Any time a mother is abused her children are also affected in both overt and subtle ways.
We know much about woman abuse. We know much about child abuse. But if we are to seriously address either one, we must recognize the links between these two forms of domestic violence.
While one form of abuse can certainly occur without the other, the tragic reality is that anytime a mother is abused by her husband/partner, her children are also affected in both overt and subtle ways:
- When a mother is abused, her children see it, hear it, sense it.
- When a mother is abused, her children feel confusion, stress, and fear.
- When a mother is abused, her children may feel guilty that they can't protect her, or that they are the cause of the strife. If she leaves, they may feel responsible for the family breakup.
- When a mother is abused, her children, particularly sons, are more likely to grow up to repeat the destructive patterns they saw in their early lives.
- When a mother is abused, her children may also be physically abused, or they may be neglected while the mother attempts to deal with her own trauma.
- Children from violent homes get sick more often and generally have more health problems than children from non-violent homes; these include headaches, ulcers, abdominal complaints and bedwetting. If the children are themselves abused, their health problems are even greater.
- Psychological and emotional problems are more frequent in children of abused women. Preschoolers particularly show below-average self-concept and less empathy for others, while school age boys are likely to be more aggressive and show more behavioral problems than both girls of battered mothers and children from non-violent homes. Depression, anxiety, fear, eating and sleep disorders, regressive behaviors, and guilt are common in children of battered women.
- The rate of child abuse is from six to fifteen times higher in families where the mother is abused compared to families where the mother is not abused.
- Of women coming to shelters, more than half report that their children are also physically, emotionally and sometimes sexually abused; the child abuser is two to three times more likely to be the woman's abuser than the battered woman herself.
- Many battered women report that their abuser threaten or attack the children as a way to control and hurt the mothers even more.
- Studies of abused children in the general population reveal that nearly half of them have mothers who are also abused, making wife abuse the single strongest identifiable risk factor for child abuse.
- While the “common wisdom” holds that abused women are just repeating the victimization they saw their mothers suffer, comparative studies actually show that battered women are only slightly more likely than non-battered women to have come from homes where they or their mothers were abused.
- In contrast, abusers are six times more likely to have seen their fathers beating their mothers than non-abusers (one study showed 45% of abusers had seen their mothers abused as compared to 7.5% of non-abusers.) And almost 82% of those boys witnessing spouse abuse were also abused themselves, thus confirming a strong relationship between spouse abuse and child abuse.
- Our culture already encourages boys to act aggressively, to show and take power physically, to see girls as weak and easy prey; the culture encourages girls to act submissively, and to accept the domination of a male as the norm. These values reinforce boys' early experience of a violent home, increasing the likelihood that they will become abusers. Societal values encourage girls, no matter what their background of abuse, to accept how their husbands or boyfriends treat them, to expect that boys/men will use physical means to maintain control of their surroundings and the people in them.
- Because woman abuse is child abuse, the children of an abused woman are also in need of our careful loving attention. We must remember these interconnections as we attempt to eradicate family violence through services, education and public policy.