Children Who Witness Domestic Violence

children who witness domestic violenceDomestic violence extends across all socioeconomic boundaries, and too often, children are innocent witnesses to these acts.[1] A nationwide study found that in more than a third of domestic violence cases, children have witnessed a parent or caregiver become physically injured; however, only a small fraction of offenders receive legal consequences.1

“One of the most shocking findings is that less than two percent of the cases resulted in jail time for the perpetrator,” said lead researcher Sherry Hamby, PhD.1

Children who witness domestic violence are rarely physically injured themselves; however, they are almost always mentally and emotionally injured, feeling fear and anxiety.1 Many children state that they are afraid that someone would be hurt badly, and two in five say that the violence was one of the scariest things they have ever experienced.1

“Children who witness domestic violence are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, nightmares, teen dating violence, and disruptions with school work,” said Hamby. “The trauma can be very similar to when children experience abuse themselves.”1

Hamby added, “Family violence definitely cuts across all segments of society and has a serious impact on children. Parents are such big figures in a child’s life. If a parent is endangered, that can threaten the child’s well-being. They get worried that if their parent is in danger, then who is going to protect them?”1

The nationwide study included 517 children who had witnessed domestic violence, including beating, hitting, or kicking of a parent or caregiver.1 Three out of every four children visually witnessed the violence, 21 percent heard it, and three percent saw the injuries afterwards.1

However, this study contradicted the stereotype that domestic violence is more prevalent in low-income or minority households.1 In fact, the violent incidents crossed many economic lines, with 28 percent occurring in households with annual incomes under $20,000, 30 percent with incomes from $20,000 to $50,000, 18 percent with incomes from $50,000 to $75,000, and 24 percent with incomes greater than $75,000.1

The violence also crossed ethnic lines, with 53 percent while, 20 percent African-American, 16 percent Latino, and 11 percent other races.1 Approximately three out of every four perpetrators were male.1

In the cases where arrests were not made, one-third of adults said that police should have made an arrest, and 13 percent said the police should have followed through with the investigation.1 The study also examined whether or not police followed best practices, such as providing information about protective orders, domestic violence shelters, and safety plans to prevent further violence.1 Less than half of the police who responded to such incidents followed those best practices.1

“There is a lot of evidence that better training and responses by police could make a big difference for families,” said Hamby. “All 50 states allow arrests in domestic violence cases without cooperation from the victim, but convictions can be more difficult to obtain if the victim refuses to testify. Victims may fear further violence or other repercussions from testifying since most perpetrators who are arrested will be released without serving any jail time.”1

Therefore, children involved will often go on to continuously witness domestic violence and take serious mental and emotional tolls because of it.

[1] Nauert, R. (2014). Children Often Witness Domestic Violence, with Side Effects. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 10, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/news/2014/04/09/children-often-witness-domestic-violence-with-side-effects-2/68287.html

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