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Child Victims of Sexual Assault

ACEs: Why Adverse Childhood Experiences matter

By March 14, 2019No Comments

The American College of Pediatricians has identified the largest unaddressed health problem facing our generation today: adverse childhood experiences. Adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, are traumatic or abnormal events in the first 18 years of life. ACEs affect nearly 35 million children in America, across all economic and racial lines.

The Adverse Childhood Experience study was conducted to evaluate the impact of various interrelated traumatic childhood events and their correlation with adult health and behavior outcomes. The study used a brief questionnaire, which asked participants to self-identify their exposure to childhood experiences such as neglect, sexual abuse, drug use or violence in the home, the death or imprisonment of a parent, or homelessness. In Oklahoma, 50%-54% of children have at least one adverse childhood experience. See the complete ACE test and figure out your score here.

The initial study found a direct correlation between the number of ACEs a child is exposed to and their likelihood to exhibit adult health risk behaviors and disease. The higher your ACE score, the higher your risk for adulthood behavioral and health issues. Research shows that children who are exposed to ACEs have a higher risk of substance abuse, mental illness, suicidal tendencies, and are more likely to be both perpetrators and victims of domestic violence. Amazingly, researchers also found that ACEs increase the risk of significant health issues, including lung disease, cancer, liver disease, and ischemic heart disease, among others. As a result, people with six or more ACEs have a 20-year lower life expectancy.

The CDC warns that as the number of ACEs increases, so does the risk of the following:
Fetal death
Coronary heart disease
Substance abuse
Lower educational attainment
Risk for intimate partner violence
Suicide attempts
Heart attack

Further research found a distinct correlation between ACEs and intimate partner violence. Witnessing violence in the home creates a cluster effect of other ACEs. A child who witnesses domestic violence in the home is 2-6 times more likely to have additional ACEs and is more likely to have a higher overall ACE score. Researchers found that children who are exposed to intimate partner violence are at an increased risk for alcoholism, drug use, and depressed affect. This risk increases as the frequency of witnessing domestic abuse increases. Significantly, children who are exposed to intimate partner violence are more likely to be involved in domestic violence as adults.

Why do ACEs have such a profound and lifelong affect? Traumatic experiences during childhood cause stress that is toxic to a child’s development. This toxic stress alters the structure and function of a child’s brain as it develops. As a result, children have impaired cognitive functioning and ability to cope. This continues into adulthood, contributing to negative coping mechanisms and psychological issues. Toxic stress caused by ACEs can also affect the development of the immune system, hormonal responses, and can even alter DNA.

The science is clear: children who experience adversity are more likely to have lifetime health problems. The key to reducing these risks is early intervention. Minimizing a child’s exposure to ACEs prevents toxic stress from causing future harm to children’s brains. Children who have experienced abuse, do better if the intervention is rapid and effective. Left to linger, adults well into their old age have trouble in life due to childhood abuse. Reduce the adversity by contacting Koller Law for a free consultation.


This Blog authored by Rachel Adcock and Laurie Koller.