Objective. The purpose of this study was to determine the prevalence of exposure to violence in preadolescent children in communities that vary by family income and to determine patterns of physical symptomatology and communication after exposure to a traumatic event.
Methods. Two hundred twenty-eight sixth-grade students from a suburban middle school (school A) and 209 sixth-grade students from an urban middle school (school B) in the Philadelphia metropolitan area were surveyed by a group-administered anonymous questionnaire.
Results. Two hundred two students (89%) from school A and 200 students (96%) from school B reported knowing someone who had been robbed, beaten, stabbed, shot, or murdered. One hundred twenty-nine students (57%) and 183 students (88%), respectively, witnessed a robbing, beating, stabbing, shooting, or murder. Ninety-one students (40%) and 141 students (67%) had been personally robbed, beaten up, stabbed, shot, or caught in gun cross fire. One hundred thirty-four (59%) and 152 (73%) reported hearing gunfire in their neighborhood. One hundred eighty-eight (82%) and 202 (97%) had at least one positive response in all three categories: knowing a victim, witnessing an event, and being a victim of violence.
The proportion of positive responses from school B was significantly greater than the proportion from school A for all of these results. Many students reported symptoms associated with somatization syndromes, depression, and posttraumatic stress disorder; the school B group had significantly more symptoms than the school A group. Both student groups had discussed episodes of witnessing an event or victimization with others, mostly family members and friends, and expressed feelings of fear, anger, sadness, and frustration about these episodes. A very low percentage of the students (from 1% to 8% in the different analyses) consulted a medical or mental health professional.
Conclusions. These data support a substantial prevalence of exposure to violence for suburban and, even more dramatically, for urban middle school-aged children. The higher-prevalence group reported a higher incidence of symptoms sometimes seen after traumatic stress. Many students in both groups expressed multiple feelings about their exposure to violence, and most talked to someone about their exposure; rarely was this person a health professional.
- Received August 1, 1995.
- Accepted November 14, 1995.
- Copyright © 1996 by the American Academy of Pediatrics