For too long, our culture has portrayed domestic violence and child abuse as distinct and siloed issues. For those of us doing the work, the link between them is undeniable. One need not work in either field for too long to notice that the families struggling with domestic violence are often the same families struggling with child maltreatment and vice versa. The statistics support what practitioners know – 30% to 60% of children living in homes with domestic violence are also victims of abuse (Edleson, JL. “The Overlap Between Child Maltreatment and Women Battering.” Violence against Women, February 1999, 5:134-54).
Often if children are present in the home, they were used as a tool of power and control. The messages of abuse were consistent: “If you leave, you’ll never see your children again; if you don’t do what I say, I’ll call DCS or immigration; if you (fill in the blank), I’ll hurt or kill the children.” Many survivors state that they have remained in abusive relationships, knowing they would continue to endure sexual and domestic violence, to protect their children.
To the rest of us, that doesn’t make sense. We think that if a parent wants to protect their kids, they would leave the abuser. But when the person hurting you threatens to hurt your children, leaving isn’t so simple.
The deadliest time in a domestic violence relationship is when a victim leaves or prepares to leave the relationship. Unfortunately, that is also true for the children of the victim. In 2015, IMPD reported 1,538 reports of domestic violence in Marion County in comparison to only 154 reports for the rest of the state. In 77% of these reports, children witnessed the domestic violence (State of Domestic Violence in Central Indiana. 2016. Domestic Violence Network).
In Indiana, 59 children died as a result of abuse and neglect in 2015. 5 out of these 59 child fatality cases in the state sited domestic violence as a caregiver stressor (2016 Annual Report of Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities in Indiana. Department of Child Services) Overall, domestic violence constitutes the single greatest precursor for child maltreatment fatalities (U.S. Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect. 1995. A Nation’s Shame: Fatal Child Abuse and Neglect in the United States. Washington, D.C. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.)
Often, children are physically hurt or threatened as a way of punishing and controlling the victim of domestic violence. Other times, children are injured unintentionally when acts of violence occur in their presence. Sometimes, episodes of abuse originally directed only at the mother expand to include attacks on the children. Because domestic violence is not a single episode but rather a pattern of behavior, it is common for the violence to increase over time in both severity and frequency, meaning that the likelihood of children becoming victims themselves also increases. Domestic violence and child abuse are both steeped in secrecy, isolation, and shame – both underreported, and both predicated on power and control. They are also both characterized by a pattern of behavior as there is rarely an isolated incident of abuse.
A safe and healthy family is always in a child’s best interest. If we understand domestic violence, and how it impacts the children involved, it will allow us to better advocate for what will help the children be safe and healthy.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
To learn more about becoming a CASA Volunteer or supporting Child Advocates, please visit www.childadvocates.net or call 317.205.3055