Stronger Together: How to Build Resilience to Community Violence

riskandresilience

What strengths-based solutions can psychologists develop in response to community violence? A panel of psychologists who work with widely disparate groups tackled this question for the Public Interest collaborative program — “Risk and Resilience – Overcoming Exposure to Community Violence.” What common thread united each of the panelists’ work? The importance of resilience in addressing each group’s needs.

Dr. Karen Roberto found that intimate partner violence (IPV) directed at older women was a little understood issue in the New River Valley community of rural Virginia. Many community members held inaccurate and ageist notions about older women being targets of IPV – “old people don’t do that.” Dr. Roberto joined forces with the local Women’s Resource Center and developed a three-tiered action plan with short-, medium- and long-term goals for providing direct services and educational materials to older IPV victims and training on late life IPV for volunteers at the center. This local collaborative effort strengthened the response to IPV at both individual and systemic levels.

Violence in rural communities is understudied, perhaps due to the nostalgic view of rural areas as crime free and pastoral, according to Dr. Velma McBride Murry. Her research focused on how community violence affects rural African-American parents’ psychological functioning and their parenting processes. Drawing on data from the Family and Community Health Study (involving 897 families), she found supportive community connections create a protective function for these families by enhancing parents’ abilities to parent well.

Dr. Alexandra Pierce, a member of APA’s Task Force on Trafficking of Women and Girls, echoed the consistent theme of gaps in the research. “Nothing has been published on sexual trafficking of American Indian girls.,” Her Oshkiniigikwe program had to start from scratch. This community-based program in Minnesota works with homeless American Indian females ages 12-21, many with histories of abuse, trauma or exposure to commercial sexual exploitation. The program draws on American Indian cultural teachings such as “survive and resist” and offers intensive case management along with programs on healthy sexuality and relationships and mind-body medicine. In encouraging news, at six month follow-up, 90 percent of the girls stayed in or graduated from high school, and 80 percent reported avoiding sexual exploitation.

Dr. Muninder Ahluwahlia focused on the resilience that the Sikh community has had to develop post-9/11. Sikhs have become targets of record high discrimination, racial profiling and hate crimes from Americans directing their vitriol at anyone they perceive as Muslim — wrongly in this case. In response, the Sikh community draws resilience from religious and cultural resources such as gurdwaras (i.e., places of worship and community gatherings), youth camps, and online communities that strengthen geographically scattered groups.

Dr. Ann Masten, as discussant, closed the session by applauding how each case presented reflected resilience at work, or, as she phrased it the ability of dynamic systems to adapt successfully to disturbances that threaten their function, viability and development.”

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