Franklin Countys First News

Safe families, safe communities

By Hillary Hooke

One aspect of child abuse prevention that is sometimes misunderstood is the connection between domestic violence in a relationship and child abuse and neglect. It’s an important aspect of abuse prevention to get right, but more often than not people hear more about stereotypes of those who experience childhood domestic violence than facts.

What we do know is that in our country, children are frequently the victims of domestic abuse alongside their non-offending parent. Some estimates say that 15 million children in the US witness domestic violence in their homes, and other studies show that among victims of some form of child abuse, 40% of children also reported experiencing domestic abuse. Clearly, we can’t tackle one issue without addressing the other when it comes to DV and child safety.

Another commonly known set of statistics are those around children who witness or experience abuse in their homes, and their later life outcomes. People often ask DV advocates about this link – do people who witness a parent being abused grow up to perpetrate abuse themselves? Are they more likely to experience abuse as an adult?

The answers to these questions are complicated, and it’s important to remember that every person deserves consideration as an individual, and the chance to grow up and lead a healthy life.

Some studies do show that children who experience domestic abuse in the home may be more likely to abuse or experience abuse later in life: Girls who witness their mother being abused by their father or a father-figure are six times more likely to later be abused by a partner, and boys who witness the same abuse are 10 times more likely to abuse a future partner. Reading that you might be disheartened; this is the cycle of abuse in our society. But it’s important to remember that statistics can’t give us a full picture.

Rather than viewing children who witness domestic abuse as future victims or offenders, a truly comprehensive approach to ending child abuse and building resilient communities would look at these statistics and ask, what interventions do we need to make to reduce the amount of children exposed to domestic abuse? Only by thinking about the full picture of what domestic violence does to a child, a family, a school, a workplace, a community, will we be able to start giving children better life outcomes across the board. So, what does this look like?

First, people who choose to use abuse must be held accountable for their actions and the impact those actions have on others – including secondary victims, such as children living in a home where domestic violence occurs. The effects of witnessing domestic violence on children can be far reaching, and we need to take children’s emotional health as seriously as we would their physical health.

Children in abusive homes are more likely to suffer serious physical and mental health problems, act out in school and be vulnerable to other forms of abuse. All of these potential outcomes spring from the abuser’s choice to use violence, threats and manipulation against their partner.

Second, we need resources in our community, especially our schools, to continue to enhance the help we provide to young people as they process their emotions following traumatic experiences. We need widespread training in schools, and amongst healthcare providers, of how to screen for domestic violence in the home , and how to work with community resources to access this training and make referrals to domestic violence-specific services – something Safe Voices is addressing through our new system of direct referrals through the Public Health Advocate Initiated Referral program.

Finally, one thing we can all do for the children in our lives is to make sure they receive healthy examples of relationships, and that they are learning at every stage that violence is an unacceptable choice and never the solution to their problems. Step by step, together we can and must give children a safe, abuse-free future.

If you are interested in making a referral to Safe Voices, or receiving training to recognize and respond to domestic violence, please contact Hillary Hooke at hhooke@safevoices.org

If you or someone you know if a victim of domestic abuse, please call our free, confidential 24/7 helpline: 207-559-2927.

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