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DVN to Host Community Conversations on Childhood Experiences and Domestic Violence

By:  Mary-Margaret Sweeney,  Director of Community Engagement, Domestic Violence Network

The second phase of our Community Wide Plan, Intersections, addresses childhood experiences and domestic violence. We often think about adults when we focus on domestic violence: the perpetrator and the victim. However, new data  from IU School of Medicine shows that in Marion County, 60% of of domestic violence incidents involved a child in some way. Children who live in a home where domestic violence occurs are at 60 times the risk of suffering child abuse and neglect.

And what does that mean later in life? A tool developed in the 1990s, the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACES) has become a standard of best practice in understanding trauma originating in childhood. A person answers 10 questions, and they get a point for each “yes” answer. The number of “yes” responses is the person’s ACE score. Below is a standard ACE questionnaire:

  1. Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often…Swear at you, insult you, put you down, or humiliate you?  or  Act in a way that made you afraid that you might be physically hurt?
  2. Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often…Push, grab, slap, or throw something at you?  or  Ever hit you so hard that you had marks or were injured?  If yes enter 1
  3.  Did an adult person at least 5 years older than you ever…Touch or fondle you or have you touch their body in a sexual way?  or Attempt or actually have oral, anal, or vaginal intercourse with you?
  4. Did you often or very often feel that …No one in your family loved you or thought you were important or special?  or  Your family didn’t look out for each other, feel close to each other, or support each other?
  5. Did you often or very often feel that … You didn’t have enough to eat, had to wear dirty clothes, and had no one to protect you? or Your parents were too drunk or high to take care of you or take you to the doctor if you needed it?
  6. Were your parents ever separated or divorced?
  7. Was your mother or stepmother: Often or very often pushed, grabbed, slapped, or had something thrown at her? or Sometimes, often, or very often kicked, bitten, hit with a fist, or hit with something hard? or Ever repeatedly hit at least a few minutes or threatened with a gun or knife?
  8. Did you live with anyone who was a problem drinker or alcoholic or who used street drugs?
  9. Was a household member depressed or mentally ill, or did a household member attempt suicide?
  10. Did a household member go to prison?

The higher the ACE score, the more likely a person is to face negative outcomes in their adult life. Higher likelihood to experience addiction and abusive relationships as examples of social determinants, but also a decreased life expectancy of up to 20 years, for those with a score of 6 or higher. That’s right–experiences we have no control over as children can take two decades off our lives!

In the current phase of Intersections, Childhood Experiences and Domestic Violence, DVN is looking at these experiences and hosting community conversations with local experts. August 3, we will host a webinar on Adverse Childhood Experiences and domestic violence (sign up here!).

On the other side of experiencing trauma as a child, Intersections will also explore the impact of witnessing healthy relationships in childhood. For many years, prevention work has focused on teaching healthy relationships to students, but the most powerful method of prevention is for children to witness and be involved with couples who are in healthy relationships. Children learn the dynamics of healthy relationships by witnessing and experiencing them on a regular basis, which can reduce the likelihood that they will experience violence.

Is your agency an expert on childhood trauma? Are you part of a youth serving organization who may benefit from trainings and conversations around this topic? Contact director of community engagement Mary-Margaret Sweeney at

Written by Mary-Margaret Sweeney, DVN’s Director of Community Engagement