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Conference examines violence in families

Nearly 240 people, the largest turnout ever, attended a conference Tuesday for professionals working with victims of family violence.

The ninth annual conference, sponsored by the Niagara County Family Violence Intervention Project and Child Advocacy Center, was called "Safe at Home: Seeking Solutions for Adult and Child Victims of Family Violence."

It brought together a variety of those who deal with family violence on a daily basis, from law enforcement and those in the court system to health professionals and family support agencies.

Cleveland Municipal Judge Ronald B. Adrine was the keynote speaker.

Adrine, chairman of the Family Violence Prevention Fund and co-chairman of the National Judicial Institute on Domestic Violence, presented an aspect of dealing with the issue of violence that rarely gets attention -- "Engaging Men in Domestic Violence Strategies."

Many men, Adrine said, say they would talk to someone they knew who was dealing with domestic violence and would be willing to get involved, but for most, it was not a priority.

"The idea of a role model grabbed men's attention. Thirteen percent said they never did anything because no one asked," Adrine said.

He said violence is also starting earlier, with more dating violence in high school.

"Our coaching boys into men campaign started in 2002," he said. "Coaches teach more than sports. They have the greatest influence on young men athletes, often more than parents, and these young men are often peer models. But most coaches don't have the tools or know how to teach teens rules for personal conduct."

Maxine L. Weinreb, a licensed educational psychologist who works for Boston Medical and is the assistant director of the Child Witness to Violence Project, spoke about "Children Who Witness Violence."

"Ten years ago, we didn't even think children could be affected by violence," she told the conference. "They don't all necessarily suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder, but there are things to look for, symptoms such as sleep problems, trouble falling asleep and nightmares, especially in young children, and hypervigilance -- noticing everything."

Weinreb said domestic violence is often a family's "best-kept secret," often with an unspoken rule: "We don't talk about it." Weinreb said she would tell police that a "kind word matters" to children who have witnessed a violent act involving one of their parents.

She also said children view the world differently and at first might be more concerned about blood on their sneakers than what just happened; therefore, professionals need to talk to children about their concerns.

Niagara County District Attorney Matthew J. Murphy III said the response to violence has changed over 10 years. He called the county's Family Violence Intervention Project, which sponsored the conference, a "joining together of all disciplines."

"[In the past] it was very easy to criticize each other. I couldn't imagine this type of response 10 years ago," said Murphy.

Anthony J. Restaino, Niagara County commissioner of social services, agreed about the importance of bringing all the disciplines together.

"Niagara County is fortunate. The Family Violence Intervention Project [which brings together legal, medical, child welfare, education, law enforcement, mental health and victim services] is a model for the country. Communication is key," Restaino said.

The all-day conference included lectures on such topics as "Internet Sexual Exploitation of Children," "Mothers Who Kill," "Sexualized Behavior in Prepubescent Children," "Clinical Treatment of Young Children Affected by Violence" and "Critical Issues in Sibling Sexual Abuse."

e-mail: nfischer@buffnews.com

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