09/16/2014 12:16 pm ET Updated Nov 16, 2014

Let's Not Forget the Other Victim

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As the nation dissects the various angles of the Ray Rice domestic abuse case -- the brutal assault Rice delivered to his then-fiancée Janay Palmer; the alleged cover up by the National Football League, prosecution team and the Baltimore Ravens; and the graphic TMZ video -- there is another victim who's been largely left out the public conversation. The couple's child.

Rice and Palmer welcomed a daughter, Rayven, in 2012. At the time of Rice's brutal assault on Janay in February 2014, Rayven was a toddler.

As the nation faces a historic moment in the domestic violence prevention movement, let's not forget that children are the often neglected "other victim" in domestic abuse cases.

Children living in homes where domestic abuse occurs are often present before, during and after the abuse. And they often suffer significant health and academic problems as a result.

Our study conducted with serial domestic violence offenders revealed that children are present during many abuse incidents and are commonly present and sometimes directly included in couples' conversations about the abuse event itself.

In one domestic abuse case, a couple's toddler was present when the domestic abuser broke into the couple's bedroom and woke the victim (and the couple's toddler) by suffocating, slapping and biting the victim's face.

After another domestic abuse event, during a telephone conversation with his wife, an offender pressed his wife to talk with their 5-year-old daughter. When the daughter got on the phone, the domestic violence offender pushed her to: "Ask your mom why she's so evil. Ask her why she has to be so evil. Ask your mom why she put me in jail." The 5-year-old then turned and asked her mother these questions.


No. Domestic abuse has serious, long-lasting negative consequences for children living in the home. The evidence consistently shows that children whose mothers are abused in the home are more likely than other children to experience depression and anxiety ("internalizing behaviors") and aggression and anti-social tendencies ("externalizing behaviors").

Children in homes where domestic abuse occurs are also more likely than other children to experience problems in school. This includes visiting a school nurse for social and emotional complaints, including nurse visits that result in being sent home from school and those resulting in referrals to a speech pathologist. It also includes being absent from school and being suspended for behavioral problems.

These problems manifest in our nation's health care system. Children exposed directly to domestic abuse in the home have greater emergency department and primary care visits during the period when abuse is occurring, and are three times as likely as other children to visit a mental health provider after the domestic abuse ends.

What's more, these health problems continue into adolescence and adulthood. Women who witness domestic abuse in childhood are more likely than other women to have poor health, depression, victimization in adulthood and greater use of health care and mental health services -- even 20 years after the initial exposure.

As well, observing abuse in one's family of origin predicts aggression with romantic partners in young adulthood.

At this defining moment in history, let's be sure to include in our conversations the impact that domestic abuse has for the largely ignored victims in these cases: children in the home. This includes a call to our nation's professionals in health and school settings -- who are critically important front-line responders -- to be aware of the widespread adverse impacts that domestic abuse has for children living in these homes and the long-term health ramifications into adulthood.