Domestic violence is an abuse of power usually perpetrated by men to exercise control over women and children (BWRI 2003). It usually occurs between a man and woman who share or shared an intimate relationship. Domestic violence is never an isolated incident (Walker 2002). It is a systematic pattern of abusive behavior that build up and escalates in frequency and severity over time (Walker 2002). Battering occurs among people of all ethnicities, ages, socio-economic classes, religious affiliations, occupations, and educational backgrounds (Walker 1980).
There are different forms of domestic violence: physical abuse, sexual abuse, economic abuse, and emotional abuse. Physical abuse includes hitting, punching, kicking, throwing, shoving, burning, choking, and anything else causing bodily harm or death (BWRI 2003). Sexual abuse includes, but is not limited to, rape, sexual assault, sexual possessiveness, enforced prostitution, and other sexual acts against the victims will (BWRI 2003). Economic abuse is when the victim is being kept short of money, not allowed to have money, have to beg for money, deprived of food, and economically dependent on the batterer (BWRI 2003). Emotional abuse is being continually humiliated and degraded, being intimidated, systematic criticisms and belittling comments, isolated from friends and family, and many other tactics to mentally control the victim (BWRI 2003).
Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of fifteen and forty-four in the United States (U.S. Senate 1992). Approximately ninety-five percent of domestic violence victims are women (Clark County Prosecutor 2003). One woman is beaten by her husband or partner every fifteen seconds in the United States (FBI 1991). However, battering is the most under reported crime in America (Clark County Prosecutor 2003). Many batterers learned violent behavior growing up in an abusive family (Walker 1980).
An estimated 3.3 million children are exposed to violence against their mothers or female caretakers by family members (American Psychological Association 1996). The long-term effects domestic violence has on children can be devastating. Children who witness domestic violence are at risk for emotional, behavioral, social, and physical trauma (Ballard 2003). Some children experience depression because they feel helpless or powerless in the situation (Ballard 2003). In worse case scenarios, the depression can lead to suicide (Ballard 2003). The silent victims may also isolate themselves and have difficulty trusting others (Peled, Jaffe, and Eddleson 1995). Every child’s reaction to domestic violence and coping style is different. Children who witness domestic violence may seek comfort in food, sex, or drugs (Ballard 2003).
A majority of the children who witness violence in the home display an aggressive behavior (Ballard 2003). Sixty-two percent of young men between the ages of eleven and twenty serving time for homicide killed their mother’s batterer (New Hampshire Coalition 2003). Males who witness family violence are more likely to batter their female partners as adults than are boys raised in non-violent homes (Georgia Department of Human Resources 1992). Females who witness their mother’s abuse have a higher rate of being battered as adults (Georgia Department of Human Resources 1992).
Children living in family violence are often themselves victims of abuse by the batterer, the battered, or both (Walton 2003). Forty to sixty percent of men who abuse women also abuse children (American Psychological Association 1996). Children in homes where domestic violence occurs are physically abused or seriously neglected at a rate of 1,500% higher than the national average in the general population (New Hampshire Coalition 2003). Twenty-seven percent of domestic homicide victims were children (Florida Task Force 1997). When children are killed during a domestic dispute, ninety percent are under age ten and fifty-six percent are under age two (Florida Task Force 1997).
When children witness abuse, they are seeing, hearing, and learning about violence (Walton 2003). They learn that the people you love the most may hurt you, living in fear is normal, and that violence is a way to handle conflict. Children in violent homes are often caught in the middle, and in many homes, they are also abused (Walton 2003). Witnessing domestic violence contributes to a number of emotional, behavioral, physical, and social problems. These behaviors can persist into adulthood creating a generational cycle in which children grow up to be victims and abusers as adults (Walton 2003). Even if children are not directly beaten, they can be harmed by exposure to domestic violence.