Every family has conflict, but families differ in the ways they resolve arguments, disputes, and disagreements. For some families and couples, attempts to settle differences can escalate into domestic violence, typically perpetrated by one family member. Domestic violence is either the occurrence or a pattern of abusive and coercive behaviors, including physical, sexual, and psychological abuse, as well as economic coercion, between partners or family members. Domestic violence negatively influences child development and family life in numerous ways.
How Common Is Domestic Violence?
Approximately 9 million incidents of physical violence occur every year according to the U.S. Department of Justice. The majority of victims are women and children. In fact, 1 out of every 5 women reports having been assaulted by an intimate partner during her lifetime, versus 1 out of every 14 men. Women are also much more likely to be injured than men. Most victims of violence live in families, and the majority of incidents occur in victims’ homes. Violence against women often co-occurs with child abuse, which is the leading cause of death in children under the age of 1 year. In fact, 3 to 10 million children are thought to be exposed to violence each year. Because many incidents of violence are not reported to authorities, it is believed that domestic violence is far more prevalent than rates reported by official studies.
Costs And Consequences Of Domestic Violence
Each year it is estimated that domestic violence costs the United States $67 billion. These costs to victims, their families, and society include lost school and workdays, medical and mental health costs, property damages, and legal costs in the victim’s services and criminal justice systems. In addition, there are costs when the offender is incarcerated, such as lost family wages and incalculable psychological damages to family relationships. Society also accrues significant losses in second-generation costs for future victims and offenders of violent crimes. There is increasing evidence that street criminal violence may be exacerbated by domestic violence as well.
Domestic Violence And Its Impact On Families
Children are victims of violence even when they do not experience the abuse firsthand. For example, trauma symptoms appear to be more common in children who are exposed to violence, as are emotional and behavioral problems. Children who witness violence between family members frequently are victimized themselves, and child abuse can increase the likelihood that later in life a victim will abuse substances or have psychological difficulties. Although the majority of children who are abused or who have witnessed violence do not grow up to become abusive, children who are exposed to violence in the home are more likely to be abusive to their partners as adults and to be more aggressive than children not exposed to violence.
Risk Factors For Domestic Violence
Although there is no one particular cause to explain domestic violence, there are several important risk factors known to be associated with domestic violence. Men who witnessed parental violence are more violent in comparison with men who were not exposed to parental violence. Alcohol use is thought to be involved in one out of four incidents of violence against women, and when alcohol is present, injuries tend to be more severe. Violence between partners occurs most commonly between ages 18 and 30 and among families who are of low socioeconomic status. Although women are reported to initiate violence as often as men, they are not as severely violent, often engage in violence out of self-defense, and commit a much smaller proportion of intimate homicides than men. Social attitudes condoning violence against partners may also be related to domestic violence. Men who think they have the right to control and punish
their women partners tend to be more violent than men who do not share these beliefs. Violence is more common in households in which women have little work experience, depend on their male partners for financial resources, and have young children at home. Impulsivity, the inability to regulate emotions and behaviors, including aggression, is also a risk factor for the perpetration of domestic violence.
Prevention Of Family Violence
It is important for responses to domestic violence not only to include reporting and investigation efforts but also to engage in prevention and treatment. There is a variety of models for prevention that has been utilized, tending to focus on advocacy and education. Advocacy groups speak out about the costs of domestic violence and work to improve education as well as treatment, deterrence, and policy efforts. These groups include the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the National Organization for Victims Assistance. Many cities have local domestic violence projects or councils that can direct people to community research, legal aid, and resources (e.g., http://www.growing.com/nonviolent/index.htm). Public education campaigns on the dangers of abuse appear to be having an impact as more people consider the physical punishment of children to be harmful.
Educational efforts to teach elementary school children about domestic violence have suggested that these programs do appear to increase children’s knowledge and protection skills. These programs are being mandated in school settings at increasing rates. High school and college programs to combat dating violence and sexual assault have been shown to alter beliefs and attitudes toward violent behavior. Training programs to educate legal and health care professionals about signs, warnings, and effects of domestic violence have been increasing as well, with some regulatory bodies requiring that their members complete courses as part of their licensure requirements.
Treatment Of Family Violence
There are a number of different treatments for domestic violence offenders, victims, and families. More comprehensive treatment approaches for batterers tend to include an intake process, typically at the first contact with the criminal justice system; a psychological assessment to assess future dangerousness and develop treatment plans for mental illness, substance abuse, illiteracy or other needs; an orientation to the services planned and preparation for treatment; group therapy, often including anger management training, feminist education, and relationship skill building; and development of a follow-up plan that might include self-help groups or the staggering of group meetings. Mandatory court reviews in which offenders are scheduled to appear in court at a specified time to report their progress in treatment appear to improve compliance. There is growing evidence that treatments for batterers are effective in reducing future violence, but little evidence exists to suggest that any one mode of treatment is best across all types of batterers.
Treatment plans for survivors of abuse often begin with safety planning in which victims identify ways to get out of their homes quickly and safely with documents and items of importance already prepared, set up independent bank accounts and funds, and get to shelters. There are programs that provide cell phones programmed to call 911 in case of emergencies that can be helpful in securing protection rapidly. Shelters can provide protection for victims, assist with obtaining orders of protection and temporary welfare benefits, and help victims prepare for employment. Support groups can continue to provide ongoing support for abuse survivors as they make these transitions. Resources for victims can be obtained from the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-799-SAFE.
Children who have been exposed to domestic violence either as witnesses or victims can benefit from treatment as well. Most often treatment occurs in groups, either in shelters, safe homes, family court clinics, or community mental health facilities. The main focus of these groups is to help children label their feelings about the domestic violence, manage their anger, develop safety skills, secure social support, positively expand their self-concept, relinquish any responsibility they may feel for the domestic violence, increase their understanding of violence, and increase their skills in family communication. Studies suggest that the groups are most helpful in changing children’s attitudes and reactions to anger and aiding them to let go of any responsibility for the domestic violence. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence has a list of local resources to access for treatment for children.
Domestic violence is known to occur among the elderly and within gay, lesbian, or bisexual families. Resources are emerging to address intervention and treatment issues relevant for these specific populations. Further information on abuse within gay, lesbian, or bisexual relationships can be found at the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (http://www.avp.org/ncavp.htm), and information on elder abuse can be found at the National Center on Elder Abuse.
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