By Karen Bean, See the Triumph Contributor
Although many studies have found that that women are at greater risk of physical violence by a partner than of violence by other people, a quote in a recent New York Times article made me think about this dichotomy more deeply. The article quoted Stephanie S. Covington, co-director of the Center for Gender and Justice in La Jolla. “In adolescence, she said, “the risk for boys comes from people who dislike them: the police, their peers or a rival gang.” In contrast, she said, “For girls, the violence in their lives comes from relationships – the person to whom she’s saying, ‘I love you.’”
The side-by-side comparison of boys’ and girls’ experiences prompted me to think about the layered nature of trauma experienced by abused girls. In addition to the trauma of being physically abused, being abused by a loved one layers on a unique psychological trauma as well. When a girl is abused by a loved one, a fragile connection is broken putting elements of her psyche at risk, such as her self esteem and her ability to trust others. She may feel she is to blame for the violence and experience shame. Abuse by someone she loves could destroy her trust of people in general and make her hesitant to seek help.
The layered trauma caused by domestic and sexual violence requires layered support systems for its victims. An innovative program in the legal system is one area of promise. The NY Times article mentioned above describes the concept of Girls Court as part of a national movement to redefine sexually trafficked girls as victims rather than offenders. Teenage girls charged with prostitution are often themselves victims of childhood abuse and recruitment into child prostitution. States such as California, New York, and Hawaii have implemented the Girls Court concept to recognize the vulnerability of abused girls and intervene in a positive way. Girls Court connects girls to social service agencies, counseling, mentors, and informal training sessions.
Violence has devastating consequences. Violence perpetrated by those who supposedly love you compounds that devastation, but there are support systems to assist and people who care about stopping the violence.
Reference: Brown, Patricia Leigh. “A Court’s All-Hands Approach Aids Girls Most at Risk.” The New York Times. January 28, 2014.