Over the past 20 years, the Center for Disease Control has researched the relationship between childhood trauma and illnesses developed later in life. Traumatic experiences such as abuse or neglect, witnessing violence at home, or family with mental illness or substance abuse all had lasting negative impacts. The CDC called these events, Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). Their most recent study included 144,000 surveys, collected from respondents in 25 states from 2015-2017. These surveys included topics such as health problems, childhood experiences with divorce, abuse, domestic violence, drugs in the home, and mental illness. Crimes such as sexual abuse would also fall into the category of ACEs.
Traumatic childhood experiences could impact development and potentially lead to unhealthy behaviors.
ACEs negatively impact a child, but the CDC wanted to know how these events might have triggered illnesses and preventable conditions later in life. If ACEs never occurred, issues such as coronary heart disease, depression and suicide, weight issues, substance abuse, decreased education or work opportunities, poor maternal health, cancer, or sexually transmitted diseases might be potentially preventable. Researchers could not rule out other factors, such as financial stress. Still, Jim Mercy, who oversees the CDC violence protection program, says, “there’s a lot of evidence connecting these things...and it’s become clear that the more harmful incidents a child suffers, the more likely their health suffers later.”
Within the survey results, Arkansas ranked number one for the highest number of children experiencing ACEs. Sixty percent of children in Arkansas had experienced at least one traumatic event, whereas the national average is 45 percent. Dr. Liza Murray, a child abuse pediatrician at Clark Center for Safe and Healthy Children, said that “Adults who had a lot of adverse childhood experiences have a shorter life expectancy.” It is also troubling that one out of six Americans have experienced four or more ACEs. Furthermore, women, blacks, American Indians, and Alaskan Natives were likely to have experienced four or more traumatic events.
The CDC and medical professionals believe that multi-level prevention efforts and programs can help trauma victims develop resiliency to overcome potentially unhealthy behavior. Dr. Anne Schuchat, the CDC’s principal deputy director, believes that preventing ACEs can help children and adults thrive but also “that positive childhood experiences and relationships are known to buffer against the stress of trauma and strengthen resilience. Having a stable, reliable person in your life can help you at the individual level with resilience.” By having someone to talk to, a victim can release negative emotions and prevent a downward spiral. The CDC estimated that approximately 1.9 million cases of coronary artery disease, 2.5 million cases of obesity, 2.1 million cases of depression, and 1.5 million students dropping out of school were preventable.
All sources of trauma are damaging, especially sexual abuse. Anyone can be a victim of sexual abuse, and unfortunately, children are often victims of such a crime. The traumatic memories last a lifetime, and being able to deal with these experiences in a positive and empowering manner, can help prevent negative issues later in life. A recent California state law, Assembly Bill 218, allows all victims a window to sue, regardless of age. By seeking justice, legal action can help bring closure, allowing a victim to heal and move on with life. The attorneys at Corsiglia, McMahon & Allard are experienced with handling sexual abuse cases. We know the healing process is long and hard, but we are here to help. If you, or a loved one, have been a victim of sexual abuse, call (408) 289-1417 for a free and confidential consultation.