Child Abuse and Domestic Violence

By Graves, Alexander J. | Law & Order, July 2002 | Go to article overview

Child Abuse and Domestic Violence


Graves, Alexander J., Law & Order


Domestic violence is rippling throughout our communities. Family violence and child abuse incorporate every segment of society and cross all social, religious, economic, ethnic and professional lines. Examples of the horrors and tragedies resulting from family violence can be seen daily in all forms of media. Children are the helpless targets of an ever-increasing aggressive society motivated by instant gratification and a lust for power and control.

For an accurate comprehension of the harm done by family violence to children, policymakers need a clearer understanding of the role law enforcement plays in addressing the prevalence of child mistreatment. In some states, police are the responsible agency for reporting purposes. In many States child welfare agencies are required to share all reports and information with law enforcement and welfare agencies and police conduct investigations of child abuse jointly. Adding to the complexity of the issue is that the definition of child abuse varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and can range from being limited to intentional inflicted injury, to a broad spectrum including any act that might impair the developmental potential of the child.

It is absolutely vital to focus on the complete issue of domestic abuse, and the abuse and neglect of children as correlated incidents. Often children witness their mother being physically injured and subsequently subscribe to this behavior as a normal way of life. The dynamic at the core of family violence is the perpetrator's misuse of authority, power and control.

Psychological trauma resulting from family violence and the symptoms experienced by the victims are similar in the various types of family violence. In the largest study to date, a survey of 3,735 students revealed that "being a recent victim or witness to violence was strongly associated with total trauma symptoms and four of five trauma subscales: anxiety, depression, stress and dissociation."

When Child Protective Services (CPS) investigators and the police identify women as victims of domestic abuse and children are in the home, protective issues are raised and official intervention may be warranted. An environment of abuse is clearly dangerous for children who witness the violence and become accidental victims of serious injury. Children who are exposed to family violence have reactions similar to those exposed to other forms of child maltreatment.

We know that violence is often learned behavior and that a significant portion of the learning process takes place in the home. This conclusion is supported by more than five decades of psychological research on aggression and violence in and outside of the family. Domestic violence has been found to exist in 20-40% of families of chronically violent adolescents.

Family Violence Statistics

The statistics on family violence are telling. From a little over three to 10 million children witness domestic abuse in the United States. About 90% of children in homes with domestic abuse are aware of the abuse directed at their mother. Children are present in 50% of homes when police respond to domestic abuse. Child abuse is present in 30-70% of families in which there is spousal abuse, and the severity of the child abuse generally parallels the severity of the abuse to the spouse. About 80% of abusers engage in violent behavior against multiple targets.

Children in homes where domestic violence occurs are physically abused or seriously neglected at a rate of 1,500% higher than the national average. The children of mothers who are physically abused are twice as likely to become victims of physical abuse. A study conducted by Lenore Walker (1984) of 400 battered women revealed that 53% of the fathers and 28% of the mothers physically abused their children. Domestic violence is the single major precursor to child abuse and neglect fatalities.

The emotional effects of family violence manifest in various forms, including severe behavioral problems, aggression, poor impulse control, depression, lowered self-esteem, emotional isolation, delinquent behavior and runaway, alcohol/drug abuse, sexually acting out, ambivalent feelings toward the abuser, guilt for not stopping the abuse, fear of abandonment, constant anxiety, need for excessive adult attention, fear of physical harm to themselves & others, diminished self esteem and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). …

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