Every April we acknowledge Child Abuse Prevention month in the United States. It’s a great time to highlight all the work being done to support and affirm families and communities in their ongoing efforts to raise children. It’s also a wonderful reminder to all of us that we individually can be that supportive person, that empathetic ear, helping the parents around us to be successful in these efforts. Parenting is one of the most difficult jobs there is as raising children takes a lot of time and effort to do it well.
These days, with a rash of mass violence incidents happening on an almost daily basis, one of the questions people ask is, what is wrong with the shooter? Why did he do this? What is the reason for such violent behavior? One of the reasons could be an abusive childhood. Children who are exposed to abuse and other adverse childhood experiences are at more risk for physical and mental health challenges throughout their lives. Children exposed to abuse and neglect are more likely, without intervention, to take that pain and trauma and cover it up with unhealthy behaviors, including violence against others.
In a longitudinal study done in 2020 by the University of Manitoba, it was shown that children exposed to abuse were 30% more likely to commit a violent crime as an adult than those who weren’t. An article in the Journal of Pediatric Health Care in 2022 showed that 72% of the mass shooters it studied (18 out of 25) reported at least one childhood trauma. In still another study, done by Drs. Jillian Peterson and James Densley for the National Institute of Justice in 2019, showed that after looking at the life histories of 172 mass shooters, 68% of them had witnessed or experienced childhood abuse.
While mass violence is a phenomenon that needs much further study and is a growing public health concern for every community in America, one thing that seems certain across current studies is that early impacts of violence and abuse are prevalent in the lives of those who perpetrate these crimes. We as concerned citizens, as those affected by mental health concerns for ourselves and those we love, are also those who may be concerned about our safety in public spaces. There are many ways to be actively involved in these issues. In general, we can be more aware of child abuse in our local communities and work to make a difference for families.
Volunteering for Give An Hour as a mental health professional, supporting the parents, families and young people we are surrounded by and by taking care of our own mental health are all great ways to start! Keep an eye out for the young people in your life and look for the signs of child abuse in a supportive, helpful way. Donate money to organizations that support kids, families and mental health initiatives (like Give An Hour!) Mentor a new parent by reaching out with offers of help, like babysitting, cooking a meal or running an errand for them. Check out www.preventchildabuse.org for lots of additional ideas and information on how we can all improve the lives of kids in our communities.
Give An Hour is an organization that is working to lower the incidence of interpersonal and mass violence, which in turn will lower rates of other types of violence. Our work with the Route 91 community, the Borderline community and more groups affected by mass violence has a secondary effect of reducing rates of child abuse, suicidality, substance abuse and more.
- J Pediatric Health Care. 2022 Jul-Aug;36(4):339-346. doi: 10.1016/j.pedhc.2021.12.004. Epub 2022 Jan 19. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35058114/