Understanding How Trauma Affects Children

Guest Blog by Jeff Warren for CASA SHaW (Somerset, Hunterdon and Warren Counties)

Over many decades we have learned more about foster care and the children placed within resource homes. They are moved because of outside circumstances beyond their control. They are often confused. There is massive stress permeating their lives.  There are struggles. And there is trauma inflicted within them.

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We have accumulated more widespread knowledge over the past decade about how mental and physical trauma affects children, their growth, education, overall well-being, and how it has negatively manifested itself into a societal cycle we aim to break. We are becoming more and more aware of what trauma is and how we can combat it. Our Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs) understand, through their training, how traumatic experiences in children impact them in an array of ways. We must continue to educate the public at large if we want to see more positive results and vicious cycles broken.

Based on a report commissioned by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), we know that nearly half of all children in the United States, a staggering 46%, have experienced at least one traumatic incident in their lives. These traumatic experiences are:

  • Abuse and neglect
  • Exposure to substance use and abuse
  • Parents or guardians who spent time in prison
  • Experiencing economic hardship
  • Divorce
  • Witnessing domestic abuse
  • Living with a mentally ill adult
  • Victim of or witness to violence in their neighborhood
  • Death of a parent

Childhood trauma a very serious public health issue, and the effects are profound.  More of our population in the United States is in prison than any other time in the history of our country. More of our population continues to become addicted to alcohol and other drugs. If we want to alter how childhood trauma affects us as a society in general, we must look to combat the aforementioned issues that deeply affect children and their families.

There is a good chance that you know someone – and it doesn’t matter what age – who has been through a traumatic event in their life. The trauma they’ve faced will, in some way shape or form, dictate aspects of their life. Now is the time to consider what happened to them, not question what is wrong with them. Let’s continue to educate our communities about the harmful effects of childhood trauma and embrace changes to the way we think so we can all get better as a society. If we all make a small difference, we can all help families and children make a big difference in their lives. By having just one caring, trusted adult in a child’s life can buffer the effects of trauma. That’s why CASA is here for our local community.

 


Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for Children’s mission to speak on behalf of abused and neglected children is central to fulfilling society’s most fundamental obligation to protect a child’s right to be safe, treated with respect and to help them reach their fullest potential. For more information about CASA, visit AtlanticCapeCASA.org.

Inflection Point

Joseph was the community relations point person while he was working as an executive for a multi-national corporation in the Philadelphia region. The tri-state area United Way leader was speaking at a fundraiser about shifting donation strategies to charities that could make a difference at key moments in peoples’ lives. She called this the “inflection point,” where help had the potential to make a meaningful difference at a critical time in a person’s life. When Joe retired and began researching where he might invest his own time and talents, he used the “inflection point” philosophy to guide his choice. When he learned about Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), he found a fit where he thought he could influence outcomes in a positive way.

AM16757-1At first Joe and his wife, Mary Beth, who trained together as CASA volunteers, teamed to take on a complicated case involving five children who were temporarily housed with a relative.

The relative had stepped up to help the children in an emergent situation.

Joe explained, “The state’s goal is to reunite children, where possible, with the parents. CASA’s goal is always to do what is in the best interests of the children. So, my wife established rapport with the children, and I concentrated on working with the many adults who get involved in these cases – from the parents to the case workers to the special needs teachers to the medical professional and those in the judicial system. It takes a lot to get the information needed from many sources – you need to pursue it aggressively to make sure the children have the resources they need.”

Joe cites three key ingredients to making a difference as a CASA: 1. Influence management; 2. Building relationships, and; 3. Dogged determination. Joe demonstrated these traits as he advocated on behalf of those five children, often chasing down the resources the children needed when other doors were closed.

CASA does not always get the credit for their role in influencing outcomes but Joe says that the rewards of this work are intrinsic. He felt proud when the Deputy Attorney General in one case proposed to the judge to use his CASA report to guide the hearing because she knew it would be an accurate representation of the situation. The ultimate reward is knowing that you helped create a better physical, educational and emotional environment to improve their chances to thrive. “This work would not get done without CASA,” Joe said, “and CASA gets to do this critical work at “inflection points” in children’s lives.


Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for Children’s mission to speak on behalf of abused and neglected children is central to fulfilling society’s most fundamental obligation to protect a child’s right to be safe, treated with respect and to help them reach their fullest potential. For more information about CASA, visit AtlanticCapeCASA.org.

Meant to Be

Being a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for children living in foster care was a natural fit for Beth, who spent her long career as a special education teacher. Newly retired, Beth ran into an old friend by chance, who knew someone who was a CASA volunteer. “It would be perfect for you,” this friend said. So, Beth took up the challenge and signed up for CASA training. Within a few months, she began advocating for three siblings.

Mother playing with her two daughters.

The children were living in foster care due to their mother’s substance abuse and reported domestic violence in the home. The eldest child, who was eight at the time, often cared for her younger siblings, age five, and, one and a half years old, in her mother’s absence.

On her first visit with the children, Beth could see that, despite their removal, the children adjusted to their foster home. They warmed up to Beth right away, asking her to play with them and they talked openly with her. During the coming months and years, Beth’s visits continued and she came to know the children and their needs very well and communicated those needs to the courts.

Thankfully, Beth said, “Everyone involved in the children’s life worked well together. The children’s birth mother was working hard to have her children return home and she was appreciative of Beth’s concern for her children. The foster parent was also happy to have Beth visit and pay attention the children’s needs.” When the foster parent felt overwhelmed, she confided in Beth, as did their children’s mother. The children continued to make progress, and do well in school and most importantly, their mother seemed to be on the road to recovery.

For the next two and a half years, Beth was the constant voice in the children’s life and every time she visited, the children would run smiling, excited to see her. Beth was their devoted advocate.

The dichotomy between the messiness of the lives of children in foster care and the serendipity of Beth’s experience was not lost on her. “Everything in this situation was as good as it can be under the circumstances. The resource parents cared and communicated well. Their mother worked hard to get them back. Things probably would have worked out the same for them whether I had advocated for them or not. But I made things easier,” she added. “I was extra help. I was someone to talk to. And I was the constant.”

The children are finally back home with their mother. Day-to-day life is full of challenges for them but they are glad to be together. Beth still stops by and visits regularly and the children are still thrilled to see her. The children’s former foster parents still visit and babysit on occasion, glad to have the children in their life and the children’s mother is happy to have the help.

Beth says she is ready to take on a new case and says she will continue to be a CASA for as long as she is able…maybe, it just so happens, that being a CASA is exactly what she was meant to be.


Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for Children’s mission to speak on behalf of abused and neglected children is central to fulfilling society’s most fundamental obligation to protect a child’s right to be safe, treated with respect and to help them reach their fullest potential. For more information about CASA, visit AtlanticCapeCASA.org.

Change a Foster Youth’s World

My siblings and I were all exposed to prenatal drug and alcohol use at birth. For the first 12 years of my life, I was never allowed to be a child. My mother beat me every day – sometimes so severely I thought my last breath was imminent. At 12, I was desperate to find help and confessed the abuse to a coach. Shortly after, we entered foster care.

During our time in foster care, we relied on our CASA volunteer. She comforted and guided us through the process. She was a constant in our lives and our voice in court.

The support of my CASA volunteer enabled me to see my past as a source of strength. It allowed me to leave the suffering behind and graduate valedictorian of my high school class.

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My focus and worldview – believing that we must rise every time we fall – is due to the attention that my siblings and I received from our CASA volunteer.

She transformed our lives.

 

Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for Children’s mission to speak on behalf of abused and neglected children is central to fulfilling society’s most fundamental obligation to protect a child’s right to be safe, treated with respect and to help them reach their fullest potential. For more information about CASA, visit AtlanticCapeCASA.org.

 

They Need Someone to Speak on Their Behalf

Layla, 5, and her brother, Brian, 3, were abused and neglected at home. They were placed with their grandmother, an elderly woman who soon realized she was ill-equipped to care for two young children. Layla and Brian were moved to a foster home, the first in a series of five placements in six months. The one constant in the children’s lives was their CASA volunteer, Carole, who was the first to visit them in each foster home.

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With a sixth move pending, CASA Carole recommended during a court hearing that the children must be kept together in any placement. Shortly after Carole’s recommendation, the children were moved together to a new home, where they are thriving. #BeACASA

Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for Children’s mission to speak on behalf of abused and neglected children is central to fulfilling society’s most fundamental obligation to protect a child’s right to be safe, treated with respect and to help them reach their fullest potential. For more information about CASA, visit AtlanticCapeCASA.org.

 

Domestic Violence Has Long Range Consequences

What happens to children exposed to domestic violence? A lot–and none of it is good.

Children not only watch the abuse. They hear the sounds of abuse, see the bruises, and of course, very often, they too are the victims. They are taught to keep the family secret. They suffer in silence and shame.

The effects follow into adulthood with long range consequences. Several studies agree that children who witness domestic violence have a variety of effects depending upon the their age, the severity of the abuse and length of time and frequency of the abuse.

dvhurtsallInfants will exhibit:
Extreme irritability
Immature behavior
Separation anxiety
Difficulty with toilet training
Sleep disorders
Problems with language development

Older children experience:
Problems with schoolwork
Attention disorders
Depression
Suicidal tendencies
Bed-wetting
Teenage pregnancy
Criminal behavior
Substance abuse

Later in life they can expect:
To be a victim or perpetrator of domestic violence
To lose empathy for others
Social isolation
Aggressive behavior
Difficulty forming friendships
Difficulty maintaining employment

The list of problems goes on. Anyone can infer, that once domestic violence enters the life of a child, the cycle of abuse has been created. And in many cases, it continues into future generations.

What do children victims of domestic violence need?

To start, children need to be heard and believed. Adults that work, live and interact with children and the family members need to be aware of the signs of domestic violence and they have to be willing to break the silence and speak out.

Children also need support services to begin to heal. A holistic, individualized plan is important as each child can be affected differently from exposure to domestic violence. Additionally, studies show that interventions for abused mothers and fathers will ultimately help the children involved as well.

Children must be taught – repeatedly – that domestic violence and aggressive behaviors are wrong. They need positive relationship role models to understand how to avoid violence in their own personal relationships. And finally, and most importantly, they need what we all need – love, understanding and compassion from everyone around them.

When Families Reunite Everyone Wins

One day at school, a seven-year-old Jonas was found with an apple-sized bruise on the back of his neck. His teacher brought him to the school nurse, who found more bruises on the child’s back, sides, and arms. Most disconcerting were the long, thin, vertical marks that stretched from his neck to the middle of his back. The result of a belt, the nurse thought.

The nurse asked the boy how he got the bruises.

“I scratched myself,” he replied.

The next day, a worker from child services was called into the school to speak with the child. In addition to the linear, vertical bruises on his back, he also had similar horizontal marks across his rib cage. His ear was swollen, his legs were bruised and scabbed, and he had dark marks on his behind and his bicep.

When the division worker asked the child how this happened to him, he said he was not in pain and that he scratched himself.

“Is your mokids_drawingther nice to you?” The division worker then asked.

The boy was silent.

Back at home, Jonas lived with his infant sister Mia, his mother, and Mia’s father. As a child, the mother had been disciplined with a belt and used the same manner to discipline her son. But one day after the child had made a mess, she struck her son seven times with a belt creating the bruises that the teacher, nurse and case worker were looking at now.

A Notice of Emergency Removal was issued, and the siblings were placed under the custody and supervision of the Division. Fortunately, the children were able to stay with their grandmother during this time.

CASA Volunteer, Bill was assigned to the children’s case. During a visit to Jonas’ school, Bill learned that he was having difficulty interacting with his peers; he would act out aggressively if other students got too close. His ability to focus also needed improvement. Bill asked the teachers if there were opportunities for counseling or training that could help. They suggested interpersonal relationship or anger management training, and Bill put in a request to the courts for these services.

Bill also sought out the children’s medical records and visited them at their grandmother’s house. When Mia was diagnosed with medical problems that were not being corrected with medication, Bill recommended early intervention services for her, which were ordered by the courts.

While the children were doing well with the grandmother, the children’s mother and boyfriend received counseling and continued to see their children on a regular schedule. She was making progress, even being diagnosed and now treated for PSTD, which she suffered from because of her previous service in the armed forces.

While CASA Bill continued to monitor the children’s well being, he stayed on top of the mother’s progress as well. When she was involved in a domestic violence issue with her boyfriend, Bill recommended supervised visits and an anger management course for both adults.

After six months of living with their grandmother, both children were improving. Mia was reaching her development milestones and Jonas was doing well in school both with his grades and interactions and relationships with his peers. The children’s mother and her partner continued to attend counseling and were also improving their relationship with one another and with the children.

After a year, the mother and her boyfriend successfully completed all of the recommended course and were finally at a place to make a safe home for their young family. At this point, CASA Bill had seen the progress made by both adults and recommended that the children be reunited with their mother. A few months later, both children were happily reunited with their mother and her boyfriend, Mia’s father. Young Jonas now receives all  A’s and B’s on his report card and Mia is an active 18-month old and can point to her nose and ears when asked.

Had it not been for CASA Bill’s diligence and dedication to this family, Jonas and Mia may have never had the opportunity to grow up together with their parents in a safe, loving home. Jonas’ mother was grateful for CASA Bill’s investment in her family saying, “He believed in me and my ability to provide a home for my children, his dedication to my children and to our whole family allowed us to heal.”

Domestic Violence in Movies: Precious (2009)

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Directed by Lee Daniels and executive produced by Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry, Precious is a movie based on the novel, Push, that takes place in 1987 Harlem and portrays a heartbreaking story of domestic violence.

Claireece Jones (Gabourey Sidibe), who goes by her middle name, Precious, is a 16-year-old black girl who has been sexually abused and raped by her father since she was three. She fathered two of his children, and the first born has Down syndrome. Precious’ mother Mary (Mo’Nique) physically and emotionally abuses her on a daily basis. Her own grandmother is scared to take Precious in because she fears Mary’s reaction. To make matters worse, Precious tests positive for HIV, which she contracted from her father. She also cannot read, but she does learn how after being sent to an alternative school.

Living with her mother is extremely toxic. Mary hits Precious frequently and throws things at her if she does not listen to her commands. Additionally, she verbally abuses her and puts her down, calling her stupid, fat, and saying that she will amount to nothing. Lastly, she collects welfare, does not look for a job, and consistently tells Precious that education is useless.

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For a long time, Precious was too frightened to tell guidance counselors and teachers about what goes on in her home because her mother would react violently toward her. One time a guidance counselor showed up at Precious’ house unannounced, and the mother blamed it all on Precious.

By the time Precious’ second child, Abdul, is born, she runs away from home with her son because her mother abuses him, too. Mary sees that he looks just like his father—Precious’ father—and so she throws the infant on the floor. Then she attacks Precious.

Mary shouts, “You ruined my [expletive] life! You took my man, you had those [expletive] babies, and you got me put off the welfare for running your [expletive], stupid [expletive] mouth.” 

Precious replies, “I ain’t stupid! And I didn’t take your man! Your husband raped me!” 

Her mother snaps back, “Didn’t nobody [expletive] rape you!”

Precious manages to flee with her child, and she focuses on school and raising him.

At the end, Precious’ mother reveals why she hates her daughter so much. Precious is the one who made her father leave; he loved Precious more than her mother. While speaking to Precious’ social worker (played by Mariah Carey), Mary explains why she blames her daughter,

She didn’t scream or anything [when being raped], so it’s hear fault… who else was gonna love me?

Mary does not acknowledge that her daughter was raped until Precious’ social worker forces her to admit it. She questions how she could have let that happen to her own daughter.

This story is an  example of how being abused can perpetuate the abuse cycle, but fortunately Precious has risen above that cycle and has proven that she truly cares about her children.

*  *  *  *

There were mixed reviews for this film. Some critics commended the performances and story line for its realism, while others insist that it was stereotypical and overdone.

To start, director Lee Daniels told Essence.com that the movie should be taken seriously. “Life is life. Life is what it is,” he said. [From the LA Times]

Here are some reviews that show the pros and cons.

ConMark Anthony Neal, a professor of black popular culture at Duke University, told the New York Times, “People are suspicious of narratives that don’t put us in the best light.” He said there has always been a history of negative imagery in popular culture, which perpetuates the notion of black people being inferior.

ProLatoya Peterson, the editor of Racialicious.com, a blog about the intersection of race and popular culture, calls out those who believe black people should only be presented in an acceptable light. She said of one commenter against the movie, “He’s flattening the black experience, and in that way, he denies our humanity.” Peterson also thinks the movie touches upon many important topics that affect young girls, such as sexual abuse, poverty, violence, and doing poorly in school.

ConFilm critic Armond White said the movie is racist propaganda and a reminder that art and politics cannot be separated for black people.

ProA writer for blackchristiannews.com says, “I think everyone who grew up in South Chicago knew someone that was a Precious or a group of young women that had suffered abuse in different ways like Precious did. That’s what’s ‘hard to watch’ for me.”

Con:
Raina Kelley of The Daily Beast writes, “Her situation feels so extreme that we lose sight of the bigger picture. It becomes too hard to summon up any more outrage at the social worker who never figures out that something awful is happening in Precious’ home… I’m tired of movies presenting black people as grateful to find a helping hand to rise above their abusers. Not because we’ve seen this movie before…but because the story never changes. How about a ‘based on a true story’ tear-jerker that ends with some tangible improvements in the lives of impoverished children?”

Have you seen the movie? Where do you stand?

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Domestic Violence in Movies: Fried Green Tomatoes (1991)

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Fried Green Tomatoes is a movie that tells the story of two good friends in 1920s Alabama. The women—Ruth (Mary-Louise Parker) and Idgie (Mary Stuart Masterson)—grow up together, and Ruth eventually gets married, even though she doesn’t seem crazy about the idea.

After Ruth marries, Idgie visits and finds her with a black eye. She suspects Ruth’s husband Frank did this to her, and her suspicions are confirmed the next time she visits. During the second visit, Idgie and two male friends help Ruth pack up her belongings so she can permanently leave the house, but Frank comes home before they take off.

When Frank sees what is going on, he smacks Ruth in the face, causing her to fall against the staircase railing in their home. Idgie jumps on top of Frank and starts punching him in the head, but he slams her head against the wall and reaches for Ruth, who happens to be pregnant. He throws his wife down their staircase, and she lands directly on her stomach. Idgie threatens to kill Frank if he ever touches Ruth again, and the two women leave with their two friends.

Watch the scene here:

Had Idgie and the two friends not come to Ruth’s rescue, would she have eventually left her abusive husband? We may never know. Not leaving at one’s own volition is a common occurrence with domestic violence victims. This can be for a number of reasons, but a common one is fear that one’s partner will stalk them and either react with more violence or worse, attempt murder.

Stalking is shown in the movie as well. Once Ruth’s baby is born, Frank—clad in his KKK attire—appears in her home in the middle of the night, asking where the baby is. She tells him to leave and blocks their son’s crib. Before anything else can happen, a man walks through the door to ask Ruth if she’s okay. It is possible he saw the other clansmen with their lit torches outside Ruth’s house, and he suspected something was wrong. Once again, Ruth is rescued for the time being. Frank departs with an eerie, “I’ll be back.”

Watch the scene:

Currently in the U.S., Alabama has the second-highest rate of domestic violence killings (2011). When we thought about movies that take place in the south, several came to mind that happen to portray domestic violence or sexual abuse: Forrest Gump, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Ellen Foster, and Hounddog, to name a few.

Does anyone else feel this way, and do you think it is a problem? Or do you think it is a fairly accurate, or necessary, portrayal of what goes on?

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Photo source.

Domestic Violence in Movies: Casino (1995)

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In the United States, Nevada ranks first in domestic violence killings. Therefore, we decided to take a look at the 1995 Martin Scorsese film, Casino, to analyze its portrayal of domestic violence. The setting is Las Vegas, and the movie is based on a non-fiction book by the same name.

This movie primarily shows us examples of domestic violence toward men, but there are also instances toward women. The movie is about a wealthy, skilled gambler-mobster named Sam ‘Ace’ Rothstein (Robert Dinero), who marries Ginger (Sharon Stone), a hustler who draws high-rollers to the casino. While the theme of the movie is about corruption, the relationship of the married couple is a major part.

Very reluctant at first, Ginger marries Sam after a lot of convincing, and Sam tells her he will always be able to take care of her. He truly seems to care deeply about Ginger. However, from the start of their marriage, Ginger goes behind Sam’s back and speaks to her abusive ex-boyfriend, eventually giving him tens of thousands of dollars of Sam’s money. All the while, she is drinking frequently, doing drugs and stealing her husband’s prescription medication, and it is implied that she may also have a mental illness. She frequently lies to Sam about her whereabouts.

With that, Ginger often acts violently toward her husband, and she is abusive and neglectful to their child. Here are some examples:

  • Sam overhears Ginger on the phone, and she says she wishes Sam was killed. When Sam pulls the phone away, Ginger turns around and hits him while screaming, “I hate your guts!” 
  • One night when she alone with her daughter Amy (who looks about eight year old), Ginger ties the child to the bed post and locks the door. Then she leaves for the evening.
  • She hits Sam when he kicks her out of the house and tells her to pack her bags.
  • Ginger drives home one morning and deliberately crashes her car into Sam’s Mercedes several times; she drives over the lawn and threatens to crash through the living room, she curses loudly at Sam, and then she throws parts of a plant at Sam’s face. Watch the scene below.
  • Ginger does illegal drugs in front of Amy.
  • Ginger’s ex-boyfriend is abusive; he told Amy to shut up, and the he threatened to slap her in the face.
  • She cheats on Sam with his mobster friend, Nicky– whom she also hits multiple times. Then Nicky hits her back once.

Ginger scene:

While Sam never hits Ginger, sometimes his reactions are still violent. Here is how he reacts after some of the incidents mentioned above:

  • He threatens to kill Ginger if she ever abuses their daughter again.
  • He grabs at her collar and curses at her after repeatedly telling her to leave a restaurant (right after he found their daughter tied to the bed)
  • When Ginger tries hitting Sam one night, he restrains her and drags her toward her closet so that she can pack her bags and get out of the house.

When Sam kicks Ginger out of the house, she returns in the middle of the night. And he is happy she came back. He narrates,

“The funny thing was after all that, I didn’t want her to go. She was the mother of my kid; I loved her.” 

From these examples, it is evident that Sam exhibits multiple characteristics of a domestic violence victim. No matter how horribly Ginger treats Sam, he still loves her. Love is often a major reason that victims remain in abusive relationships. Secondly, he still has hope that she will change, even though she has proven time and time again that she cannot be trusted. She has never sought help, but Sam still believes there is hope for her; she even says she will do better, but she never follows through.  At the same time, Sam has never suggested to her that she seek help, but she clearly needs it.

Financial issues are also at stake, which is common in domestic violence cases. In Sam’s case, he is involved with illegal business in the casino industry, which probably also makes him want to avoid drawing too much attention to his family. While Sam is the one with all the money, he worries that if he gives his wife all the money she was asking for, all at once, she might leave him for good. Maintaining family unity at all costs is another trait that Sam exemplifies; he wants to stay with Ginger because she is the mother of his child. [Source].

Not only is Ginger and Sam’s relationship toxic for each other, but the toxicity also carries over to their daughter’s life. Ginger’s behavior puts her daughter in danger. According to Psych Central, “Children are 1,500 times more likely to be abused in homes where partner abuse occurs. These children have a six times greater chance of committing suicide, 24 percent greater chance committing sexual assault crimes and a 50 percent greater likelihood of abusing drugs and alcohol” [source]. Additionally, girls who are abused in childhood are likely to become victims of domestic violence as adults.

At the end of the movie, we learn that Ginger dies of a “hot dose” [of drugs]. She was no longer with Sam at this time. Some movie reviews suggest that her death was a plotted murder, but it is not specified who might have done that to her.

One of Sam’s closing lines in the narration says a lot:

When you love someone, you’ve gotta trust them. There’s no other way. You’ve got to give them the key to everything that’s yours. Otherwise, what’s the point? And for a while, I believed, that’s the kind of love I had.” 

At least he eventually learned…

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Trivia:

-For her role as Ginger, Sharon Stone won a Golden Globe for “Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama,” and she was also nominated for an Academy Award (“Best Actress in a Leading Role”).

-Martin Scorsese was also nominated for a Golden Globe as  “Best Director.”