Domestic Violence and Children

The National Center for Children in Poverty reports that there are between 3.3 to 10 million children that witness domestic violence each year.[1] The violence witnessed by children has a significant impact. Numerous studies have concluded that a history of family violence is a major indicator of future violence. The youths involved in the juvenile justice system often come from families in which domestic violence has occurred.

Courts must recognize and respond to the critical needs of children witnessing domestic violence not only to break the cycle of violence, but also because the children witnessing domestic violence are often at risk of physical abuse themselves. According to a report by the National Network of Children’s Advocacy Centers, 45 percent of battered women in shelters report that their batterers have also committed some form of child abuse. Child abuse is 15 times more likely to occur in households where adult domestic violence is present.[2]

To protect those children exposed to violence as well as to break the domestic violence cycle, courts must offer a concerned and caring approach to these children when they are first introduced to the court system. Young children, however, present a special challenge to the justice system. Frequently, children witnessing domestic violence, particularly those children that are the only witness to their mother’s victimization, suffer from emotional abuse and psychological maltreatment.[3]  Often, it is these children who bear the ultimate responsibility of validating the reality of the victimization. This responsibility may include testifying in criminal proceedings against the perpetrator.

[1] Sharmila Lawrence, National Center for Children in Poverty, Domestic Violence and Welfare Policy: Research Findings That Can Inform Policies on Marriage and Child Well-Being 5 (2002).

[2] National Network of Children’s Advocacy Centers, National Network News, spring 1995.

[3] Children of Battered Women, Jaffe, Wolfe & Wilson, Sage Publications, Newburg Park, California, 1990.

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