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May 01, 2012

Task force focuses on children exposed to violence

When Attorney General Eric Holder convened a hearing last month for his Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence, Governmental Affairs Director Thomas M. Susman submitted comments on the ABA’s long history of advocating on behalf of children.

The task force is a part of the Defending Childhood Initiative established by Holder in September 2010 with a goal of protecting children from violence, whether as witnesses or victims. A 2009 study done by the Department of Justice (DOJ) discovered that a shocking 60 percent of U.S. children were exposed to violence and that violence at an early age is shown to negatively affect physical and psychological growth in the long-term.

In his comments, Susman said the ABA is committed to efforts to prevent and respond “to the violence that children experience as victims and witnesses, and association work has reflected that concern in the adoption of many policy resolutions that address these issues and in its projects and programs.”

In 2010, the ABA worked with DOJ to study how the association could further support the rights of child crime victims under the “Enhancing Legal Professionals’ Responses to Victims of Child Abuse” project. In addition, Susman explained that the ABA has advocated for funding for DOJ projects to evaluate the impact of independent legal counsel on child victims of, and witnesses to, crimes.

The ABA’s Center on Children and the Law is working with the DOJ-funded Safe Start Center and the Family Policy Association to publish a tool and resource guide to help court-appointed attorneys and advocates identify children’s polyvictimization and trauma. The association is hoping with the support of DOJ to use these materials in training lawyers.

The center also is working on a series of other projects to advance the advocacy of child victims. In addition to training materials focusing on recognizing trauma in children, the center is focused on spreading awareness and creating training materials concerning the sensitivity of questioning child victims of violence and crime.

Susman emphasized that the legal profession, through the ABA as its national representative, “recognizes its important role in helping to prevent exposure of children violence, in responding to perpetrators of violence against children and in ameliorating the effects of violence on all children, including those involved in the justice system.”

Based on testimony and comments from four hearings, the task force will issue a final report of findings and recommendations to the attorney general this fall.

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