Attorney General Addresses Children's Exposure to Violence in New Public Service Announcement and Speeches in Boston Area

A photo of Eric Holder
On May 24, 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) released a new public service announcement (PSA) to raise awareness about the problem of children's exposure to violence and about the Attorney General's Defending Childhood initiative. Launched in September 2010, the initiative aims to prevent children's exposure to violence, mitigate the negative effects experienced by children exposed to violence, and develop knowledge about and spread awareness of this issue. The new PSA aired on the Investigation Discovery network and was distributed nationally through DOJ's YouTube channel.

"Our children are exposed to violence every day in their neighborhoods, in their schools, even in their own homes," said Attorney General Holder in his PSA remarks. "Exposure to violence can have a devastating and lifelong impact. Through community action and leadership at the national level, we're identifying the children who need our help."

Defending Childhood logoA key component of the Defending Childhood initiative is a two-phase, multiyear demonstration program. Eight sites have received funding to conduct comprehensive needs assessments and to develop strategic plans to prevent and reduce the impact of children's exposure to violence in their homes, schools, and communities. In addition to the demonstration program grants, DOJ has committed additional funding for research, evaluation, public awareness, and technical assistance related to the initiative.

On May 6, 2011, the Attorney General traveled to Boston to join Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley at a luncheon event sponsored by the Robert F. Kennedy Children's Action Corps, a private nonprofit organization that offers community-based services, residential treatment, educational support, and other programs for youth living in areas of high violence and crime.

"So long as I am Attorney General, I pledge that protecting our children from violence will remain a top priority for me, for the Justice Department, and for this Administration at the Cabinet level," Mr. Holder said. "I'm proud that today's Justice Department has made an historic commitment to this work. Through our Defending Childhood initiative, we are directing resources for the express purpose of reducing childhood exposure to violence."

The Attorney General highlighted the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention as another promising tool in this effort. Launched in October 2010 at the direction of the President by DOJ and the U.S. Department of Education along with other federal agencies and participating localities, the forum supports teams of community stakeholders and leaders in selected cities across the country in implementing comprehensive, researched-based violence prevention and reduction plans. The forum's support to cities includes information, technical assistance, training, and coordination.

In a Webcast later that day at the Harvard School of Public Health, the Attorney General discussed, among other priorities, the importance of developing evidence-based strategies to prevent and reduce the impact of children's exposure to violence.

"Restoring scientific decisionmaking at the Justice Department is one of my highest priorities," Mr. Holder said. "And while research has told us much about the incidence and impact of violence, it hasn't yet told us everything. We need more information about what works—and what doesn't—so that policymakers and practitioners can make informed decisions about how to tackle the problem and tailor approaches to meet the needs of individual communities."

What We Know About Children's Exposure to Violence

Researchers at the University of New Hampshire's Crimes Against Children Research Center determined that in the year preceding the National Survey of Children's Exposure to Violence

  • Almost 40 percent of those surveyed were direct victims of 2 or more violent acts, and 1 in 10 were victims of violence 5 or more times.
  • Almost 15 percent of children experienced an assault with a weapon and were injured as a result.
  • One in ten suffered some form of child maltreatment.
  • One in four were victims of robbery, vandalism, or theft.
  • One in sixteen were victimized sexually.
  • One in four witnessed a violent act.
  • Almost 1 in 10 saw one family member assault another family member.


The Attorney General's PSA and detailed information about the Defending Childhood initiative may be accessed via the Defending Childhood Web site. Mr. Holder's speech at the Robert F. Kennedy Children's Action Corps event is also available online, as are the Attorney General's comments at the Harvard School of Public Health's Webcast.

For a summary of the findings from the National Survey of Children's Exposure to Violence, read the OJJDP bulletin, Children's Exposure to Violence: A Comprehensive National Survey.

OJJDP's Safe Start Center serves as a national resource for information and training to communities that are implementing strategies for reducing the impact of children's exposure to violence. For more information, visit the center's Web site.