Abusive tendencies are far more reaching than the visibility of physical harm. Put-downs, controlling who a partner sees or what he/she does, telling a partner what to wear, limiting a partner’s activities, accusations of bad parenting and threats to take away the children are ways that a perpetrator plays upon the emotions of his or her victim.
The often overlooked victim of domestic violence or intimate partner violence is the child. Incidentally, some contend that domestic violence relates to a husband/wife while IPV encompasses any intimate relationship.
The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquent Prevention reports that one in 15 children are exposed to intimate partner violence each year. They may be exposed to the violence, or hear the sounds of screams and tears, smashed furniture or glass; they may see the subsequent injuries, or perhaps be assaulted themselves.
The impact on a child goes far beyond the moments of violence. Children exposed to intimate partner violence may see their parents’ bruises or other visible injuries, or bear witness to the emotional consequences of violence such as fear or intimidation without having directly witnessed violent acts.
David Finkelhor, a sociologist from the University of New Hampshire, collaborated with experts in 2003 to write, “Children’s Exposure to Violence: A Comprehensive National Survey.” The publication stated that children who grow up with violence in the home learn early and powerful lessons about the use of violence in interpersonal relationships. The authors comment that all too often, children who are exposed to violence undergo lasting physical, mental and emotional harm. They may be more prone to dating violence, delinquency, further victimization and involvement with the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.
Finkelhor and his co-authors add that being exposed to violence may impair a child’s capacity for partnering and parenting later in life, continuing the cycle of violence into the next generation. These children are at greater risk for internalized behaviors such as anxiety and depression and for externalized behaviors such as fighting, bullying, lying or cheating.
They also are more disobedient at home and at school, and are more likely to have social competence problems, such as poor school performance and difficulty in relationships with others. Child witnesses display inappropriate attitudes about violence as a means of resolving conflict and indicate a greater willingness to use violence themselves.
The American Academy of Pediatrics took a bold stand in 1998 declaring that “The abuse of women is a pediatric issue.” In its 1998 Report from the Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect, the AAP stated that children whose mothers are being assaulted are also likely to be victims. Studies indicate that child abuse occurs in 33 to 77 percent of families in which there is abuse of adults.
Intimate partner violence also affects parenting, according to the OJDDP. The emotional consequences of being injured, harassed or terrified may be significant for the parent who is victimized. That parent may be less attuned to children’s needs or less emotionally available to the children. However this does not mean that victims of intimate partner violence are inherently abusive or neglectful of their children. Parents who batter are generally less involved with child rearing, more likely to use physical punishment and less able to distinguish or recognize the child’s needs as separate from the parent’s needs.
© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford