Thoughts to Ponder

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Risk of abuse to children in domestic violence homes

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Recently I received an e-mail in response to one of the factors listed in “Abuse is Progressive” that have been found to increase serious risk and even homicide in homes where domestic violence occurs.  As hard as it is to fathom, one of the risk factors for serious injury or homicide within a violent relationship is a child living in the home who is not the abuser’s biological child.  The reader found this hard to imagine.  It is hard to imagine.  But the fact is domestic violence does not spare the children.  Children exposed to batterers are at high risk to become direct targets of physical abuse.  (McGuigan & Pratt 2001, M. Straus 1990, Suh & Abel 1990, Bowker, Arbitell & McFerron 1988).  The danger even extends to homicide.  One multi-year study found that in one fifth of domestic violence homicides and attempted homicides, a child of the battered woman is also killed in the process (Langford, Isaac, & Kabat 1999; see also Websdale 1999).  Men who abuse their partners are far more likely to abuse their children, with an even higher incidence of abuse among his non-biological children.  A battering partner is 7 times more likely than a non-abusive man to hit his children.  Because of the predominance of this, there is a term used by psychologists called the “Cinderella effect.”

For 30 years, data has been collected regarding the validity of the Cinderella effect.  Evidence has been compiled from official child abuse reports, clinical data, victim reports, and official homicide data in the United States, Canada and Great Britain, all of which have confirmed for the past 30 years that there is an increased risk of injury and homicide from an abuser against a non-biological child… “Up to 100 times more likely.”  This study also included child abuse reports from the American Humane Association in the United States, which holds over 20,000 reports.  Abusers generally (though not always) spare the biological children when stepchildren are in the home.  Two separate studies found that stepchildren were exclusively targeted in 9 out of 10 cases and in 19 out of 22 cases in another study.

The US Department of Health and Human Services has found that, according to published studies, 30 – 60 percent of families where spouse abuse takes place, child abuse also occurs.  Another study found that co-occurrence rates of domestic violence and child abuse ranged from 40 – 80 percent. (Holt et al., 2008)

While the majority of stepparents do not abuse their partner’s children, 30 years of extensive research has confirmed that the children of an abusive spouse are much more likely to be abused, even killed.  When the children and the spouse are victims of domestic violence (and child abuse) the risk factors for serious injury or homicide increase dramatically.

There are numerous dynamics involved in domestic violence.  Leaving is not easy.  If you are being abused, realize that “staying for the children” is not always in the children’s best interest.  Keep yourself safe.  Keep your children safe.