Domestic violence refers to physical, verbal, emotional, psychological, sexual, or financial abuse from an adult perpetrator to an adult victim. The goal of the abuse is power and control. It involves a range of behaviors, either threatened, attempted, or carried out. A continuum of domestic violent behaviors includes:
- Giving someone the "silent treatment" (shunning or cold-shoulder).
- Name-calling, yelling, screaming, cursing.
- Humiliating, embarrassing, putting the other person down in front of others.
- Withholding money or keys to car.
- Twisting the other person's words.
- Jealousy, suspicion, monitoring.
- Standing in the doorway or preventing the other person from leaving.
- Isolating the other person.
- Slapping, pushing, hitting, punching, kicking.
- Destroying property, personal possessions.
- Biting, burning, choking.
- Using force to obtain sex or in sexual acts.
- Intimidating and harassing.
- Use of weapons to intimidate or threaten.
Domestic violence is underreported so accurate statistics are not available. Calder, Peake, and Rose (2001) report that:
- 40% of divorces are motivated by domestic violence.
- 90-97% of domestic violence is perpetrated by males.
- Approximately 1 out of 4 women experience domestic violence during their lifetimes.
- Domestic violence often begins when the woman is pregnant.
- Women between the ages of 18-29 are at greatest risk.
- Women usually approach multiple agencies for help prior to receiving effective help.
- Women who are themselves abused by the perpetrator are more likely to be punitively treated by agencies.
Domestic violence in the home is an important predictor of child sexual abuse. If a mother has a violent partner, it is more likely that her children will be physically or sexually abused. The children are also at risk as they view violence, they are being traumatized. Children in violent homes develop posttraumatic stress disorder and experience nightmares, flashbacks, anxiety, and avoidance symptoms. Many children develop acting-out behaviors, some of them self-destructive or addictive. Other children develop depression or anger and egression.
The impact of domestic violence on a child depends on a number of factors:
- Age - Young children are more likely to develop physical symptoms. School age children react with emotional and behavioral problems, acting out at home and at school. Adolescents may respond with risk-taking behaviors such as drugs, alcohol, sexual promiscuity, and running away.
- Gender - Boys and girls do not react in significantly different ways. Response is highly individual. The boy's sense of helplessness may lead to self-anger and perception of weakness, but that is dependent on other factors. Boys may model their behaviors after the offender's, believing this to be "male" behavior." Girls may internalize the message that women are victims. These are generalizations.
- Race - The combination of racism, societal inequity and discrimination, and violence in the home contributes to increased anger in minority groups.
- Relationship with the mother - The child's perception of the mother as helpless and weak will affect the relationship. The child may want to help the mother and report the violence and be taught to maintain the secret. The mother may be unable to protect the child from the perpetrator.
- Type and frequency of violence - The more abuse is present in the home and the more extreme the level of violence, the more damaging it is to the child. Children experience both short and long-term consequences related to domestic violence.
- Coping skills and resilience - Some children suffer fewer consequences and grow up with intact self-esteem and ability to function and maintain relationships. One explanatory factor is resilience in which the child's internal strengths carry them through adverse circumstances. Coping strategies, supportive adults, secure attachment, positive peers, and effective intervention contribute to minimized consequences.
Mothers of sexually abused children may also be victims of domestic violence. If so, and the partner is the perpetrator, she may experience fear for her life and her child's life if she reports the sexual abuse to the authorities. Many women who experience domestic violence have learned helplessness and may feel paralyzed with fear and helpless to make changes in their lives. However, neither she nor the child are safe until she reports the abuse to police and social services.
If your child's offender is an abusive partner, contact your local Domestic Violence Shelter or Women's Resource Center. They can provide assistance, resources, and support and, if needed, help you with safe housing while the investigation and legal process proceeds. When you report the abuse, alert social services to the domestic violence so that you and your children can receive additional support and assistance.