Domestic violence (DV) is a widespread societal issue with repercussions that reach far beyond the family. It is conduct that has detrimental effects for individual victims, children, and their communities. With both long-term and short-term effects, the witnessing of violence in general has been linked to behavioural, emotional and cognitive damage in children. The extent of damage can be attributed to their developmental level, the amount of exposure, physical closeness to the incident, and naturally, the emotional ties one has to those involved.
Given these parameters, it is evident that the exposure to violence between parents is a particularly traumatizing reality for children who suffer full consequences of a turbulent home life. Every year in fact, it has been reported that up to 275 million children worldwide are caught in the crossfire of domestic violence. Considering that DV is most often conducted in the home – the one environment best associated with safety and protection, it is of no surprise that a child’s exposure to marital violence has been connected to an assortment of issues.
This paper aims to extract the topic of DV in a North American context by focussing on the role of children who are witnesses to spousal abuse. Though children in these circumstances may not be the direct victims of abuse, the effects on children are wide-ranging and often regrettably, overlooked. In order to effectively and efficiently react to individuals suffering domestic violence, we must not only understand the nature and causes of domestic violence, but also understand how violence affects the victims, perpetrators, children, and community at large.
Having a thorough understanding of the phenomenon of DV will enable us with the knowledge necessary to intervene, to ensure the well- being of those close to us, and most importantly, to encourage effective parenting so as to ensure that we place ourselves and any potential child in a safe and secure environment. By beginning with an interpretation of domestic violence, this research will demonstrate how children are affected, how law responds to such incidences, and lastly, develop a macro-level explanation for the prevalence of DV in North American homes of the 21st century.
This research is dedicated to inspiring knowledge and encouraging more people to undertake the issue of violence against children. DEFINING DOMESTIC VIOLENCE Domestic violence, broadly speaking, is violence incurred in the parameters of the home. It is “a pattern of assaultive and coercive behaviors, including physical, sexual, and psychological attacks […] that adults or adolescents use against their intimate partners. ” In these relationships, both men and women “are supposedly peers with equal rights and responsibilities within the relationship. In other words, neither adult is in a position wherein they have legitimate authority to discipline or control the other. Domestic violence, or spousal abuse, is a distortion and misrepresentation of that relationship of equals with which our society assumes exists in a loving union between two partners. Domestic violence takes its form in a variety of ways. Physically, it is important to recognize that abuse and battery escalates.
What starts as violence in a caregiver and child’s presence, as punching a hole in a wall or breaking objects, “battery often escalated into more frequent and serious attacks such as pushing, slapping, pinching, punching, kicking, tripping, and throwing. ” Finally, this can lead to more serious behaviours like the breaking of bones, choking, and the use of weapons. Next, sexual abuse is a form of physical abuse wherein the woman is forced to engage in unconsented or undesired sexual intercourse or activity.
Last, psychological abuse takes its form in excessive possessive behaviour, verbal abuse and the isolating of woman from her friends and family. Verbal abuse which essentially demeans the woman through name-calling, yelling, nagging or ridiculing, is often an unrelenting and persistent part of an abusive relationship. WHAT STATISTICS TELL US Contrary to misinformation circulated in recent years by so-called “men’s rights” movements, the most important facts regarding violence against women do not lie.
According to 2010 police-reports outlined by Statistics Canada, it is undeniable that gender plays a significant role in the risk of domestic violence. It was found that 574 per 100,000 women were victims of intimate partner violence, in comparison to 147 per 100,000 men. What this data indicates, is that women are four times more vulnerable to suffer from DV than men. Though spousal abuse against men does occur, we cannot ignore the staggering difference between the two.
As with any form of family abuse, we must also consider the unreported instances of DV that women in North America have not claimed. In order to be true to the fact that spousal abuse is in fact, a gender issue, this paper will address spousal abuse in terms of the male perpetrator and woman victim. What does the prevalence of spousal abuse in Canada mean for children then? With over 103,000 cases of domestic abuse reported in Canada as of 2010, it is critical to mention that “52% of spousal violence victims indicated their children witnessed a violent episode in the preceding five years. Not only is spousal violence a prevalent issue, but it is a problem that is overtly exposed to children who do not have the resources necessary to properly cope with its effects. CHILDREN ARE VICTIMS TOO Though initial studies of domestic violence were limited to the focus of the two adult partners; the male perpetrator and female victim, “it has become increasingly evident, however, that the consequences of domestic violence involve all family members, with children being the unintended victim in this system. Aside from the shock of the act itself and the distortion of a child’s sense of security in his or her own home, the repercussions of domestic violence also implicate acts of parental omission. This is in reference to characteristic nurturing and supportive features that can be disrupted as a result of DV. Thus, it is unsurprising that the exposure of spousal abuse is linked to an assortment of issues in children. When thinking about domestic abuse and its effects on children, it helps to assess the situation from the perspective of a child.
In a domestic abuse situation, both the parents involved; the aggressor and the victim, are the two people with whom the child is most likely to identity with and turn to for support. Parents are there for support, to nurture and be an inspiration. Naturally, when a child witnesses their mother being attacked by the man they identify as their dad; or perhaps, a man they looked up to, spousal abuse is most certainly a devastating memory. As children are still very dependent on their parents, a child is often forced to internalize and suffer the reality of his or her family-life in silence.
Despite children not being directly abused themselves, “the behavioural and psychological consequences of growing up in a violent home can be just as devastating. ” Given this explanation, this paper shall continue forward under the assumption that a basic correlation between child exposure to violence and its potential to cause damage are understood. THE IMPACT OF VIOLENCE AGAINST CHILDREN The devastating effects of domestic violence against women have been well documented. Far less however, is known about the impacts of domestic violence on children who witness their mother or caregiver being subjected to abuse.
These children, the often forgotten victims, will be the focus of this next section. Aside from domestic violence being a major source of injury, the consequences of spousal abuse take a toll on more subtle or less blatantly obvious aspects of human functioning. This includes behavioural, emotional, social and cognitive effects of children. Disruption in these areas has the ability to permeate the dimensions of a child’s day-to-day life, thus making their progression through developmental processes quite difficult.
By addressing the multitude of ways children can be affected by domestic abuse, this segment will demonstrate how DV is not in fact, an issue between two partners, but an issue that affects children and the community at large. As a consequence of a parent or caregiver being victimized, a key characteristic of a child’s victimization is the violation of their dependency needs. This refers to a child’s basic biological and psychological needs. In cases of spousal abuse, the victimization may affect a caregivers ability to function in a loving or nurturing role.
As children watch one guardian injuring and scaring the other, both caregivers become less available to the child. In such cases, the perpetrator may be frightening, overbearing and untrustworthy, while the victim may appear defenceless and in need of being cared for herself. Ultimately, as if the violation of one’s home as a safe haven is not enough, the abuse and victimization results in a lack of emotional support from a child’s guardian. Evidence has emerged that “parents who experience marital discord—not even as extreme as marital violence—are less emotionally attuned and less attentive to their children. Obviously, with the trauma of witnessing domestic violence, children are in greater need of emotional support that simply cannot be provided. Thus, a vicious cycle begins, with emotional, social and academic consequences for children. A considerable amount of literature has linked exposure to domestic abuse with depression and anxiety. When their home; their supposed place of safety and protection becomes a space of violence, a child may interpret the violence in a way wherein they feel that the world is unsafe; that they are unworthy of being protected.
These thoughts manifest in children by making them feel helpless and vulnerable, leading them to a negative self-perception, and overall, state of depression. After many women victims of DV were found at high risk of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), children were also found to be victims of trauma. PTSD is an important consequence of witnessing violence because of its effects on impairing a child’s social and behavioural abilities.
Symptoms of PTSD include “sleep disturbances such as nightmares and night terrors, hyper vigilance, irritability, anxiety, inability to sit still, behavioural changes (such as aggression, oppositional behaviour, new fears), […] distress at reminders of trauma, disassociation, […] and a self-defeating attitude that might invite abuse. ” Clearly PTSD and depression impacts psychological functioning, as it is also noted through studies of children in shelters with their mothers, that the trauma affects their ability to learn and perform well in the classroom.
In addition to the effects DV has on the interpersonal parent-child relationship, and the effects on a child’s psychological well-being, are their behaviours towards conflict. It has been found that repeated exposure to domestic violence has had a sensitizing effect on children towards conflict. With an increase in emotional insecurity, children are less able to regulate their emotions in instances of conflict. Some children are found have lost the ability to empathize with others, which has the potential to develop into narcissistic and sociopathic tendencies.
Other children may feel socially isolated or unable to make friends as easily as a result of social discomfort. More significantly, when a child is raised in a dysfunctional environment, “they absorb many dysfunctional messages about the acceptability of violence as a way to resolve conflict, about rationalizing the use of violence as essential under stressful conditions, and about the devaluation of women. ” Consequently, children are more likely to engage in deviant behaviour, deal with conflict through violent means, and moreover, carry on the cycle of abuse in their personal relationships.
As boys are raised seeing their father figure devalue and objectify their caregivers, these ideas of power and patriarchy exhibited in their household can be transferred to the sons. Alternatively, a young girl who witnesses domestic violence may feel unworthy of love or value, thus accepting misogyny to be an irrefutable part of life. The exposure of a young girl to domestic violence therefore, may have the effect of leading her to future relationships wherein she herself can also become a victim of abuse in a violent relationship.
Children growing up being exposed to domestic violence learn early and powerful lessons about the use of violence to dominate others in interpersonal relationships. Though not all child witnesses to DV will fall in the trap of being victims or abusers, statistically speaking, it can certainly encourage children to ascertain power in the same fashion. Ultimately, in order to understand the effects of domestic violence on children, one must direct their attention to the crucial role of all family relationships — including spousal relationships and parent-child relationships.
It is undeniable that the interactions between these dealings have an effect on the characteristics of children. The emotional tone of family interactions therefore, set a stage for a child’s ability to develop healthy relationships. Naturally, the occurrence of volatility or hostility in familial relations produces a generally negative view of the family, consequently depriving children of a positive model for relationships that are based on love, respect, trust and constructive problem solving.
In the case of domestic violence where there is an atmosphere of fear, danger and unpredictability, children around the world are unable to live a normal family life with nurturing relationships. In the exposure of domestic violence to children, parents are compromising their ability to be role models, and instead, poorly functioning in their responsibilities as caregivers. The effects of the hostile relations between two caregivers therefore, inhibit a child’s unique talents, their social life, psychological well-being, and ability to establish supportive relationships outside the family.
Moreover, children struggle with regulating their emotions and their relationship towards the way they perceive violence. Though symptoms of domestic violence vary between circumstances and cases, there is no question that domestic violence is reflected in the psychological, behavioural and emotional wiring of children worldwide. | LAWS AGAINST DOMESTIC ABUSE In the last half of the 20th century, one of the greatest strides by police forces of North America was the emergence of methods in handling cases of domestic abuse.
Traditionally, the issue of domestic violence was taboo; it was ignored and treated as a problem of the family – between male and female partners. With the exception of life-threatening cases, the Criminal Justice System (CJS) believed cases of spousal abuse to be separate from regular assault, and thus, acquiring no place in the proceedings of the courtrooms. In other words, CJS had no intention of concerning itself in the affairs and happenings of a union between two partners. As attitudes towards spousal abuse began to shift, so too did the willingness of law enforcement in taking domestic violence seriously.
Every year, police officers across every North American community respond to thousands of 911 and non-emergency calls for domestic violence. Of these calls, as before mentioned, half these cases typically involve the presence of at least one child. Since police officers are the first people to reach the scene of DV cases, this work will first address the challenges police officers face when dealing with child witnesses, and follow up by reporting on the way in which the Criminal Justice System has adjusted to the change in attitudes regarding domestic violence.
Police Response to Domestic Violence On a typical call for spousal abuse, two uniformed officers, “are expected to respond immediately, keep themselves and their partners safe, restore order, conduct a preliminary investigation, and determine the sequence of events prior to their arrival by questioning the victim, the suspect and any witnesses. ” Though responding to DV calls can be dangerous for all parties involved, it can be especially challenging due to the complex emotionally charged and volatile nature of these situations. In spite of the frightening nd distressing situation for the attacker and victim, one must understand that the exposure of violence from one loved one to the next, is equally – if not more so – frightening and distressing for children at the scene. It is shocking then, that in the process of completing police reports and conducting investigations, that children are rarely treated or viewed as victims by the officers. It may be observed that a child is sad, angry, distressed, stunned, vacant or numb, though it is troubling that children are generally paid little attention to unless they themselves are the direct victims instead of the witnesses.
As first respondents to a scene of domestic violence, police officers are generally the first and only adults (aside from the adults involved in the altercation) with whom they are in close proximity. Police officers therefore are given a unique opportunity to impact a child who has just suffered an overwhelming and frightening experience. Due to being poorly trained in recognizing signs and symptoms of trauma and distress in children of varying ages, “they often do not know what they could do and say that could help (or worsen) the situation for a child victim of domestic violence. These findings plainly demonstrate the need for additional police training in areas pertaining to traumatized children in domestic abuse cases. As it stands, the inability of officers to detect signs of distress and trauma make it unlikely that officers can respond to children in ways that could reduce harm, or prevent further harm.
Moreover, “children will unlikely be referred to appropriate assessment and intervention programs to prevent the long-term negative consequences associated with emotional abuse, neglect, and trauma. With proper training, what an officer says or does, or does not say or do, can have a powerful and positive impact on a child. Though some provinces and states such as British Columbia and Florida have already implemented specific police units to handle DV cases, a positive step forward would be to enact these learning practices amongst all provinces and states. For the future of structural changes in legal practice, this work encourages collaborative programs between law enforcement and mental health professionals.
In these partnerships, not only will children be recognized and dealt with appropriately as victims as well, but the mental health knowledge extended to officers will give them a sense that they are still working, but now in a way that puts the best interest of children at heart. In addition to training with victims, law enforcement should be instructed on the scene to supplement mandatory arrest policies with the referring of victims to social service support groups. In this instance, both child[ren] and their mothers are connected to social and financial support at the very start of a case.
This ensures that coercion from the batterer is countered. Moreover, having advocates on call or present on the scene of DV cases, will demonstrate cooperation, and also illustrate the promotion of law enforcements respectful treatment of those who have suffered the abuses of domestic violence. The Criminal Justice System on Domestic Violence While police forces have started to familiarize themselves with specialized methods in handling cases of domestic violence, the innovation of the changes in the Criminal Justice System (CJS) has been a remarkable one.
In hopes of changing the way DV cases are dealt with, Domestic Violence courts made to deal strictly with the problem of DV have been established. According to the Domestic Violence Resource Center, 1 in 4 women (25%) have experienced domestic violence in their lifetime. Each year then, between 600,000 and six million women are victims of domestic violence. Furthermore, nearly 3 out of 4 (74%) Americans personally know someone who is or has been a victim of domestic violence. Clearly, these numbers are staggering and bring to attention the seriousness of domestic abuse.
Considering that every case of domestic violence is unique to the family in its elements of abuse, the rate of occurrence and the family impact on the potential prosecution of the perpetrator, the need to develop a court of law that deals with DV on a case-by-case basis was a necessary feat. Despite the noticeable and well-intended paradigm shift in the way legal enforcement agencies deal with accusations of domestic violence, there is still a definite need to make innovations so as to address the faults of the current CJS that grapples with spousal abuse.
In cases of domestic violence that led to homicide, Canadian studies have exposed that in 6 of 10 cases, police were already aware of spousal abuse in the relationship. Moreover, in 8% of these cases resulting in homicide, the women had had a restraining order against the male perpetrator. This indicates a fundamental flaw in law enforcement, where the perpetrators continue the cycle of violence, even after going through legal processes. While these statistics indicate extreme cases, it till begs the question, how many women and children are still being battered even after going through legal and/or court processes? When instances like this occur, not only does the perpetrator get away with violence, but it leaves the victims feeling hopeless, as the law enforcement – the system supposedly there to eradicate this violence, has failed. This leaves women and their children unprotected and at risk of escalating violence, with immediate, short-term, and long-term effects. Therefore, it is clear that the Criminal Justice System has been ineffectual in breaking the cycle of violence.
For this reason, new innovations are necessary in improving the CJS such that, the future of innocent women and children are free from violence in their own homes. While we can still applaud the triumphs of ongoing efforts, we must also understand that our society has a long road ahead in the eradication or greater prevention of domestic abuse. In North America, we are continuously producing hundreds of thousands of men and boys engaged in physical, emotional and sexual acts of violence. We can offer more services to women and child victims, we can toughen laws and enforcement, and we can incarcerate more men than we currently do.
The problem however, will still exist. Such reactive solutions are essentially an admission of failure. If we want to put an end to the issue of domestic abuse once and for all, we must begin by addressing the societal framework with which domestic abuse exists. In doing so, we may finally produce a practical solution for change. A CRISIS IN MASCULINITY In spite of more recent calls of attention to the topic of domestic violence in North America over the years, it continues to be an enormous problem with great societal consequences.
Through the examination of male-dominated culture, we may begin to see how masculine identities of the 21st century are directly related to the prevalence of domestic abuse that affects women and children today. If we aim to eradicate the widespread domestic violence in North America, it needs to be understood as part of an ongoing crisis in masculinity. Starting from childhood, boys learn at an early age that to be a so-called “real man”, he must assume the role that our dominant culture has defined as “macho” or manly. For boys, this means conforming to notions of masculinity that value qualities uch as being strong, independent, intimidating, powerful, in control, tough, muscular and rugged. Conversely, “just as most young men know what our culture expects of a “real man,” they also know very well what you get called if you don’t measure up. ”
Jackson Katz, an anti-sexism activist and expert of violence, media and masculinities, asked real children what narrow box they would be placed in for not conforming to masculine identities: “You get called a pussy, a queer, soft […], a little momma’s boy, emotional, girly, a wimp, a bitch, […] a sissy, a fag. Clearly, there is a great deal of pressure to adapt to principles of masculinity set out for them. These principles for boys and men however, are hard to escape from. Taught through the family, the community, and most significantly, the pervasive media system, a steady stream of images, discussions and expectations identity manhood as connected to ideas of dominance, power and control. Considering the pressure men face in their day to day lives to uphold these expectations, it is not helpful then, that there is a competitive undertone in the male culture wherein countless men are striving to be the bigger alpha male.
As men across North America continuously repress their feelings, honour violent sports such as UFC or sport fights and encourage the objectification of women as sexual tools, on a social level, we reach a dilemma. While most individuals would agree that domestic abuse is a horrible crime, culturally speaking, our largest institutions (media and sports), are guided by the same ideas that promote heterosexual machoism, and in turn, domestic violence. Violence therefore, is not a deviation; it is very much an embedded and accepted part of male culture.
We cannot be surprised when the men we taught to repress feelings, to be strong, to be powerful and seek control, turn to their spouses to assert their control. Like many forms of abuse, domestic abuse too, is very much about gaining a sense of control. In situations where men may feel that they have no control over their life events or their feelings, the assertion of control against their spouse, presents them with an unwarranted and unhealthy opportunity to restore it.
In many ways, as stated above, men struggle with the need to feel in control of their circumstances and feelings; to be in power. Through spousal abuse, men have been to control the lives of their partner, when they cannot control their own. Men have been able to belittle their partners to a point that they do not believe they can leave their situation, thus giving the man power; men have been able to use physical violence and verbal abuse to get what they want, again giving them power.
What this shows, is that an awful lot of men are cycling their notions of masculinity into the spheres of their home life. What this work proposes, is the adoption of a more ambitious approach. If we want to dramatically reduce the rate of domestic abuse, we need to strive for a cultural revolution. At the core of this revolution is the need to change the sexist and social norms that are prevalent in male culture.
As long as violence is an integral part of masculine culture, so too will domestic violence against women and children. CONCLUSION As this research has exposed, the prevalence of domestic violence is far-reaching. Though the problem of DV on a macro-scale is one that addresses the inherent patriarchy that exists in our North American society, on an individual level, we must start by acknowledging how familial interactions have a crucial impact on the development of children.
As domestic abuse witnessed by children continues to be overlooked, children everywhere are being deprived of nurture, love, and a positive model of a healthy functioning relationship. Subsequently, the damage forced upon these children is carried into their day-to-lives, thus extending into the realms of the community and their future interpersonal relationships. As more knowledge has been produced about the often voiceless and unrecognized victims of domestic violence, this report hopes to have procured a vision of preventative change.
Though there is a long road ahead in the eradication of domestic violence, it starts with being informed. As we work together to inspire healthy, trusting relationships, it is stressed that we truly recognize the potential of our children, and the children of the community. From school playgrounds to the common room of retirement populations – and every classroom, recreation centre and locker room in between, the opportunity to produce substantive change, is all around us. Our children are the future.
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