Child abuse is sometimes a reflection of other forms of severe family conflict. Violence in one aspect of family life often flows into other aspects. Murray A. Straus and Christine Smith found that parents who were in constant conflict were also more likely to abuse their children ("Family Patterns and Child Abuse," Physical Violence in American Families: Risk Factors and Adaptations to Violence in 8,145 Families). The researchers measured the level of husband-wife conflict over such issues as money, sex, social activities, housekeeping, and children. The child abuse rate for fathers involved in high marital conflict was thirteen per one hundred children, compared with 7.4 per one hundred children for other men. Mothers in high-conflict relationships reported an even higher child abuse rate: 13.6 per one hundred children versus eight per one hundred children among mothers in lower-conflict homes.
Spousal Verbal Aggression and Child Abuse
Husbands and wives sometimes use verbal aggression to deal with their conflicts. The 1985 National Family Violence Resurvey found that spouses who verbally attacked each other were also more likely to abuse their children. Among verbally aggressive husbands, the child abuse rate was 11.2 per one hundred children, compared with 4.9 per one hundred children for other husbands. Verbally aggressive wives had a child abuse rate of 12.3 per one hundred children, compared with 5.3 per one hundred children for other wives. Straus and Smith believed that verbal attacks between spouses, rather than clearing the air, tended to both mask the reason for the dispute and create further conflict. The resulting additional tension made it even harder to resolve the original source of conflict.
VERBAL ABUSE OF CHILDREN. Parents who verbally abuse their children are also more likely to physically abuse their children. Respondents to the 1975 National Family Violence Survey who verbally abused their children reported a child abuse rate six times that of other parents (twenty-one versus 3.6 per one hundred children). The 1985 survey found that verbally abusive mothers physically abused their children about nine times more than other mothers (16.3 versus 1.8 per one hundred children). Fathers who were verbally aggressive toward their children physically abused the children more than three times as much as other fathers (14.3 versus 4.2 per one hundred children).
Spousal Physical Aggression and Child Abuse
In "Family Patterns and Child Abuse," Straus and Smith reported that one of the most distinct findings of the 1985 National Family Violence Resurvey was that violence in one family relationship is frequently associated with violence in other family relationships. In families in which the husband struck his wife, the child abuse rate was much higher (22.3 per one hundred children) than in other families (eight per one hundred children). Similarly, in families in which the wife hit the husband, the child abuse rate was also considerably higher (22.9 per one hundred children) than in families in which the wife did not hit the husband (9.2 per one hundred children).
In "Risk of Physical Abuse to Children of Spouse Abusing Parents" (Child Abuse & Neglect, vol. 20, no. 7, January 1996), Susan Ross, who did further research based on the 1985 National Family Violence Resurvey, reported that marital violence was a statistically significant predictor of physical child abuse. Ross noted that the probability of child abuse by a violent husband increased from 5% with one act of marital violence to near certainty with fifty or more acts of spousal abuse. The percentages were similar for violent wives.
Ross found that, of those husbands who had been violent with their wives, 22.8% had engaged in violence toward their children. Similarly, 23.9% of violent wives had engaged in at least one act of physical child abuse. These rates of child abuse were much higher than those of parents who were not violent toward each other (8.5% for fathers and 9.8% for mothers). In other words, the more frequent the spousal violence, the higher the probability of child abuse.
Psychological Abuse: Family Dynamics
Marie-Hélène Gagné and Camil Bouchard sought to determine the family characteristics that predispose parents to psychologically abuse their children ("Family Dynamics Associated with the Use of Psychologically Violent Parental Practices," Journal of Family Violence, vol. 19, no. 2, April 2004). Based on interviews with parents experiencing difficulties in their relationships with their children, parents with no apparent or acknowledged difficulties, and practitioners, the researchers gathered examples of psychological violence from parents who had experienced it and from practitioners who had come in contact with different family situations.
The researchers identified four family characteristics that are likely to result in parental psychological violence. The first involves a scapegoat child, who may be different from other family members by his or her unattractiveness, slow mental abilities, or disability. The scapegoat may be an unwanted child, the child of a former spouse, or an adopted child. This child is typically neglected by the parents, who favor his siblings. He is treated harshly and excluded from family intimacy. The second type of family has a domineering father, who intimidates the children and may even turn physically violent. The harsh treatment of the children is in reality a cover-up for his poor self-image and feelings of incompetence. The mother, assuming the role of peace-keeper, suffers stress and fatigue. In extreme cases, she herself may be a victim of spousal violence. The children may be psychologically abused by both parents.
The authoritarian mother typifies the third family characteristic leading to parental psychological abuse. She controls the household, and her spouse is powerless to defend the children. The children are expected to do as she bids. Despite the façade of control, this mother fears for her children. She overprotects them to the point of standing in the way of their independence. In turn, she demands full sub-mission, so that the child who opposes her suffers psychological abuse. The fourth family characteristic involves the "broken parent," who has not attained maturity and a feeling of self-worth because of a difficult past. This type of parent takes care of the children when things are going smoothly, but falls apart when difficulties arise. They are not able to hold on to a job and/or maintain a relationship.
Woman Battering and Child Maltreatment
The National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect Information reported that published studies have shown that there is a 30% to 60% overlap between violence against children and violence against women in the same families (In Harm's Way: Domestic Violence and Child Maltreatment, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, DC, undated). (See Figure 5.3.) Although researchers and policy makers have studied
|Violence by intimate partners, by type of crime and gender of victims, 2001
||Intimate partner violence
||Rate per 1,000 persons
||Rate per 1,000 females
||Rate per 1,000 males
|—Based on 10 or fewer sample cases.
SOURCE: Callie Marie Rennison, "Table 1. Violence by Intimate Partners, by Type of Crime and Gender of Victims, 2001," in Intimate Partner Violence, 1993–2001, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, February 2003, http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/ipv01.pdf (accessed October 27, 2004)
|Overall violent crime
the plight of battered women since the 1970s, no national data about children living in violent homes have ever been collected. A February 2003 report by Callie Marie Rennison (Intimate Partner Violence, 1993–2001, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Washington, DC) showed that in 2001 588,490 women were victims of an intimate partner, accounting for 85% of total victimization by intimate partners as compared to male victims. (See Table 5.1.) Child Maltreatment 2002 (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children's Bureau, Washington, DC, 2004) reported that an estimated 896,000 children were victims of child maltreatment in 2002. Experts believe that many of these abused children and battered women come from the same homes.
Some government data illustrate that children indeed live in households where domestic violence occurs. The U.S. Department of Justice reported in July 2000 that between 1993 and 1998, children younger than twelve lived in 43% of households known to have intimate partner violence (Callie Marie Rennison and Sarah Welchans, Intimate Partner Violence, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Washington, DC). The Justice Department further reported in November 2000 that as many as half a million children may be present in homes where police make domestic violence arrests (Safe from the Start: Taking Action on Children Exposed to Violence, Washington, DC).
Exposure to Domestic Violence and Experiencing Child Maltreatment
According to John W. Fantuzzo and Wanda K. Mohr ("Prevalence and Effects of Child Exposure to Domestic Violence," The Future of Children: Domestic Violence and Children, vol. 9, no. 3, Winter 1999), various studies have found that child witnesses to domestic violence are more likely to exhibit aggression and behavior problems. These children experience internalizing behaviors, including depression, anxiety, suicidal tendencies, and low self-esteem. They have problems with schoolwork and attain lower scores in tests that gauge verbal, motor, and cognitive skills.
Linda Spears, in Building Bridges between Domestic Violence Organizations and Child Protective Services (Minnesota Center Against Violence and Abuse, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN, 2000), wrote that aside from seeing their mother being abused, children also witness the injuries resulting from the assault. Children may get hurt as a result of defending their mothers or of being battered themselves. Spears enumerated other effects of a child's exposure to domestic violence, including fearfulness, sleeplessness, withdrawal, anxiety, depression, and externalized problems such as delinquency and aggression.
Researchers compared a sample of one hundred New York City children from grades four to six who experienced physical abuse to a control group of one hundred nonabused children (Suzanne Salzinger, Richard S. Feldman, Daisy S. Ng-Mak, Elena Mojica, Tanya Stockhammer, and Margaret Rosario, "Effects of Partner Violence and Physical Child Abuse in Child Behavior: A Study of Abused and Comparison Children" Journal of Family Violence, vol. 17, no. 1, March 2002). Salzinger et al. sought to determine the relationship among family stress, partner violence, caretaker distress, and child abuse. They questioned each caretaker concerning stressful events that had occurred in their family during the lifetime of the child subject. These stress factors included, among other things, separation or divorce, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, deaths, serious illness in the past year, and job loss in the past year.
Salzinger and her associates found that, in households where partner violence and child maltreatment both occurred, the children suffered physical aggression from both the perpetrator and the victim. The perpetrator and victim could be either parent. In addition, in these households, the mothers who were typically the caretakers reported that they were more likely than the fathers to physically abuse the children. Interestingly, the researchers found that family stress, not partner violence, was responsible for caretaker distress, which in turn increased the risk for child abuse.