I have been working with violent males for more than fifty years. It began for me November 21, 1969, when I held my new-born son in my arms and made a promise that I would be a different kind of father than my father was able to be for me and do everything I could to create a world where males were fully healed and lovingly connected to their families. I founded MenAlive in 1970 to help men and their families live fully, love deeply, and make a positive difference in the world.
On International Men’s Day, November 19, 2021, we launched our Moonshot Mission for Mankind and Humanity. I invited a panel of five of my long-time colleagues who have been working for many years in the field of gender medicine and men’s health to join me and share their perspectives:
- Riane Eisler, President and Co-Founder of The Center for Partnership Systems
- Boysen Hodgson, Communications Director at The Mankind Project
- Lisa Hickey, CEO of Good Men Media, Publisher of The Good Men Project
- Frederick Marx, Founder and CEO of Warrior Films
- Michael Gurian, Marriage and Family Counselor, Founder of the Gurian Institute.
I recently received an email from Michael Gurian.
“Because I have been interviewed a great deal over the last two weeks about the shootings, I have been working to give a realistic picture of what we must do to help our nation and our children.”
He posted some of his immediate thoughts in a June 2, 2022, article, “What We Must Do to Stop the Killing.”
Among the many points he makes, he says,
“Public awareness of the boy crisis began in the 1990s with the school shootings in Springfield and Columbine. After the Columbine shooting while doing media that I first used the term “the boy crisis.” A number of us in the field have used it since. Already back then, we were asked as experts to study the profiles of the shooters. The profiles did not fit (nor do they fit now) a single causal factor (i.e. sexually abused boy, drug-addicted mother, fatherless boy), but did include these elements and a number of others depending on the boy.”
“That said, one profile did fit all shooters and still does: the killer is a male who suffers from male-type depression (male mental illness) and acquires or is provided with a dangerous gun. Unlike generalized or female-type depression, male covert depression is often hidden behind male substance use, anger/rage, social isolation, and threats/follow through utilizing weapons.”
At MenAlive I wrote a series of articles, “Why Healing Men’s Depression Will Do More Good Than Curing Cancer.” I described the findings of the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) studies that have been going on since 1998. The studies have demonstrated conclusively that ACEs are a significant factor contributing to numerous health-related problems from heart disease and cancer to depression and aggression. I had first heard about the studies from my colleague, Charles L. Whitfield, M.D., a physician, psychotherapist, and internationally recognized expert on mental illness, behavioral problems, and recovery.
In his book, The Truth About Depression: Choices for Healing, Dr. Whitfield said,
“One or more ACEs occurred in 59% of the original study participants. Thus, childhood trauma may be more common than we thought and impacts people’s experiences as children, teenagers, and adults.”
He went on to say,
“The study found that those people with four or more ACEs reported 4.6 times more experiences of having been depressed for at least two weeks over the past year.”
To Prevent Mass Shootings, Don’t Bother With Motive, Address the Underlying Causes
If we want to reduce violence and prevent mass shootings, we need to understand and address the underlying causes of violence. The research on ACEs gets at the core of the problem and no one has reported on the research as completely as Jane Ellen Stevens. Stevens has been a newspaper and magazine journalist, focusing on health, science and technology for many years. Her articles have appeared in the Boston Globe, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and National Geographic. She has taught at the University of California Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.
For several years, Stevens specialized in violence epidemiology. She began reporting about the ACE Study and related research in 2005. She is founder and editor of ACEsTooHigh.com, a news site for the general public, and its accompanying community of practice social network, PACEsConnection.com. PACES addresses positive as well as adverse childhood experiences.
She has written two recent articles that cut through the media hype and political posturing to get at the real causes and cures for violence in America: “There’s no mystery to what happened in Uvalde; there were many opportunities to prevent it” and “To prevent mass shootings, don’t bother with motive; do a forensic ACEs investigation.”
“Thousands of parents, pediatricians, social workers, educators, community advocates, kids, judges, police, district attorneys know exactly what led to Salvador Rolando Ramos running into a school and slaughtering 19 kids and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas,”
says Jane Stevens,
“And what could have derailed his path, as well as the path of all other recent mass shooters.”
She goes on to discuss how the ACEs research applies to the males who are the primary perpetrators of violence.
“To people educated about the consequences of too many childhood adversities and too few positive experiences, what happened in Uvalde is not a mystery,”
“Ramos had, at minimum, five types of childhood adversity that lasted for years,”
“He experienced extreme bullying; an abusive relationship with his mother; his mother’s reported substance abuse; an absent father; and a disability (stuttering, lisp) for which kids taunted him mercilessly. We know little about his early childhood, where more ACEs may be lurking.”
The more ACEs we have growing up the greater the risk of later physical and emotional problems. The fewer positive experiences to counteract the negative ones, the more likely we are to see later problems, including violent ones.
“Of the seven positive experiences that research shows can ameliorate ACEs,” says Stevens, “Ramos apparently had only two: neighbors who cared about him and, until a while before the shooting, friends.”
Contrary to what we are often told, these acts of violence don’t occur out of the blue. As Stevens concludes, in describing the life path of Salvador Ramos.
“Over his short life, which seemed to be one continuous downward spiral, there were many opportunities to intervene and change the trajectory of this unhappy and angry youth.”
Studying each case of violence in depth is where we can learn the real causes and develop real prevention programs. That’s where a “Forensic ACEs Investigation” can be so important.
“Research clearly shows that the road that leads from a precious infant becoming an abused or neglected child who grows up to become a distressed murderer is predictable,”
“The science is irrefutable now,” says Stevens. “Just as a bullet rips through flesh and bone, a child experiencing ongoing encounters that cause toxic stress, without positive intervention to help the child, will suffer damage to the structure and function of their brain.”
Stevens goes on to summarize the life course of unhealed trauma:
Although ACEs research is becoming well known among professionals in the field, the findings have not yet let to action from mainstream officials in government and health care. Two people who have paid attention and acted are psychologist Dr. Jillian Peterson and sociologist Dr. James Densley. They co-founded The Violence Project, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research center dedicated to reducing violence in society and using data and analysis to improve policy and practice.
Their research on mass shootings funded by the National Institute of Justice, has received global media attention. Their areas of expertise include gun violence, violent extremism, cyber violence, trauma and mental illness, street gangs and youth violence.
“We have studied every mass shooting since 1966,”
say Drs. Peterson and Densley.
“Here’s what we’ve learned about the shooters. First, the vast majority of mass shooters in our study experienced early childhood trauma and exposure to violence at a young age. The nature of their exposure included parental suicide, physical or sexual abuse, neglect, domestic violence, and/or severe bullying.”
It is important that we state the truth directly, nearly all mass shooters, and the great majority of people who kill other people, are males. Though both males and females experience adverse childhood experiences, it is males whose trauma can result in extreme violence. The comedian, Elaine Boosler captures this reality with her humorous observation:
“When women get depressed, they eat or go shopping. Men invade another country. It’s a whole different way of thinking.”
Other colleagues of mine recognize the importance of focusing on males. In a recent article, “Mass shootings are part of society’s boy crisis,” Dr. Warren Farrell, author of numerous books including, The Boy Crisis: Why Our Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It, written with John Gray, he says,
“We have been blind to two underlying causes of mass shootings: the boy crisis; and dad deprivation. Until these causes are addressed, we will face a third cause: guns. With their pain ignored, these boys will communicate their pain as loudly as they can: with guns as powerful as they can get. Boys who hurt us are boys who hurt.”
It is time we addressed the boy crisis, male-type depression, and the impact of adverse childhood experiences on males. We know what causes young males to become violent. It is time we came together and acted on what we know. The time is now.
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