Noemí Pereda “Bullying is the least of the problems. Most forms of violence come from an adult to a child”

The Child and Adolescent Victimization Research Group (GReVIA) of the Institute of Neurosciences of the University of Barcelona is fighting for the defense of children’s and adolescents’s rights through a multidisciplinary team made up of psychologists, criminologists and professionals from the world of Education.

What is GReVIA?

It is a research group focused basically on violence against children, in all its aspects, from a scientific methodology. We have behind the theoretical model of Dr. David Finkelhor on the victimology of development, which says that throughout the development of a child different forms of victimization can be produced that have different effects and with respect to which we must intervene differently. The theory of Dr. Finkelhor is that the majority of victims suffer multiple events of violence and that polivictimization is what really leads to a psychopathology. In society there is a false belief that the most frequent violence is violence between children. And bullying, or bullying, is the least of the problems. Most forms of victimization come from an adult to a child. But this is so hard to assume that socially it is easier to talk about children who stick. Well, no. Most cases of violence are of an adult who takes advantage of a relationship of trust to harm a child.

In what type of projects do they collaborate?

We work on different projects. One is about cases of sexual abuse by members representing the Catholic Church, which will be the first study to be conducted in Spain on this subject. And we are also working on another project that the UB Student Observatory asked us to study the victimization that our students have suffered. On the other hand, we always have projects with NGOs such as Save the Children, for example, with which we have just published a report on viral violence. We are waiting for the Ministry of Social Affairs to subsidize a study at the state level, which we will try to do every two years, to study the variations in violence. It would be very interesting to have data of this evolution, since in Spain it has never been done. We also do formative actions. The Generalitat hired us to train a technician from each reception center in Catalonia so that they could detect cases of violence and notify them. And we advise NGOs, the Síndic de Greuges [defender of the People of Catalonia], the Parliament of Catalonia on this matter. When you do an investigation with minors there are issues of confidentiality and anonymity very complicated. The data is confidential, but it can never be anonymous, because, if we detect a situation of risk of a child, the interest of the child is above the interests of the investigation. This has led us to make a guide on the ethics of research with children victims of violence, so that people know what to do in each situation. We have written the guide, and the Federation of Associations for the Prevention of Child Mistreatment (FAPMI) has been commissioned to design it.

How does violence affect children throughout their lives?

The problem of violence in childhood is that three main pillars of child development are broken: self-confidence, trust in others and confidence in the future. What has been seen is that these three great trusts that we need to develop properly are destroyed, and the longer the victimization lasts, the worse. In most cases the violence is intrafamilial, nobody detects it, and the situation lasts for years. Children grow up with many deficiencies, and it has been seen that this is associated with many psychological problems in adulthood. But it is also, at the neurobiological level, it has been seen that these children have the system of confronting stress (a system that when there is a threat is activated) hyperactivated. To a child who is in a situation of violence within the home, only entering the home is activated the system of confrontation to stress. This hyperactivation means that all the adrenaline that we secrete when we are under threat, they are segregating it all day, every day. And that ends up damaging not only brain structures linked to serious mental disorders such as depression, anxiety …, but also structures related, for example, to learning. It was not understood why the abused children studied so badly, they made such low grades, they did not have a professional future … It has begun to be seen that they can not be good students because they really suffer a neuroanatomical damage in areas of the brain. The effects affect all areas of development, and depend a little on individual vulnerability: there are children who are more vulnerable to psychotic disorders, others who are more vulnerable to substance abuse, depression and anxiety, etc. What is clear is that it is a risk factor that explains a very high percentage of psychopathologies in adults, and we are not aware enough of it. Violence against children is very frequent, has devastating effects on their development, and is not being investigated enough.

In recent years, has violence increased or decreased?

It depends on the type of violence we are talking about. In general, however, it should be decreasing, because there is more social awareness. Electronic violence has increased, because before the new technologies were not used, and until we make an educational intervention in this sense, it will continue to be in the same percentage. Sexual abuse continues in the same percentage since the 1970s. It is said that one in five children suffers sexual violence throughout Europe. Comparing studies over the years seems to have not increased, but neither has it decreased. Until these forms of victimization such as sexual abuse, which is the main taboo, do not come to light and people do not see it as a serious problem in which intervention programs can be intervened, we will continue to have the same percentage.

What should we do to face it?

One of the problems, and here I am very critical with our university, is that there is no training regarding child victimization in such important careers as Psychology or Medicine. How is it possible that I, who am an expert in this field, only teach Criminology? We are talking about detection, prevention, clinical and social aspects … From the moment we had trained professionals, we could conduct social awareness campaigns. It is very good that children know their rights and know what they can say, but in the end this depends on an adult. So we train parents and train professionals. There are authors who speak of a certain self-protection on the part of adults: adultcentrism. All resources and research go to violence against middle-aged adults, when in fact there is much more violence towards children than between adults. But of course, in what position does society leave us as we mistreat our most vulnerable members?

How important is the transfer of knowledge?

When we started our priority was going out in high impact magazines. We saw, however – and I think it is very important – that researchers in the social field must have a double career: on the one hand, there is a high level of scientific knowledge, with publications in journals that give relevance to research, and on the other hand On the other hand, there is a social disclosure section, with reports that are posted on the Internet, with training actions for professionals, etc. Because if research does not reach society. Working in this double aspect, with this double perspective, is hard, but we really like the prospect of returning somehow to society all that it gives us in the form of scholarships and grants.

More about Noemí Pereda

What is the best discovery in history?

Any discovery of Marie Curie, given that she was the first woman to receive a Nobel prize (in fact, she received two), which meant the beginning of the acceptance of women in science.

What would you like to see in the future?

I would like to see that the rights of children have the same importance as the rights of adults.

What is the most fearful advance?

There is a line of study within my scope that scares me: the line linked to the neurobiological consequences. I am worried that you may come to think that there is nothing to do with abused children because they have structural damage to the brain. If we do this we are making a very serious mistake, because the potential of the individual is enormous. There are many authors who say that victimization is an engine of development. The best example is that of Joan Miró, who was a child mistreated by his parents, or that of Madonna or Lady Gaga, who suffered sexual abuse and have been able to do great things later.

See original article here.