Law Enforcement’s Role

Why Focus on Children Exposed to Violence (CEV)?

According to a Department of Justice national survey, 60% of American children were either a witness or victim to violence, crime, or abuse in their homes, communities and schools.i Almost 40% of children were victims of two or more violent attacks, while one in 10 were victims of violence five or more times.ii

Children who are exposed to violence and trauma can suffer a number of long-term consequences affecting how they think, feel, behave and learn. These can include post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic depression, anxiety, poor social adjustment, and emotional difficulties.

The criminal justice implications of CEV are grave. Exposed children are at greater risk for drug and alcohol abuse, as well as becoming perpetual offenders, the consequences of which commonly require police involvement. Suffering from abuse or neglect increases the likelihood of arrest as a juvenile by 59%, as an adult by 28%, and for a violent crime by 30%.iii

Traumatic stress can be caused through repeated exposure to violent events. These reactions can affect children at any age and can consist of feeling helplessness, intense terror, anxietyiv or post-traumatic stress disorder. Early identification and coordinated interventions can interrupt the cycle of violence, allowing children and families an opportunity for recovery.

What Law Enforcement Need to Know

The 2008 National Survey of Children Exposed to Violence found that law enforcement were more likely to know about serious victimizations including kidnapping, neglect, sexual abuse, physical assaults and witnessing domestic violence than any other authority figure.v Officers are in a unique position to intervene during violent situations and their actions are key in reestablishing order, instilling a sense of safety, and obtaining medical care for victims and witnesses involved during violent and traumatic events. They are the first to respond to the scene and make initial contact with child witnesses or victims. Law enforcement can greatly benefit their agency’s practices and procedures by increasing their knowledge of identifying and responding to CEV.

Children look up to law enforcement-- they are the first people after a violent event to interact with victims. When a child is exposed to a traumatic event, their first reaction may be to think that the situation is normal, which opens the possibility of them offending in the future. If an officer leaves without recognizing and responding, the opportunity to intervene is lost.vi

Through increasing their knowledge of CEV and sustaining collaborative efforts with community partners and outside resources, law enforcement can deliver a coordinated response to provide services to children and families exposed to violence and traumatic events.

How IACP Can Help

With the support of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice, and in partnership with the Yale Child Study Center, IACP is dedicated to increasing the understanding of CEV among law enforcement leaders and equipping law enforcement professionals in their vital roles helping children and families through identification and trauma-informed response to violent events. The IACP and Yale Child Study Center will provide tools and resources deemed as best practices in the field to law enforcement.

For more information on best practices from the field and what IACP is doing to provide your agency with tools to combat CEV, visit our Enhancing Law Enforcement Response page Resource Library, Program Directory, and  CEV Training and Technical Assistance page.

Questions? Email us at cev@theiacp.org or call 1-800-THE-IACP x 802.

i Finkelhor, D., Turner, H., Ormrod, R., Hamby, S., and Kracke, K. 2009. Children’s Exposure to Violence: A Comprehensive National Survey. Bulletin. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

ii Berson, S., Jolene, H. and Pearsall, B. 2012. Preventing Children’s Exposure to Violence: The Defending Childhood Initiative.

iii C.S. Widom, The Cycle of Violence, Research in Brief, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, October 1992, NCJ 136607.

iv The National Child Traumatic Stress Network in association with the National Center for Children Exposed to Violence. 2006. COPS, KIDS & DOMESTIC VIOLENCE Protecting Our Future Law Enforcement Training.

v Finkelhor, D., Ormrod, R., Turner, H. A., & Hamby, S. L. (2011). School, police, and medical authority involvement with children who have experienced victimization. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 165(1), 9-15.

vi The National Child Traumatic Stress Network in association with the National Center for Children Exposed to Violence. 2006. COPS, KIDS & DOMESTIC VIOLENCE Protecting Our Future Law Enforcement Training.