Who Experiences Trauma During Parent-Child Separations at the Border?

Experts Report: Nikki Legate, Assistant Professor of Psychology

June 20, 2018


In the context of what’s going on right now with immigration and what ICE agents are doing in terms of separating families, I honestly don’t know if we can even know how painful that must be for the families and how much suffering they must be going through in those moments.

But what we do know, from my research as well as others’, is that when you carry out inhumane acts or when you harm someone else—and here that would be the ICE agents separating kids from their parents, for example—you really suffer for it. So work examining veterans and soldiers that come back from war, they actually find that not only do people get post-traumatic stress disorder from experiencing traumas themselves or witnessing it, they can actually get PTSD for committing those acts.

My work looks at a much lesser form of that; I look at when people exclude other people. And what we find in that work is that people suffer for doing so. The victim suffers but the perpetrator suffers as well. And the reason that they suffer is because it goes against their fundamental values for things that we all kind of value in this world, like kindness and equality. It also goes against our need to connect with other people.