Our viewpoint: Violence in society: Where do we stand?

Violence is both insidious and deadly in our society. Some of us live with it, even daily. For others it glares though headlines. Or it blindsides us when we are least expecting.

We think that violence – how it happens, how it affects us and how we can stop it – deserves a closer look. Over the coming months, the ECM Editorial Board will delve into a number of problems related to violence.

From birth through death, no stage of our lives is immune to it.

Over the past year, heartbreaking examples of fatal child abuse have pushed to the forefront how government agencies handle abuse and allegations. The issue came front and center after 4-year-old Eric Dean, a Pope County boy, was killed by his stepmother. More than 15 reports of abuse involving this child had been reported to the county before he died.

Already, state laws are changing based on recommendations of a task force appointed by Gov. Mark Dayton last fall. New legislation adopted this session prioritizes child safety over keeping a family together and also repeals a law that prevented social workers from considering past reports of child abuse when deciding on investigating allegations.

The layers of violence can be subtle or dramatic, but there is always a beginning point. For some it starts at school. For others, home is ground zero.

Families, school districts and educators have been taking bullying seriously, but it continues to be a big problem. While bullying is not new, technology now makes it inescapable. Bullying interferes with the security children need to learn and grow into capable adults.

The effects on children exposed to domestic abuse are lasting. Approximately 15.5 million children are exposed to domestic violence every year, according to a study on adverse childhood experiences, published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine. And those children who grow up in the midst of abuse are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, attempt suicide, engage in teenage prostitution and commit sexual assault crimes.

Men who were exposed to abuse and violence as boys are almost four times more likely than other men to perpetrate domestic violence, according to the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women.

According to the coalition’s 2014 Femicide Report, in Minnesota at least 16 women and two men died from domestic violence last year. That was a drop from 2013, when the deaths of 25 women and seven men were attributed to domestic violence.

The statistics on sexual assault continue to alarm. The Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women says nearly one in four women are beaten or raped by a partner during adulthood, and each year 2.3 million people in the U.S. are raped or physically assaulted by a current or former spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend. We are hearing more discussions about consent, particularly in the wake of reports of sexual assault on college campuses.

And our oldest generation is often subject to abuse and manipulation. The National Center of Elder Abuse estimates that up to 2 million older American adults are victims of abuse.

According to the Minnesota SAFE Elders Initiative, elder abuse is underreported, often goes unnoticed and is difficult to prosecute.

This violence is destructive, being passed down from one generation to the next.

Across the country, tensions between minority groups and law enforcement are escalating. There have been both accusations and evidence of minority groups being targeted by police.

But studies have shown that violence is tied more closely to poverty than race. Between 2008 and 2012, people living in poor households had more than double the rate of violent victimization as those living in high-income households, according to a special report from the U.S. Department of Justice. The rates were comparable between poor urban blacks and whites.

How the perpetrators of violence are punished, treated and rehabilitated should also be part of the conversation if we want to short circuit those cycles.

More than 700 civilly committed sex offenders are suing the state of Minnesota, claiming it is unconstitutional to keep them locked up indefinitely and that they don’t get adequate treatment from the program run by the Minnesota Department of Human Services. Offenders say there’s no clear plan for release.

Since civil commitment laws went into effect in the 1990s, only three offenders have been released. Deciding what to do about perpetrators who have committed violent crimes and served their sentences but still may pose a risk to society is difficult.

Violence steals innocence and opportunity from our children, and it takes away our security and our ability to thrive. Collectively, violence takes a toll on all of us.

We will be exploring each of these aspects of violence in the coming months.

– An opinion from the ECM Editorial Board

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