Blaming the victims…even the children


Used as the illustration to the poem, “I Want Missed Connections in Brooklyn”

Until we understand the etiology of a disease or condition, we tend to blame the victim. It seems to be human nature.

In the mid-1800s, people thought that if you came down with cholera, a disease caused by bacteria, it was your fault. Those who came down with cholera “deserved” it. Some people thought it was caused by immoral living, including not attending church. During New York City’s cholera epidemic in 1832, according to New York Times reporter John Noble Wilford, the director of New York City’s historical society wrote:

 “Those sickened must be cured or die off, & being chiefly of the very scum of the city, the quicker [their] dispatch the sooner the malady will cease.”

In the 1980s, the same reaction occurred when the AIDS epidemic, caused by a virus, came to light. It was commonly regarded as a disease of gay men, whose “immoral” lifestyle was to blame.

People who are violent and/or victims of violence, especially within families, are generally regarded as entirely to blame for their actions. Men are “evil” or “bad” because they abuse (most abuse in families is carried out by men). Women are “stupid” for staying in the relationship. But epidemiological, neurobiological and epigenetic research is showing that behaviors, brains and genes are shaped early in childhood, and that without intervention or support, the likelihood of a child who witnesses and/or experiences abuse continuing on a path to abusing or becoming a victim of abuse increases substantially.

So, it’s no wonder that, generally speaking, if children behave “badly”, our systems blame them for it and slap labels on them: attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), conduct disorder (CD), mood disorder (MD), oppositional defiance disorder (ODD). They also hold the child responsible for changing her or his behavior — either with drugs or therapy — and, except in cases of obvious and repeated child abuse, don’t look to see if the environment in which the child lives needs to change, too.

Some interesting research is emerging that’s taking a more holistic approach. According this recent overview of a study of 2,422 children who were treated at four Indiana pediatric clinics, researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis found that “children exposed to both parental violence and depression before the age of 3 were significantly more likely to be diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) before they were 6…”

In another overview of a study at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, researchers following 320 children found that in “children whose families were investigated by child protective services for suspected abuse and where there had also been reports of intimate partner violence, cessation of the violence led to an 11.9% decrease” in withdrawal and depression in children, and nearly a 20% decrease in aggression and anger. These changes lasted throughout the length of the study — seven years.

The researchers also asked the caregivers who’d been investigated for abuse and violence how many had received referrals or services to help them stop the violence — only 11.5% had. That’s a shockingly low

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