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Childhood Trauma Cycles Rapidly Among Alaska Natives

October 2, 2011

Nicholas Kokotovich III was sentenced to 20 years in jail (5 years suspended) for a vicious assault on a 2 year old girl, according to an article in the Juneau Empire on September 15, 2011. The victim was the child of his girlfriend at the time. I am not an apologist for his actions or the sentence. The type of crime he committed is altogether too common among Alaska Native people. Close to 38% of Alaska’s considerable prison population is Alaska Native.

It is obvious from the article that the victim’s life will never be the same. She will endure a lifetime of medical and psychological trauma. It is likely that, without significant behavioral health intervention, she may grow into an adult with behavioral issues herself. The tragedy is that, once she becomes an adult, we will stop caring about her. Her behavioral abnormalities, even if linked to the vicious assault on her, will not be tolerated and her attempts to find solutions may lead her to the same behaviors as the man who assaulted her. Why do I say this?

The Adverse Childhood Experience study, conducted between 1992-1994, looked at adverse experiences during the childhood of approximately 17,400 adult patients of Kaiser Permanente in San Diego, CA. The results were astounding. Individuals who grew up with 4 or more ACE’s had strong graded relationship between the number of ACE’s in their childhood and the adoption of numerous negative behaviors. The young victim has obvious ACE’s in her life. She was subjected to physical and emotional abuse. The perpetrator was a drug abuser and possibly perpetrated domestic violence on the victim’s mother. She apparently has an absent biological parent. She has 5 ACE’s if my assessment is accurate, and may have more by the time she is an adult. She will be at risk for adopting negative behavioral choices to help her deal with her traumas.

A sad part of this story is that the perpetrator was once a child, and from what I read in the story, was also a victim of ACE’s. His father makes a regular appearance on the Alaska Court records, including Domestic Violence petitions and a DWI charge. His attorney tried to tell the court, Judge Phillip Pallenberg, about that abuse and the impact it had on his client. He is right. I talk to Alaska Natives frequently, and when they are willing to share the number of adverse childhood experiences they have suffered, it is high. I talk regularly to people who have all ten. The stories they tell me about the behaviors they have experienced are startling: alcohol and drug abuse; domestic violence (perpetrator and victim); sexual abuse; homelessness; attempts at suicide; promiscuity (50 or more lifetime partners); and crime (perpetration and victimization) leading to incarceration.

The perpetrator was once a child, and apparently a child victimized by ACE’s. His negative behavioral choices probably started early in his life, and nobody noticed enough to realize that he needed help. And the help wasn’t available. We live in a society that is critical of negative behaviors, and attributes the behaviors to personal choice. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Be a man (for men). You can change if you only want to. The problem is that the neurobiological changes in your brain from the infliction of ACE’s causes substantial resistance to change. The negative behaviors adopted help adults deal with the neurobiological consequence’s of ACE’s. As Dr. Vincent Felitti has said, “It’s hard to get enough of something that almost works.” For someone suffering from the negative consequences of unresolved childhood trauma, relief is necessary. Negative behaviors provide some of the relief the brain desires. But it doesn’t stop the need. It only resolves it for a short time.

We can heal our current generation of children by stopping their exposure to ACE’s. To do this, we will need to heal our parent and grandparent generations. This is a dialogue we, as Alaska Native leaders, need to start immediately.

Mr. Kokotovich’s childhood trauma led him to behaviors that have caused trauma for the child of his former girlfriend. Lives have been damaged because trauma cycles rapidly through our generations.

One Comment leave one →
  1. October 3, 2011 6:56 AM

    Hi, can you contact us at our email address?. We would like to possibly include your blog in our newspaper.

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