When Children are caught in the crossfire of emotional and physical domestic abuse, their chances of coming out of this unscarred are slim to none. When social services face deep budget cuts, children of partners in abusive relationships stand an even greater chance of falling through the cracks of a bureaucracy still very patriarchal when it comes to male dominance over women.
Contrary to what many in our society debunk as hyperbole, domestic violence cuts through class, gender, age and color lines. Women from affluent communities like Winnetka and Lake Forest experience the same abuse as women from Englewood and Austin. We just don’t speak about it or see it daily in headlines.
Since abusers from all backgrounds share many or all of the following traits, no one is immune from being victimized. Abusers are manipulative, controlling and jealous. They are particularly adept at hurling cruel and hurtful language at their victims, usually in private when only family members or no one is around. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, an abuser runs a gamut of unpredictable emotions from being explosive and moody to being congenial and affectionate. It is not unusual for abusers to use intimidation through looks, gestures and actions, i.e. smashing objects, in order to terrorize victims into submission. They’re also masters of mind games bragging to others about their partner’s accomplishments while privately ridiculing, bullying and finally chipping away at their partner’s self-esteem.
Sadly children caught in the cycle of domestic abuse oftentimes suffer emotionally and in some cases physically, as was the recent case of an 8-year-old boy whose father killed him during an unsupervised visitation and then took his own life. When the mother called Between Friends to relate this tragic story, a story about an abused mom reaching out to our justice system to protect the child only to have her plea denied, the agency felt an even greater responsibility to raise awareness about this endemic societal ill, one that affects millions of children annually in the United States alone (CDV 2015).
According to the National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence (2013), children who live in homes where domestic violence prevails suffer abuse or neglect 30-60 percent more than children who do not. Moreover, approximately 3,500 to 4,000 children in the United States witness fatalities annually as a result of family violence.
Unfortunately many in the criminal justice system have limited knowledge or preconceived notions about the damage done to children who are witness to verbal or physical abuse, the confusion felt towards the parent doing the abusing jumbled together with feelings of guilt and love.
The misnomer that an abusive partner is not necessarily a bad parent is one that needs close examination, especially given the amount of violence that has become the norm in our society. Awareness and support are key to protecting those who cannot protect themselves.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline .