Since the launch of the Defending Childhood Initiative in 2010 the Justice Department has been working with leading researchers to take an in-depth look at the problem of children exposed to violence. What we have learned has been a wake-up call, and warning bell, for all of us. We found that the majority of our kids – more than 60 percent – have been exposed to crime, abuse, and violence — many in their own homes. Ten percent of children in the United States have suffered some form of abuse or neglect; one in sixteen has been victimized sexually. And both direct and indirect exposure to violence is having a profound negative impact on the mental and emotional development of young people across the country.
I am happy to tell you that we have now, through the work of the Attorney General’s National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence, reached an important milestone in the fight to prevent and reduce children’s exposure to violence in the United States.
Over the last year, the task force has traveled the country, listening to practitioners, policymakers, academics, concerned citizens, and victims. Its goal was to find out how violence and abuse are affecting our kids and our communities. The task force has now completed its fact-finding phase and is compiling a report to be issued late this fall, 2012. The report will be a blueprint for actions we can take to prevent children’s exposure to violence and mitigate its effects.
The task force heard personal testimony from 65 people from 27 states and the District of Columbia. These included survivors of violence, young people, social service providers, medical personnel, researchers, practitioners, advocates, tribal and local officials, private foundation representatives, and community residents. The four public hearings were held in Baltimore, Albuquerque, Miami and Detroit and the three listening sessions in Anchorage, Oakland and Joint Base Lewis-McChord outside Tacoma, WA. The variety of sites gave the task force members the big picture of violence in America. They learned that violence is more than an urban problem; it is pervasive throughout our nation. And they learned that in rural and tribal areas the damage is often compounded by the difficulty of getting resources for victims.
The problem of children’s exposure to violence is an urgent one, one we can’t afford to ignore. Nor is it an issue the Department of Justice – or any one agency or organization – can take on alone. It will take all of us, working together. And with the momentum we’ve generated through our Defending Childhood Initiative, the information and insights we’ve gained through the task force, and the tremendous support and leadership shown by everyone here, I know we will find a way to make America safer for our children.