The Facts on Children and Domestic Violence
Women who are battered often go to extreme and courageous lengths to protect their children from an abusive partner. In fact, research has shown that the non-abusing parent is often the strongest protective factor in the lives of children who are exposed to domestic violence. However, growing up in a violent home may be a terrifying and traumatic experience that can affect every aspect of a child’s life, growth, and development. In spite of this, we know that when properly identified and addressed, the effects of domestic violence on children can be mitigated.
- The U.S. Advisory Board on Child Abuse suggests that domestic violence may be the single major precursor to child abuse and neglect fatalities in this country.i
- Studies suggest that between 3.3 and 10 million children are exposed to domestic violence annually.ii
- In a national survey of more than 6,000 American families, 50 percent of the men who frequently assaulted their wives also frequently abused their children.iii
- Slightly more than half of female victims of intimate violence live in households with children under age 12.iv
- Men who as children were exposed to their parents' domestic violence are twice as likely to abuse their own wives than sons of nonviolent parents.v
- One study of 2,245 children and teenagers found that recent exposure to violence in the home was a significant factor in predicting a child’s violent behavior.vi
- Children who are exposed to domestic violence are more likely to exhibit behavioral and physical health problems including depression, anxiety, and violence towards peers.vii They are also more likely to attempt suicide, abuse drugs and alcohol, run away from home, engage in teenage prostitution, and commit sexual assault crimes. viii
- A recent study of low-income pre-school children in Michigan found that nearly half (46.7 percent) of the children in the study had been exposed to at least one incident of mild or severe violence in the family. Children who had been exposed to violence suffered symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, such as bed-wetting or nightmares, and were at greater risk than their peers of having allergies, asthma, gastrointestinal problems, headaches and flu.ix
Pregnancy and Domestic Violence
- Each year about 324,000 pregnant women in the U.S. are battered by the men in their lives.x
- Complications of pregnancy, including low weight gain, anemia, infections, and first and
second trimester bleeding are significantly higher for abused women xi, xii, as are maternal rates
of depression, suicide attempts, tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drug use.xiii
i U.S. Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, A Nation’s Shame: Fatal Child Abuse and Neglect in the United States: Fifth Report, 1995
ii Carlson, Bonnie E. (1984). Children's observations of interpersonal violence. Pp. 147-167 in A.R. Roberts (Ed.) Battered women and their families (pp. 147-167). NY: Springer. Straus, M.A. (1992). Children as witnesses to marital violence: A risk factor for lifelong problems among a nationally representative sample of American men and women. Report of the Twenty-Third Ross Roundtable. Columbus, OH: Ross Laboratories.
iii Strauss, Murray A., Gelles Richard J., and Smith, Christine. 1990. Physical Violence in American Families; Risk Factors and Adaptations to Violence in 8,145 Families. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers.
iv U.S. Department of Justice, Violence by Intimates: Analysis of Data on Crimes by Current or Former Spouses, Boyfriends, and Girlfriends, March 1998
v Strauss, Murray A., Gelles Richard J., and Smith, Christine. 1990. Physical Violence in American Families; Risk Factors and Adaptations to Violence in 8,145 Families. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers.
vi Singer, M.I., Miller, D.B., Guo, S., Slovak, K & Frieson, T. 1998. “The Mental Health Consequences of Children’s Exposure to Violence.” Cleveland, OH: Cuyahoga County Community Health Research Institute, Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences, Case Western Reserve University.
vii Jaffe, P. and Sudermann, M., “Child Witness of Women Abuse: Research and Community Responses,” in Stith, S. and Straus, M., Understanding Partner Violence: Prevalence, Causes, Consequences, and Solutions. Families in Focus Services, Vol. II. Minneapolis, MN: National Council on Family Relations, 1995.
viii Wolfe, D.A., Wekerle, C., Reitzel, D. and Gough, R., “Strategies to Address Violence in the Lives of High Risk Youth.” In Peled, E., Jaffe, P.G. and Edleson, J.L. (eds.), Ending the Cycle of Violence: Community Responses to Children of Battered Women. New York: Sage Publications. 1995.
ix Graham-Bermann, Sandra A and Julie Seng. 2005. “Violence Exposure and Traumatic Stress Symptoms as Additional Predictors of Health Problems in High-Risk Children.” Journal of Pediatrics. 146(3):309-10.
x Gazmararian JA, Petersen R, Spitz AM, Goodwin MM, Saltzman LE, Marks JS. 2000. “Violence and Reproductive Health: Current Knowledge and Future Research Directions.” Maternal and Child Health Journal. 4(2):79-84.
xi Parker, B., McFarlane, J., & Soeken, K. 1994. “Abuse During Pregnancy: Effects on Maternal Complications and Infant Birthweight in Adult and Teen Women.” Obstetrics & Gynecology. 841: 323-328.
xii McFarlane, J. Parker B., & Soeken, K. 1996. “Abuse during Pregnancy: Association with Maternal Health and Infant Birthweight.” Nursing Research. 45:32-37.
xiii McFarlane, J., Parker, B., & Soeken, K. 1996. “Physical Abuse, Smoking and Substance Abuse During Pregnancy: Prevalence, Interrelationships and Effects on Birthweight.” Journal of Obstetrical Gynecological and Neonatal Nursing. 25: 313-320.
Reprinted with the permission of the Family Violence Prevention Fund. © 2008 Family Violence Prevention Fund
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