at a rate 35 percent higher than that of white women, yet they are less likely to use social services and battered women’s programs or seek medical attention for injuries resulting from domestic violence. They also experience higher rates of intimate partner homicide than their white counterparts.”

This dynamic combines with the aforementioned effects on children exposed to the violence to create whole communities that are poisoned by a self-reinforcing cycle of domestic terror that flows from the home out into the streets. Fortunately, the Pine Bluff Police Department has publicly acknowledged the problem of domestic violence in our community. Likewise, there are a number of assistance agencies to which victims and witnesses of intimate partner, domestic and child violence can turn. To begin with there are: the National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224 TTY; the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline 1-866-331-9474 or 1-866-331-8453 TTY; the Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men and Women 1-888-7HELPLINE (743-5754). Locally, we have a tremendous resource in the CASA Women’s Shelter 870-535-2955 or via the Internet at http://www.casawomensshelter.org/index.html.

Everyone should remember that there is no shame in being a victim or asking for help. Despite our best efforts, we all get into bad situations from time to time. Breaking the cycle of violence is the first step to a better life for each of us and for our community.