By JEFFARAH GIBSON
Tribune Features Writer
WHEN a murder happens in a community, first responders race to the scene for two reasons – emergency medical personnel handle the victim while the police hunt down the perpetrator.
The scene is usually chaotic as family members sob and scream inconsolably. They are broken, hurt, angry, shocked, afraid and in most cases, want immediate justice.
Often overlooked in these tragedies are the children who witness egregious acts of violence in places where they usually ride their bikes, shoot basketball hoops and play. Unfortunately, there is no first responder who brings aid to alleviate the emotional harm these children suffer. They are left to process and digest the tragedy on their own.
However, the danger in leaving trauma unchecked in children is that the seed of violence has been planted. At the right time, when the soil has been properly cultivated and watered adequately, it bursts from its roots, bringing forth its own violent fruit.
A trauma study by Bahamian psychiatrist Dr David Allen and Keva Bethell, a researcher, public health expert and children’s book author, uncovered that many of the marginalised young men in The Bahamas have been exposed to violence and experienced some level of serious abuse in their early childhood; they were victims that became perpetrators.
The study also revealed there is a direct correlation between traumatisation and violent behaviour. That is, as exposure to traumatic events increases, so does exposure to violence
The authors concluded that it is vital that cumulative childhood stress is addressed, doing so ensures these individuals thrive in adulthood.
The study, which took place between November 2019 and March 2020, has been accepted as a chapter in the book Child Abuse and Neglect, published by IntechOpen in London, and due to be released this month.
The authors sampled 209 participants. Sixty-three percent of participants were female and 37 percent were male. They ranged in age from adolescent to age 65.
THE ‘EVIL VIOLENCE TUNNEL‘
Those individuals who do not have their trauma addressed can sometimes find themselves in “a tunnel of violence”, according to Ms Bethell.
“People get hurt in their childhood, whether it’s neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse. Hurt is like footprints on fresh cement – it lasts a lifetime. So, the pain you experience in childhood never really goes away. It just shows as different faces.
“As a child grows there is traumatisation and manifestation. That hurt is then translated to anger and sadness. They then become an adolescent putting up blocks. They put up these blocks to safeguard themselves so that people around them do not know that they are hurt. It looks like they are angry but deep down they are hurt. As the adolescent turns into a young adult, something happens and it puts them into a rage. This is becoming the accepted at the way murder happens in society.”
The “violence tunnel” theory by Dr Allen and Ms Bethell was validated by incarcerated individuals.
“I tested about 209 participants and 44 percent – which is almost half – admitted to being physically abused before the age of 18. Then 23 percent of them, which is a quarter of them, admitted to being sexually abused before the age of 18. We also tested them for post-traumatic stress disorder. Eighty-four percent of them tested positive for moderate and severe post-traumatic stress disorder,” she said.
“In our sample, people who were physically and sexually abused, tested positive post-traumatic stress disorder. They are in the community where there is so much violence and pain. It triggers the violence and pain happening in their own life. They are in a traumatised state.”
Fifty-one percent of participants said they knew one to 10 people who were killed violently.
“It gets worse,” Ms Bethell said. “Nineteen percent say the know 11 persons that have been killed violently. Ten percent know more than 31 persons who have been killed violently. That is why their post-traumatic stress disorder score was so high. They know so much violence in the community.
“If you peel back another layer, they have been hurt whether physically and sexually as a child. It was not dealt with or resolved so to speak … So they are carrying pain and picking up more pain along the way. Someone says the wrong thing and they end up in that tunnel where they either commit homicide or they hurt themselves and commit suicide.”
Dr Allen added: “A hurt child is a dangerous adult. When the child is hurt, he is ashamed, and when he becomes ashamed again, he gets into a murderous rage. We have a bunch of hurt children walking around and adults who are also hurt. It is very important for this to be known, that a hurt child is a dangerous adult.”
There is always a reason, Dr Allen said, why people behave the way they behave and react violently. It all has to do with what they have been exposed to and the fact that many people do not deal with emotional and mental issues in a productive way.
“A lady said to me ‘at ten years old, I watched my brother shot and killed in front of me but no one talked to me. And now ten years later, I am in prison for murder. Suppose someone had talked to me when I was ten years old maybe, I would not have killed ten years later.’
“When a murder happens, the police go to the criminal, the ambulance goes to the wounded person, but no one goes to the children. The children see this violence, it goes in their heart, and in ten to 15 years later, they now act out the violence and become murderers,” said Dr Allen.
“This is not a simple problem. It is like we have sown to the wind and now reaping what whirlwind. But this is science and all we are saying is let’s take the science and add some sense to it.”
Addressing violence in the community, Dr Allen said, is a complex task which requires a multi-layered solution. It involves all stakeholders, informed decisions being made at the policy level and a community effort.
In response to the country-wide crack and cocaine epidemic of the 1980s, Dr Allen started The Family: People Helping People Project, a resocialisation intervention project initiated in 2008. The programme provides free group therapy to 23 marginalised communities, including prisoners, juvenile offenders and an orphanage.
The Family is a group process model, representing a therapeutic replica of the home-based family, allowing members to confront their issues in a safe and non-judgmental environment led by a trained facilitator.
The Family provides support and advocacy for its Child Abuse and Neglect 2 members, which in turn gives people an avenue to discover themselves and grow as individuals.
More importantly, The Family encourages the expression of taboo emotions, such as early childhood trauma. Participants in The Family were traumatised and therefore engage in at-risk behaviours.
“The problem is we had to stop our community programme group because of COVID-19. It made it very difficult for us to do it,” said Dr Allen.
“The crime rate is going up. And while the police are very important, you have to add this community therapy to work with the police. If you do not do that, you cannot knock crime out. And what this paper shows is that a lot of our kids were victims before. You cannot just police this problem, we have to get in the community and start working like we have been working before.”
There is hope though that at the end of “violence tunnel”, most individuals can be resocialised, said Ms Bethell.
“At the end of our paper in this same study. We gave participants an Allen Resocialisation Scale and 98 percent of these same participants who were physically abused, sexually abused have PTSD, depressed and angry have scored as resocialised. So, it shows that our group therapy had a 98 percent rate.
“Come and share and you will get better. It won’t make what happened go away, but you can get better.”
Dr Allen is the founder of The Discovery Clinic. He hosts group therapy sessions on Saturdays from 12.30pm-2pm.