Domestic violence involving children can be hard to define, because legal and cultural norms change over time. Not that long ago, men were allowed to physically discipline their wives. Those days are over but even today there is huge disagreements over how much physical discipline is appropriate for a child. For many of us, the routine discipline our grandparents dished out (spanking with a switch, for example) can be viewed as abusive today. As a result, each state defines it a little differently and even within the same state judges will look at it differently. Regardless of how exactly it is defined, there can be no doubt that domestic violence and children are a special concern.
Impact of witnessing domestic violence
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network notes that just witnessing the abuse of a caregiver, for example seeing dad hit mom, can have huge negative impacts on the child. In the short run, children can suffer anxiety, sleeplessness, nightmares, difficulty concentrating, high activity levels, and increased aggression. In the longer term, this can lead to physical health problem, delinquency, substance abuse, depression, anxiety disorders and post traumatic stress disorder. Unfortunately, witnessing domestic violence can set children off into a very bad circle of events where they become more likely to exert control or relieve stress by using violence. Or they may see violence as linked to intimacy and affection. As a result, children who witness abuse are more likely to later commit domestic violence themselves. Many bad outcomes stem from combining domestic violence and children.
Links between domestic violence and child abuse
Research compiled by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia has found that various types of child abuse can be linked to domestic violence. In 30 to 60 percent of the cases where domestic violence is occurring, some type of child abuse is occurring as well. About 65 percent of adults that abuse their partner also abuse their children. There is no doubt that a child in a home with domestic violence is at huge risk. Other studies have found that child abuse is more than four times as likely in homes where a spouse is abused. Moreover, 28 percent of children experienced psychological abuse and 18 percent suffered physical abuse in homes where the parents abused each other. Those rates are much higher than the average. Anyone that sees one type of abuse should be on alert for the other.
Possible legal help
There are some options to help children who are suspected victims of abuse. Of course, anyone that knows of ongoing abuse should call 911. If you have seen something that you think might be abuse and you are not sure what to do, you can contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD to get some guidance and be connected to the proper authorities. Many states also have a process for obtaining a protective or restraining order that will keep an abuser away from his or her victims. In a divorce, the law will also seek to protect a child’s welfare by limiting the child’s contact