Domestic violence is a complex phenomenon that impacts families across generations.
Victims can become perpetrators. Perpetrators are often victims. Family members who were never physically touched by violence are still deeply affected. Fear and shame can generate silence. These factors, and many others, allow the cycle to continue.
A 2017 survey showed that 58% of Californians have been touched by domestic violence. While we can and should take care of people impacted by providing shelters and support, we must also rally to end domestic violence and help people touched by domestic violence to break the cycle.
Research funded by Blue Shield of California Foundation shows that exposure to violence at various stages in life—from birth through adulthood—can result in an increased chance of domestic violence becoming an ingrained behavior.
This life course analysis identifies critical moments when interventions can make a crucial difference for people experiencing violence and for generations to come. It describes the complex interrelated factors that lead to the perpetuation of violence.
An infant surrounded by violence in the home, for instance, is more likely to have poor attachment, behavioral problems, and trouble regulating her or his emotions. That child will be more likely to grow up to be aggressive towards peers, have academic problems, or develop alcohol and substance use issues, and ultimately, in adulthood, mimic the behavior of his or her parents.
In order to halt the harmful effects of domestic violence, we must invest more in prevention to help more Californians break free of this self-perpetuating cycle.
At the state level, we know that the impact of sexual and domestic violence on California communities is devastating. In 2012, the cost of sexual assault in the state totaled $140 billion, and the lifetime economic burden of domestic violence nationwide is $3.6 trillion.
To lessen this burden and help end sexual and domestic violence for future generations, California must exercise leadership and allocate more resources towards prevention. The best way to stand in solidarity with survivors is to prevent abuse before it ever occurs.
Blue Shield of California Foundation has shown its commitment to end domestic violence. We have contributed more than $100 million to address and prevent domestic violence in California since 2002.
Yet our contributions alone are not nearly enough.
Our recent life course analysis lifts up promising and proven practices that should be spread and scaled with greater investment. Some elements include:
- Home visiting programs with a domestic violence empowerment element.
- Community organizing models to address teen dating violence.
- Two-generation early interventions.
- Trauma-informed therapy for children and parents.
- Restorative justice diversion programs for offenders.
We believe that ending sexual and domestic violence is possible. Innovative organizations and communities across the state are creating new pathways for prevention, but they can’t grow without support.
California’s fiscal outlook shows the state can afford to invest more in the prevention of domestic violence.
Our research shows we can’t afford not to invest in research and programs to do the difficult work to stop the cycle of harm so that we can create a new generation of Californians who are safer and stronger than ever before.
Richard Thomason is the director of policy at Blue Shield of California Foundation, [email protected]. He wrote this commentary for CalMatters.