Polyvictimization refers to having experienced multiple victimizations such as sexual abuse, physical abuse, bullying, and exposure to family violence. The definition emphasizes experiencing different kinds of victimization, rather than. multiple episodes of the same kind of victimization.

Polyvictimization usually occurs during transitions when children are most vulnerable, such as the beginning of grade school and/or high school. It is often associated with children experiencing a cluster of adverse life circumstances such as living in a family with domestic violence, growing up in a distressed and chaotic family, living in a violent neighborhood, or experiencing mental health problems

What happens when children are exposed to multiple types of victimization?

Children are very resilient—but they are not unbreakable. No matter their age, children are deeply hurt when they are physically, sexually, or emotionally abused or when they see or hear violence in their homes and communities.

Each child and situation is different, but exposure to violence can overwhelm children at any age and lead to problems in their daily lives. Because children who experience repeated victimizations of several types are found to have more life adversities, they are at greater risk of developing intense and persistent symptoms such as anxiety, depression, anger, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

These children are more distressed than those who experienced frequent victimization of a single type.

What are some of the warning signs of exposure to violence?

Children’s reactions to exposure to violence can be immediate or may appear much later in life. Reactions differ in severity and cover a range of behaviors. People from different cultures may have their own ways of showing adverse reactions. How a child responds also varies according to age. Some of the symptoms associated with early exposure to violence (for example, distraction, changes in eating or sleeping patterns, and impulsivity).

Elementary School-Age Children (6–12 years)Elementary and middle school children exposed to violence may show problems at school and at home. They may; .

■Have difficulty paying attention

■Become quiet, upset, and withdrawn

■Be tearful or sad and talk about scary feelings and ideas

■Fight with peers or adults

■Show changes in school performance

■Want to be left alone

■Eat more or less than usual

■Get into trouble at home or at school

Teenagers (13–18 years) Older children may exhibit the most behavioral changes as a result of exposure to violence. Depending on their circumstances, teenagers may:

■Talk about the event constantly or deny that it happened

■Refuse to follow rules or talk back with greater frequency

■Complain of being tired all the time

■Engage in risky behaviors

■Sleep more or less than usual

■Demonstrate increase in aggressive behavior

■Want to be left alone, not want to spend time with friends

■Experience frequent nightmares

■Use drugs or alcohol, run away from home, or get into trouble with the law

What can we do?

Understanding the prevalence and impact of polyvictimization can help families, advocates and practitioners identify the most seriously victimized children and protect them from additional harm. It will also help target intervention and prevention to the full range of trauma-causing events that children are at risk of or have experienced to provide needed services and supports.

References; Finkelhor, D., Turner, H., Ormrod, R., Hamby S. & Kracke, K. (2009) Children’s Exposure to Violence: A Comprehensive National Survey. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Programs.

 Prevent polyvictimization. Learn more of how to protect your child in the Let's Talk About Boyz Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Series for Girls at www.etiforyou.com.