Child Witnessing of Domestic Violence
There are estimates that 3.3 to 10 million children are exposed to domestic violence in their homes annually. For many children, this exposure results in behavioral, emotional, and psychological problems. This chapter discusses the sociological and psychological studies showing the impact on exposure to domestic violence on children, describes some of the available treatment options, and reviews the legal system's treatment of these issues in different areas, including child custody and abuse and neglect. The chapter then articulates four principles that should guide legal approaches to child exposure. First, child witnessing of domestic violence must be a critical component of any legal proceeding that affects children. Second, the adult victims of domestic violence should be supported, not penalized, in their continuing relationship with their children. Third, the safety of the adult victim and the child should be of paramount importance. Finally, the batterer's exposure of children to domestic violence should be a consideration in other legal proceedings relating to the batterer. The chapter concludes that domestic violence requires more fundamental reform to legal decisionmaking about children and violence. Domestic violence reveals parenting skills. It shows that at least one parent has taken actions that are diametrically opposed to the best interest of the child. Indeed, battering must be understood as a decision on how to parent by the abuser. Instead of segregating abuse from custody or other issues concerning the child, there must be systemic recognition that violence is bad for the family. Because exposure to domestic violence has identifiable and deleterious effects on children, legal standards must account for this aspect of the parents' relationship.
GW Paper Series
GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 190
Naomi Cahn, Child Witnessing of Domestic Violence in HANDBOOK OF CHILDREN, CULTURE, AND VIOLENCE, (Nancy Dowd, Dorothy G. Singer and Robin Fretwell Wilson, eds., Sage, 2005)