What Judges Should Know about Trauma

By Former Judge Leslie Spornberger Jones

What is trauma?
According to the American Psychological Association, trauma is “an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape, or natural disaster.”1

Leslie Spornberger JonesEffects of trauma
Short term—shock and denial.
Long term—unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships, physical symptoms, guilt, shame, self-blame, drug addiction, eating disorders, self-injuring behaviors, anxiety, disassociation, repression, disturbed sleeping patterns, feelings of worthlessness, depression.2
No two people will experience trauma the same way.
No two people will exhibit the same symptoms of trauma.3

In court, people suffering trauma may: appear hypervigilant, anxious, defiant, antisocial, inherently disrespectful, or scared; may be quick to anger; exhibit extreme passivity, smile or laugh inappropriately, or fail to respond to simple questions.4

To create safe spaces for people who have suffered trauma, judges can:
1.    Take a class to become “trauma informed.”5
2.    Understand the statistics regarding trauma in the adult and child populations. Some studies show as many as half of all children have suffered some form of trauma (which means they grow up to be adults who have suffered trauma, which may not have been treated).6
3.    Listen carefully.
4.    Be patient.
5.    Pay attention to cues that indicate a person has suffered trauma. When faced with a person who exhibits behavior that seems unacceptable or inappropriate, consider there may be a root cause in trauma.
6.    Learn about and take advantage of local services to assist people suffering trauma. Find ways if the right cues are present to appropriately point people toward services that may help them deal with the trauma while protecting each person’s privacy and human dignity.


 

1http://www.apa.org/topics/trauma/
2 Id, and The Long Term Effects of Child Sexual Abuse: Counseling Implications, by Melissa Hall and Joshua Hall, found at https://www.counseling.org/docs/disaster-and-trauma_sexual-abuse/long-term-effects-of-childhood-sexual-abuse.pdf?sfvrsn=2 
3 Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, National Institute of Mental Health, found at https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml
4 The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN Bench Card), found at http://www.nctsn.org/sites/default/files/assets/pdfs/judge_bench_cards_final.pdf
5 Through a group such as The Institute on Trauma and Trauma-Informed Care (ITTIC), see http://socialwork.buffalo.edu/social-research/institutes-centers/institute-on-trauma-and-trauma-informed-care.html
6 See the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, http://www.nctsn.org/resources/topics/facts-and-figures, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, https://www.samhsa.gov/trauma-violence, National Center for Victims of Crime, http://victimsofcrime.org/media/reporting-on-child-sexual-abuse/child-sexual-abuse-statistics, and Half of All Kids are Traumatized, Olga Khazan, https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/12/half-of-all-kids-experience-traumatic-events/383630/.

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