The phrase child abuse means many different things to the American people. Most frequently, people define this phrase as physical cruelty toward small children and this is certainly one definition. After thinking about it, many people would also include sexual molestation, parent’s drug addiction and filthy living conditions. Interestingly, very few people outside of the professional domestic and sexual violence awareness community understand how domestic and sexual violence directed at the mother or cruelty to a pet by the father or father figure can have devastating effects on the children and are by definition abusive. Nonetheless, the next section will concentrate on overt (direct) forms of abuse that children with a batterer for a father are subjected to in far greater numbers than children with non-battering fathers.
The risk for children of batterers to be physically abused is alarmingly high; 49-70%, versus 7% within the general population.Batterers who also abuse alcohol are significantly more likely to physically abuse children than are other batterers. The risk of physical abuse of children by a batterer rises with the severity and frequency of the abuse directed at their mother. A custody/visitation evaluator would be negligent in not investigating charges of domestic violence and alcohol abuse by the father for these are red flags of potential child abuse. In addition, batterers are at risk to kill children, especially if they murder or attempt to murder the mother; in more than 1 in 8 domestic violence homicides, the batterer kills one or more children.
Unbelievably, we still hear professional evaluators and judges declare that regardless of the batterer’s treatment of the mother, they believe him to be a good father because the violence was between (as if his violence is a joint activity) the batterer and his partner and had no direct bearing on his ability to father. There continues to be a strong tendency in our society to want to separate a man’s violence and mistreatment of his partner from any effects on the children in the home, as if the tension and ugliness were occurring in a vacuum. This of course is impossible, 90% of children who have a batterer for a father are fully aware of his behavior.
His violence is directed at who he perceives to be his possessions (his family) and he does not draw a line between his entitlement in regards to his partner and the extensions of her (the children). His violence does not happen between himself and his partner, he uses his violence as a weapon to manipulate and control his partner and their children.
Batterers commonly increase their intimidation and neglect in relation to the children after a separation or divorce. The children were a major way for him to exert power and control over his partner while she was residing with him. The children seldom decrease in value as pawns for the batterer’s tactics after a separation, thus his efforts at terrorizing her through the children very often increase. Reports to us of batterer/fathers taking very small boys (ages 2-5) on hunting trips, allowing children to ride in the back of pickup trucks with no restraints, encouraging adolescent children to view pornography, making liquor available for teenagers and the list goes on and on, are sadly common after a divorce or separation. These behaviors are child abuse/neglect, yet so often when mothers attempt to bring these behaviors to the attention of the proper authorities they are often dismissed as an angry, bitter woman seeking revenge. The batterer feels free to continue as he chooses and generally he is free.
If the batterer can no longer get at the children’s mother directly, he will far too often do the next best (worst) thing; get at her through her children. Clearly, any man who would manipulate, abuse and use his children in such a cruel and insidious manner is not a good father.'
The current research on the relationship between domestic violence and incest shows a 44.5% to 73% overlap, meaning that 44.5% to 73% of incest perpetrators also inflict some degree of abusive behavior on their partner. Nearly all the victims were young daughters or stepdaughters of these men. The sexually abusive domestic batterers in these studies tended to fall within one of two categories. Either they used a low level of physical abuse and an extremely high level of emotional and verbal abuse or they used extremely high levels of both.
Batterers who are also perpetrators of incest do not primarily desire children as sex partners; they nearly always carry on adult sexual relations with the child’s mother at the same time. Very often these men will continue to victimize the same daughter or daughters for years. Few of these men have mental disorders or significant problems with jobs, friendships or community involvement: they “look” normal. Although these abusers generally prefer daughters, they will molest sons if there are no girls around.They consider themselves entitled to use anyone in their household in any way they choose.
Secrecy is critical to both batterers and molesters. Threats of even greater harm/blame/shame if the victims report his crimes are standard operating procedure for most abusive men. Abusiveness cannot survive in the light of public attention.
Teaching the children well
Children who are raised in homes where the father is a batterer are exposed to eight times as many physical threats; five times as many control tactics, and four times as much sexual coercion. Boys exposed to their father’s domestic violence show much higher rates of aggressiveness and bullying toward peers, and both boys and girls show signs of learning to meet their needs by manipulating, pressuring, and coercing others. Children do become what they see and hear.
Boys raised in homes where an abusive father is present show sharp increases in battering their own partners, and of using other types of demeaning, psychologically abusive, and aggressive behaviors toward their partners. Additionally, these boys have shown a much greater likelihood of committing sexual assaults. Recent data has found that one in five high school age girls will be physically and/or sexually assaulted by a boy their own age at least once before she graduates. These abusive boys don’t drop out of the sky; they are coached by their fathers to believe that cruel treatment of women and girls is acceptable.
Boys are extremely prone to identify with their fathers. If their father is a non-violent man, this identification will be a normal, healthy occurrence. However, if their father is a batterer, this identification can have disastrous effects for another generation.Teenage boys who are sent to live with an abusive father in custody suits are at even greater danger of replicating their father’s attitudes and behavior.
Girls who are raised in homes where the father is a batterer are not only at greater risk of being abused by the father, but are also being coached to accept that men are violent, and that women are to blame for this violence. Girls raised in these homes are more likely to become involved with an abusive male and less likely to seek help when they are abused: they have learned that’s the way life is.
It’s fairly well known that children raised in homes with a batterer for a father display much higher rates of emotional, behavioral and learning disabilities, as well as six times higher suicide rates. What is not as well known is the effect their father’s behavior and attitudes have on the children's developing belief systems.
The “truths” these children learn at the knees of their fathers impact every aspect of their development and growth and will continue to echo throughout their own, their future partners and future children’s lives.
The view of the world these children develop often includes some or all of the following beliefs:
Victims of violence are to blame for the violence. Batterers feel justified in their abusive behaviors because they believe that they were provoked by a partner who failed to understand/respect/accept their special entitlement; “You know I hate it when you…”, “You should have shut up when I told you to”, “You’re too stupid to understand anything, the only thing you understand is…”
The use of violence is justified to impose your desire or settle a fight. Violence works. Children witness the “winning” by the most powerful parent in outbursts at home, in court proceedings, and in visitation agreement/orders.
Men should be in control and women should be submissive. These sexist views are overtly and covertly communicated to the children, particularly the sons, with regard to future violence and by the girls who begin to view all men as abusive and her own abuse to be inevitable. The manipulative behavior of the abusive father appears to justify and rationalize his choices.
There’s little consequence to the abuser for his domestic violence. The children in these homes realize that the criminal justice system appears to do very little or nothing to stop the violence. They see their father being the “great guy” outside the home and all his buddies rallying around. They know that neighbors hear the fighting yet do nothing and that everyone can see their mother’s black eye and busted lip. It doesn’t seem to matter to anyone else, after awhile; these children may begin to wonder why it matters to them.
Women are weak, stupid and deserving of what they get. This view is still rampant in our society: “Why doesn’t she just leave?” The children absorb this attitude from both their fathers and from society even when they have witnessed their mothers doing everything in her power to change or escape the brutal treatment. We still don’t ask “Why does he do that?”
It’s better for older boys to be with their father than with their mother, boys need a man’s influence. Boys and girls need healthy guidance, love, support and boundaries. There is precious little evidence that any child is better or worse off receiving these opportunities from one parent or the other; however, there is much evidence that a child who receives none of this will suffer for a lifetime. Battering fathers are not likely to be healthy role models for any child.
Anger, alcohol or both cause violence. No, they do not. Anger is not an unhealthy emotion, although, what some men choose to do with their “anger” and sense of entitlement can be very unhealthy. To be violent is a choice and the batterer has total control over his choices. Everyone experiences anger from time to time, but everyone does not batter another person because of this anger. There is no relationship between alcohol and violence with the exception that drunkenness can provide a perfect excuse (justification) for some men’s choice to be violent*. However, there does appear to be a relationship between the degree of damage inflicted on a victim and a man’s intake of alcohol and between a man’s drunkenness and his likelihood of also abusing and/or molesting his children. Witnessing a battering father’s violence has been linked to increases in drug and alcohol abuse and teenage pregnancy for these children.
* Please note: With the exception of methamphetamine and anabolic steroids, no substance is known to cause an otherwise nonviolent person to suddenly become violent. Substance abuse commonly relaxes a person’s inhibitions, but does not induce violence unless the person had a violent predisposition beforehand.
Women Who are Battered
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 violenceannually.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 toabuse 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 homewas 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 (46.7percent) of the children in the study had been exposed to at least one incident of mild or severeviolence 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
The Facts on Children and Domestic Violence
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: