In the United States, domestic violence is a dangerous and significant problem. Domestic violence has been followed by concerns for the welfare of children who are exposed to these situations in the home. The purpose of this thesis is to further validate research that correlates witnessing domestic violence to behavioral problems in children and youth. Studies show that 3-4 million children between the ages of 3-17 are at risk of exposure to domestic violence each year. United States government statistics say that 95% of domestic violence cases involve women victims of male partners (US Department of Health and Human Services, 2007). According to Finkelhor, Turner, Ormrod, & Hamby (2009), there are higher rates of children being exposed to violence and crime than adults. Studies show that children who are exposed to domestic violence are more likely to exhibit social-emotional and cognitive difficulties than children who are not exposed. Studies have also shown that children who are exposed to violence are more likely to show behavior and aggression disorders as well as engage in criminal activity (Fleckman, Drury, Taylor, & Theall, 2016). According to the U.S Department of Health and Human Services (2007), domestic violence is defined as abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain control over their intimate partner. A child is a witness to domestic violence when an act that is defined as domestic violence is committed in the presence of, or perceived by the child. Witnessing domestic abuse is defined as seeing, hearing, or even knowing that an act of violence is happening. The witnessing of domestic violence can be auditory, visual, or inferred, including cases in which the child perceives the aftermath of violence, such as physical injuries to family members or damage to property. Although there is a large number of children who are physically abused, there may be an even larger number of children who are indirectly experiencing the effects by being witnesses of domestic violence in their home (Adams, 2006). Even though there is research that finds children who witness domestic violence can suffer the same severe emotional and developmental difficulties that are similar to children who are direct victims, these concerns have been largely unaddressed (Fantuzzo and Fusco, 2007). Research finds that children who are living with domestic violence in the home are at an increased risk of developing emotional and behavioral problems. And of increased exposure to the presence of other adversities in their life (Holt, Buckley & Whelan, 2008). Children and young people may be significantly affected by living with domestic violence. This impact can endure even after measures have been taken to secure their safety. Social learning theory suggests that children of violent homes are more likely to imitate that violence because they have observed positive outcomes associated with this behavior (Foshee, Bauman, & Linder, 1999). There is a crucial need for intervention practices that will work with the many children who have witnessed domestic violence at home, and in return are exhibiting similar behavioral problems such as aggression and violence in their own relationships.
Children experience higher rates of being exposed to violence and crime than adults do, which in turn can lead to physical and mental health problems (Fantuzzo & Fusco, 2007). When a child is a witness to aggression and violence in their own home, there is a major risk of that child exhibiting aggression and antisocial behavior in their own lives (Fleckman, Drury, Taylor, & Theall, 2016). The dangerous consequences of children witnessing family violence is just beginning to be explored and understood. Research even suggests that witnessing family violence at a young age may lead individuals to behave violently later in life (Adams, 2006). This literature review will be divided into two subsections, empirical evidence showing the rate
of children with direct exposure to domestic violence and empirical evidence of children showing behavioral concerns after witnessing domestic violence. Each section will include research that validates the claims that children witnessing domestic violence is a prevalent issue and can lead to serious behavioral complications.
Witnessing Domestic Violence. The breadth and range of child exposure to domestic violence is not well recognized or understood. There is a wide spectrum of child exposure to violence, victimization, and abuse that are being overlooked because there are not enough representative samples. Finkelhor, Turner, Ormrod, & Hamby (2009), conducted a research study in order to obtain representative national estimates on childhood exposure to violence, abuse, and crime victimizations. Residential telephone numbers were randomly dialed nationwide in a telephone survey that was used to target 4,549 children ranging from the ages of 0-17 years old. A short interview was conducted with the adult caregiver (usually a parent) if the child in the household was younger than the age of 10. If the child was between the ages of 10-17 years old, the interview was conducted with the child. A Juvenile Victimization Questionnaire was used to determine if the child had been exposed to domestic violence in the home. Results showed that 60.6% of children and youth in this sample had experienced at least one direct instance of witnessing violence in the past year while 25.3% had indirectly witnessed the violence (Finkelhor, Turner, Ormrod, & Hamby, 2009). Shockingly, these numbers are actually less than what was reported in a study by Fantuzzo & Fusco (2007), where police officers serving as public health sentinels, collected data on children exposed to domestic violence in the time span of one year. Data were collected on all domestic violence events substantiated by law enforcement investigation across a 1 year period using the Domestic Violence Event Protocol-Child Enhanced (DVEP-C). DVEP-C contains specific checklists that range from demographics to severity of abuse, whether or not children were present, and if children were harmed. Findings showed that 44% of all domestic violence events in that year had children present, and 81% of those children were directly exposed to the violence (Fantuzzo & Fusco, 2007). These findings strongly correlated with Finkelhor, Turner, Ormrod, & Hamby (2009), in that both studies show that on average, half of the representative samples studied had experienced witnessing domestic violence at least once. Based off of the findings in these studies, it is clear that there is a representative number of youth who are experiencing having to witness domestic violence in their homes.
Behavioral Concerns. Indirect exposure to violence in childhood can play important roles in the development of behaviors. Children who are living in homes where there is domestic violence exhibited have higher rates of externalizing behaviors as well as clinical disorders. (Fleckman, Drury, Taylor, & Theall, 2016). Fleckman, Drury, Taylor, & Theall (2016), conducted a study to examine the association between externalizing behaviors and violence exposure. This study used a sample of parents of children between the ages of 4-15 recruited from a New Orleans community. Indirect exposure to violence included anything from witnessing community violence to witnessing violence at home. All assessments were reported by the caregiver (usually a parent). Findings showed that there is a strong association between indirect exposure to domestic violence and externalizing behaviors. These effects can also be long lasting, children who are exposed to domestic violence in their home are at an increased risk for being perpetrators of domestic violence when they are older (Fleckman, Drury, Taylor, & Theall, 2016). This would correlate with a study done by Murrell, Christoff, & Henning (2007), in which generality, frequency, and severity of violent offenses within a battering population of 1,099 males who were subjected to different levels of exposure to domestic violence when they were children. In this study, each participant completed an assessment along with an interview assessing any relevant information about the offender, the victim, and the offense. Participants where then split up into four groups depending on whether they were abused, witnessed abuse, both, or neither. Findings showed that the likelihood of committing violence against someone other than an intimate partner (general violence) increased as the participants’ exposure to violence as a child increased (Murrell, Christoff, ; Henning, 2007). This study validates predictions made by Fleckman, Drury, Taylor, ; Theall, (2016) that children who have witnessed domestic violence in their childhood are at an increased risk of being perpetrators when they are older. A study by Kubeka (2012) used semi-structured group interviews that focused on black adolescent males in South Africa who had experienced domestic violence in their homes throughout their childhood and how it affected their intimate relationships as adolescents. Participants volunteered to partake in the interview after they were asked if they had ever witnessed or been direct victims of domestic violence in their homes. Interviews were done in groups so that respondents could share their experiences and opinions openly and feel represented. The sessions included personal experiences with domestic violence and their views on violence in general. Findings showed that observational learning from exposure to violence at home contributed to feelings of post-traumatic stress such as confusion and anger, and acceptance of dating violence in this sample of adolescents. Evidence was also found that there are socialized gendered notions of male power and control learned, respondents unanimously agreed that they have been brought up to believe men are the leaders and should assert male dominance (Kubeka, 2012). This study extends on findings by Fleckman, Drury, Taylor, ; Theall, (2016), that believe these effects could last into adulthood with children who witnessed maltreatment in their childhood being at increased risk for perpetrating intimate partner violence when they are older. In an article by Adams (2006), he also points out that past research shows witnessing family violence at a young age can set individuals up to react violently to situations later in life.
Summary. There is empirical evidence present that shows that there is a serious and prevalent issue of children witnessing domestic violence in their homes. Children suffer higher rates of exposure to violence and crime than adults do and is resulting in mental and behavioral problems (Finkelhor, Turner, Ormrod, ; Hamby, 2009). Children are acquiring and retaining violent behaviors when they observe parental figures being aggressive and abusive. Based off of these findings, there needs to be a clear solution to identify these behaviors in children who have witnessed domestic violence at home and help them direct angers and aggressions in a different manner than what they have experienced.