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In Surprise Plenary Talk, Attorney General Holder Addresses Problem of Children Exposed to Violence

In Surprise Plenary Talk, Attorney General Holder Addresses Problem of Children Exposed to Violence

Attorney General Eric Holder made a surprise appearance at Monday morning’s (Oct. 19) plenary session to talk to attendees at this year’s AAP Convention about the problem of children’s exposure to violence – and what pediatricians can do about it. His impassioned speech was met with a standing ovation from the packed DC Convention Center ballroom.

The issue has been both a personal and professional concern of the Attorney General for some time. A further motivation for the address was the release just two weeks ago of the results of a Department of Justice survey on the results of exposure to violence on children. The survey showed that the problem is indeed of epidemic proportions. More than 60% of children have been exposed to violence in the past year. Of these, half have been assaulted, 1 in 10 has been maltreated, 1 in 16 has been sexually abused, and 2 in 5 have been exposed to more than 1 type of violence.

The effects of exposure to violence – whether as a victim or as an observer – are far-ranging and profound, including physical, psychological, and emotional harm. Children exposed to violence are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, are more likely to be failing in school, have a higher incidence of depression and other post-traumatic stress symptoms, and have trouble forming emotional attachments. In addition, the toxic stress caused by exposure to violence actually leads to changes in children’s brains.

Attorney General Holder had especially strong words concerning the problem of domestic violence. “The abuse of women is a pediatric issue,” he asserted. He noted that the research shows a strong link between exposure to violence in childhood and involvement in domestic violence once a child is grown.

Despite the alarming statistics, Holder held out hope that the damage caused by exposure to violence can be reversed. He noted, however, that to achieve results, a public health approach is needed – because children’s exposure to violence is a public health problem. One of the key elements of such an approach, he asserted, is training for professionals within all relevant disciplines in recognizing the signs of exposure to violence and in addressing these effectively.

He noted that pediatricians play a key role. He praised pediatricians for all they do already to identify children who have been physically harmed. However, he called on them to go one step further – and learn also to recognize the signs that a child has been exposed to violence and traumatized by it. He recommended a Department of Justice publication for pediatricians that can assist them in identifying children exposed to violence; the DOJ also publishes cards that pediatricians can give to parents. Both of these are available at

The Attorney General concluded: “we can transform America for the better – one child at a time.”

ConsultantLive's "Child Abuse -- Or Mimic?" cases, all illustrated with high-quality, full-color clinical images, are an excellent way to further hone your skills in recognizing the signs of abuse in children.  Here is a sampling of cases from this series:

"Unusual Lesions -- Abuse or Accidental Injury?"

"Young Girl With Pelvic Bruising"

"Two-Year-Old With Burned Hand"

Sadly, pediatricians may also see teenaged girls who are already the victims of intimate partner violence (IPV). For tips on the types of injuries most commonly associated with IPV, see "Woman With Multiple Head and Neck Injuries."


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