Think of the young children in your life. Now, picture the first thing that comes to mind when you read the phrase “connect the dots.” For most of us, an image something like this one will pop up on our mental page, unbidden. We can picture our children or grandchildren busy with a handful of colored crayons and a child’s menu in our favorite family restaurant. Some of us have our own childhood memories of many hours spent happily connecting dots on long, family road trips.
Whether we are parents, teachers or coaches, or whether we simply believe that all children have the right to a bright and sunny future, we’d like the dots in our children’s lives to connect in ways that trace pictures of happiness. For countless adults, their lives have become a quest to connect the dots between their histories of depression, addictions, alcohol abuse – or even arrests for rape, child abuse or intimate partner violence – with their personal experience of early, traumatic childhood abuse.
In April each year, we are asked through national campaigns to think about Child Abuse and about Sexual Assault Awareness. Those working in these fields are increasingly aware of our need to keep connecting the dots. New studies are being published every day showing the links between adverse childhood experiences and adult disease, between childhood trauma and addiction, between domestic violence and other forms of violence in society. A seminar this summer in Missouri entitled “Precursor to Murder” will examine one recent discovery made by someone who connected these dots: fully 75% of the men arrested for the murder of law enforcement personnel were found to have had a previous arrest for strangulation of an intimate partner. Suddenly, non-lethal strangulation of an intimate partner (previously called “choking”) receives a very different response from law enforcement than it did prior to the discovery of this link. Not only women’s lives are at stake.
The National Center for Injury Prevention of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) employs a model in which evidence-based risk and protective factors are seen as tools for preventing the perpetration of all forms of violence, as explained in the CDC’s publication, Connecting the Dots: an Overview of Links Among Multiple Forms of Violence. The booklet is available as a free download. Katheryn Kramer, J.D. describes the new sexual assault prevention project on which she is currently working in this way: “Historically, funding for sexual assault has been focused on victim services and support, which is laudable, but CDC really wants to start identifying ways to prevent people from becoming either victims or perpetrators of sexual violence.”
Connecting the dots requires courage as well as imagination. Only recently have we found the courage as a society to face the tragic truth about the link between victims of childhood sexual abuse and their torturers; to wit, the overwhelming majority of children who are abused are betrayed by someone in their own family or by a trusted adult in their life (a coach, a minister, a teacher, a family friend.) Each of us has a responsibility, a collective/moral responsibility, to learn and then to help educate each other about these connections.
Together, let’s picture a brighter, safer, healthier society for our children. Then, with courage and imagination, let’s draw new, positive links and forge beautiful new connections!
Note: You can download for free from this website The Caring and Connected Parenting Guide! Endorsed by Nobel Peace Prize Laureates Desmond Tutu and Betty Williams, pediatricians T. Berry Brazelton, M.D. and Laura Jana, M.D. and psychiatrist and author Daniel Siegel, M.D., the Caring and Connected Parenting Guide is written by SAIV Executive Committee member Licia Rando, M.Ed., M.S.W.