Children's Direct Sensory Exposure to Substantiated Domestic Violence Crimes

By Fantuzzo, John; Fusco, Rachel | Violence and Victims, March 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

Children's Direct Sensory Exposure to Substantiated Domestic Violence Crimes


Fantuzzo, John, Fusco, Rachel, Violence and Victims


Police officers served as public health sentinels to collect data on children exposed to domestic violence events (DVEs) across an entire municipality for 1 year. These officers used a standard, validated protocol to collect data on all investigate DVEs. This study extended previous research by including data demographic data on children in the household at the time of the DVE and investigating children's direct sensory exposure to DVEs. Findings revealed that almost half of all events had children present, and 81% of these children were directly exposed to DVEs. Children under the age of 6 years old were at greater risk of direct sensory exposure. Domestic violence households with children were more likely to be low-income, non-White, and headed by a single female compared to households at large. Logistic regressions revealed that six major DVE variables were related to children being directly exposed. These included father as perpetrator, victim injury, weapon use, non-White victim, mutual assault, and arrest of perpetrator.

Keywords: domestic violence; children; direct exposure; population-based; developmentalepidemiology

Domestic violence is a crime and a public health problem of significant proportions in the United States (Rosenberg, O'Carroll, & Powell, 1992). Global survey data on violence against women by intimate partners and childhood exposure to such violence demonstrate the scope of this persistent and severe national problem. Data reported by the Bureau of Justice Statistics indicate that intimate partner violence made up 20% of all nonfatal violent crime experienced by women in 2001 (U.S. Department of Justice, 2003). These data also show that in the past 25 years, 57,000 individuals have been killed in domestic violence situations.

In the past decade, awareness of this national concern has prompted the passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which has generated legislation to combat domestic violence (U.S. Department of Justice, 1994). All states have passed domestic violence legislation providing criminal penalties for acts of violence within the home (Hyman, Schillinger, & Lo, 1995), and criminal codes have been revised to seek clear definitions of domestic violence and to strengthen the authority of police officers to investigate and intervene in violent situations.

In addition to our increased understanding of domestic violence, there has been growing awareness of the potential negative effects of this violence on children living in these households. For example, existing studies show that children exposed to domestic violence exhibit more social-emotional and cognitive difficulties than nonexposed children. Children from violent homes have reported lower levels of social competence, fewer interests outside of school, and less involvement in social activities compared to children from nonviolent homes (Jaffe, Wolfe, & Wilson, 1990; Margolin & Gordis, 2000). Exposed children of all ages were more likely to be rejected by peers than their counterparts from nonviolent homes and to report lower-quality peer relationships (Jaffe et al., 1990; Margolin & Gordis, 2000). Studies have shown exposed children are more likely to demonstrate conduct disordered behavior and aggression and engage in criminal activities more than nonexposed children (Herrera & McClosky, 2001; Jouriles, McDonald, Norwood, & Ezell, 2001; Pelcovitz, Kaplan, DeRosa, Mandel, & Salzinger, 2000). Some studies have found exposed children to have lower scores on cognitive measures than nonexposed children (Osofsky, 1999; Pelcovitz et al., 2000).

Studies comparing the psychological functioning of children exposed and not exposed to domestic violence contribute to our knowledge base. There are, however, some significant shortcomings in this body of research that limit our understanding of the extent and nature of domestic violence in the United States. First, although children's exposure to domestic violence events (DVEs) has been described as a public health problem of epidemic proportions (Glodich, 1998), the current research is not population based and relies principally on convenience samples. …

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