Updated: Oct 31
Children are more likely to be murdered, physically assaulted, sexually abused or
psychologically injured in their own home than anywhere else. Although the issue of family
violence is not new, the public has only recently become aware of this national problem.
The National Crime Survey (conducted by the Department of Justice) reported the following: 1)
about 1.5 million cases of domestic violence involving children are reported each year; 2)
another million cases go unreported and 3) between two and five thousand children die each year because of domestic violence. Reported family violence involving children is more than
doubling every decade. While some of this huge growth can be attributed to increased reporting and better record keeping, family violence against children is epidemic.
The above statistics include only those incidents in which children were the “direct” target of
family violence. Millions of other young people endure the “indirect” results of family violence.
Because of these experiences, children can suffer from anxiety, depression, guilt and fear. These feelings can follow the child throughout his or her life and the effects can be devastating. Many of these young people mistakenly feel responsible for the violence and some go on to commit domestic violence when they become parents. The following information can help to protect and treat children who must live with family violence.
The Cycle of Family Violence
Family violence is, in most cases, a cycle that is repeated when certain conditions are present.
With time, family members learn the cycle and the warning signs. They become expert at
predicting the violence. The following information presents the three distinct aspects of
domestic violence and abuse.
Pre-existing Conditions – Families that experience domestic violence tend to share certain
characteristics including: 1) poor parental communication; 2) little or no understanding of normal child growth and development; 3) social and emotional isolation; 4) prior physical violence against other people; 5) chronic financial problems; 6) lack of bonding between parent and child; and 7) the use of alcohol or other drugs.
For example, if a husband and wife cannot talk to each other about their problems, and if they are cut-off from other forms of emotional support, they may become frustrated. Frustration can lead to aggression. If the family is also experiencing increased financial problems, and this additional pressure results in the use of alcohol or other drugs, the potential for violent behavior increases.
Initiating Incident – The initiating incident can be as minor as dinner being late or as major as losing a job. Although the specific incident can vary in importance, it always serves as the
triggering mechanism for the release of aggression. The anger or rage felt by the person who
commits the violence is only waiting for a reason to be expressed. In the cycle of domestic
violence, the initiating incident joins with the pre-existing conditions.
For example, a father loses his job. On the way home, he stops at a bar and drinks too much.
When he arrives home, dinner is not ready. If the pre-existing conditions listed above are present, the potential for domestic violence increases dramatically.
Domestic Violence – The type of violence used is also part of the cycle. Parents who use
physical violence usually rely on this behavior anytime they engage in domestic violence.
Similarly, parents who use psychological, sexual or emotional violence usually continue with
this type of behavior.
For example, a father who loses his job stops at a bar on the way home. After drinking too much, he arrives home and finds dinner is not ready. The last time the husband was angry with his wife, he beat her with a belt. Although the initiating incident may have been different, the type of violent behavior will probably remain the same.
Continuation of the Cycle – The cycle of violence can occur as seldom as once a year or as
often as several times a day. The cycle repeats itself every time the pre-existing conditions and
initiating incident come together, and continues until action is taken to bring the behavior to a
Conditions that Contribute to Family Violence
The following is a list of stressors commonly associated with family violence. Most families
endure periods of stress from time to time and do not experience domestic violence. However,
the presence of several of these conditions at one time indicates that the family is undergoing
increased stress and, as a result, the potential for domestic violence may be increased.
Poor family communication
Frequent arguing between parents
Living in an isolated area or being socially isolated
Unemployment or underemployment
Using physical punishment as discipline
Lack of a support system
One or both parents have a history of assaultive behavior
One or both parents were raised in a family with a history of domestic violence
One or both parents are impulsive
One or both parents are hostile
One or both parents have low self-esteem
One or both parents have emotional problems
One or both parents have psychological problems
One or both parents abuse alcohol or other drugs
Caring for a disabled child
Raising a hyperactive child
Rearing a mentally retarded child
Caring for an emotionally disturbed child
Parenting a behaviorally disordered child
Sources of Help & Information About Family Violence
The following agencies and professionals can provide information about family violence. Refer
to your telephone book for local numbers.
National Domestic Violence Hotline – 800-799-7233
Mental Health Professional – Psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists and counselors can help
identify the causes of domestic violence and develop a treatment program designed to resolve the problem.
Children & Youth Agency – This public agency can offer a number of services, including
parent education classes and family counseling. Many children and youth agencies also provide “respite care.” This allows parents time away from their children to take care of other
responsibilities and to relax.
Parents Anonymous – These volunteer groups exist in most communities. Their mission is to
help participants understand and manage the stresses of parenting.*
*Adapted from our book, Effects of Domestic Violence on Children: The Causes, Consequences & Cures of Domestic Violence