Weekend open thread: Violence prevention edition

Domestic violence has become a political football lately as members of Congress spar over reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act.

Since April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I posted below numerous non-political links about ways to prevent violence and resources for victims of violence.

This is an open thread. What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers?

April has been National Child Abuse Prevention Month since 1983. The latest resource guide for “Preventing Child Maltreatment and Promoting Well-Being” is available here on the website of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

This page covers six preventive factors that can reduce the incidence of child abuse: “nurturing and attachment,” “knowledge of parenting and child development,” “parental resilience,” “social connections,” “concrete supports for parents,” and “social and emotional competence of children.”

Protective factors are conditions in families and communities that, when present, increase the health and well-being of children and families. They are attributes that serve as buffers, helping parents who might otherwise be at risk of abusing their children to find resources, supports, or coping strategies that allow them to parent effectively, even under stress.

Research has shown that these protective factors are linked to a lower incidence of child abuse and neglect.

Further links and resources about each of those preventive factors can be found here.

The American Humane Association published a good list here of “small acts that help protect children, strengthen families, promote traits that help protect families – and, ultimately, prevent the abuse and neglect of children.”

Child abuse victims are at greater risk for mental health problems, including depression and post-traumatic stress disorder as well as eating disorders and suicidal behavior. Click here for more research on that subject.

The Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault offers many resources for victims.

The Iowa Sexual Abuse Hotline number is 1-800-284-7821.

The Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence offers advice and support for people who are in unsafe relationships, as well as links to other organizations advocating for victims of family violence.

The Iowa Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-942-0333. Children and Families of Iowa provides a long list of local crisis lines in Iowa:

Children & Families of Iowa

Local Crisis Line

(515) 243-6147


(800) 440-4884


Toll-Free Spanish

(800) 550-0004


(800) 303-3488


(800) 969-5123


(800) 693-1399

Cedar Rapids

(800) 208-0388


(800) 381-9319

Council Bluffs

(888) 612-0266


(888) 782-6632

Davenport (Iowa)

(563) 326-9191


(800) 383-2988

Des Moines

(800) 942-0333


(888) 332-5899

Fort Dodge

(888) 356-2006

Grundy Center

(888) 746-4673

Iowa City

(800) 373-1043


(800) 498-5095


(800) 779-3512

Mason City

(800) 479-9071


(563) 263-8080


(800) 270-1620


(800) 464-8340

Sioux Center

(local area codes only)

(800) 382-5603

Sioux City

(Iowa, Nebraska, S. Dakota)

(800) 982-7233


(877) 362-4612


(800) 410-SAFE


(Deaf Iowans Against Abuse)

Toll Free TTY: (877) 244-0875

Relay Crisis Line: (877) 385-9011

Cell to Cell Text: (515) 770-3063


(Latinas Unidas Por Un Nuevo Amanecer)

(866) 256-7668

The Iowa Department of Public Health offers many resources for health care providers responding to violence against women.

From a March 2012 report (pdf) on the “Costs of Sexual Violence in Iowa (2009),” prepared by researchers from the University of Iowa Injury Prevention Research Center, the University of Iowa College of Public Health, the Iowa Department of Public Health, and the Pacific Institute for Research and Prevention:

Sexual violence is a serious and costly public health problem that affects individuals, families, communities, and society as a whole. In this report, sexual violence is defined as any form of sexual activity that is unwanted, where consent is not obtained or freely given. In 2009, an estimated 23,709 adults in Iowa were raped and another 25,701 adults experienced other unwanted sexual assaults. That same year, an estimated 5,930 children age 17 or under in Iowa were victims of sexual violence by either rape or other sexual assault. In total, an estimated 55,340 individuals experienced sexual violence in Iowa in 2009. Of these, nearly three of every four victims were females and one in ten was under age 18. At least 595 victims were raped or sexually assaulted while incarcerated. Only 853 rape incidents were included in the federal crime statistics as officially recognized criminal cases, excluding many of the sexual violence incidents estimated in this report.

There are significant costs associated with sexual violence. In fiscal year 2009, the total estimate was $5.8 billion, equating to $1,875 per resident. This estimate included $5.5 billion in indirect costs (95% of the total sexual violence costs in Iowa) and $308 million in direct costs. In the same year, an estimated $101 million in government money was spent as a result of sexual violence in Iowa. Just over $900,000 of the government money were funded to prevent sexual violence and change societal norms.

Although the estimated sexual violence costs presented in this report are just a fraction of the true costs, information on the economic costs of sexual violence is crucial for informing policy- makers of the importance of intervening and to identify where potential savings may occur. Policy recommendations aimed at preventing sexual violence BEFORE it occurs need to be vigorously pursued, adopted, and sustained. Solutions are not simple and require a comprehensive approach.

Speaking of hidden costs, a medical study published last year indicated that women who have been victims of rape, sexual assault, stalking, or intimate-partner violence are more likely to have mental health problems such as “depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress, substance abuse, or anxiety (including panic disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder).”

Final note: many parents who are not abusive nonetheless use spanking or other physical punishment as an occasional discipline tool. Research has shown spanking to be ineffective and even counter-productive.

in a new study published in Pediatrics, researchers at Tulane University provide the strongest evidence yet that children’s short-term response to spanking may make them act out more in the long run. Of the nearly 2,500 youngsters in the study, those who were spanked more frequently at age 3 were much more likely to be aggressive by age 5.

The study, led by community-health-sciences professor Catherine Taylor, was the first to control for a host of issues affecting the mother, such as depression, alcohol and drug use, spousal abuse and even whether she considered abortion while pregnant with the child. After controlling for all these factors – each of which can contribute to a child’s aggression – spanking remained a strong predictor of violent behavior. “The odds of a child being more aggressive at age 5 increased by 50% if he had been spanked more than twice in the month before the study began,” says Taylor.

The association remained even after her team accounted for varying levels of natural aggression in children, suggesting, she says, that “it’s not just that children who are more aggressive are more likely to be spanked.”

Among mothers surveyed in 20 cities when their children were both 3 and 5 years old, nearly half (45.6%) reported not spanking their 3-year-olds in the previous month, 27.9% reported spanking once or twice that month, and 26.5% reported spanking more than twice. As 5-year-olds, the children who had been spanked were more likely than the nonspanked to be defiant, demand immediate satisfaction of their wants and needs, become frustrated easily, have temper tantrums and lash out physically against other people or animals.

The reason for this may be that spanking sets up a loop of bad behavior. Corporal punishment instills fear rather than understanding. Even if children stop tantrums when spanked, that doesn’t mean they get why they shouldn’t have been acting up in the first place. What’s more, spanking sets a bad example, teaching children that aggressive behavior is a solution to their parents’ problems.

Along the same lines:

An analysis of research on physical punishment of children over the past 20 years indicates that such punishment is potentially harmful to their long-term development, states an article in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).

Over the past 20 years, a growing body of research clearly indicates that children who have experienced physical punishment tend to be more aggressive toward parents, siblings, peers and, later, spouses, and are more likely to develop antisocial behaviour.

“Virtually without exception, these studies found that physical punishment was associated with higher levels of aggression against parents, siblings, peers and spouses,” write Dr. Joan Durrant, Department of Family Social Sciences, University of Manitoba, and Ron Ensom, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario.

In a trial of an intervention designed to reduce difficult behaviour in children, when parents in more than 500 families were trained to reduce their use of physical punishment, the difficult behaviours in the children also declined.

“Results consistently suggest that physical punishment has a direct causal effect on externalizing behaviour, whether through a reflexive response to pain, modeling or coercive family processes,” write the authors.

Physical punishment is also associated with a variety of mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety and use of drugs and alcohol.


The Center for Effective Discipline has declared April 30 to be Spank Out Day and has resources available for parents seeking alternatives to hitting.

Fortunately, Iowa is one of 31 states to have banned corporal punishment in schools.  

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