Special Reports

Adults aren't only ones affected by domestic violence

Last year, at least 31 children in Washington state lost a parent to domestic violence.

Two of those were Crystal and David Brame's children.

The effects of having a violent relationship in the home can be devastating on children, experts say.

"We always refer to children as the hidden or the silent victims," said Betsy McAlister Groves, director of Boston Medical Center's Child Witness to Violence Project. "Children who are bystanders to (abuse) are affected, sometimes as greatly as if they were abused themselves."

Witnessing any act of violence can be scary for a child. But witnessing violence in the home is devastating, McAlister Groves said, because home is supposed to be the safest place for a child.

"In general, for children, violence in the home is the worst kind of violence to be exposed to," she said.

Children who witness domestic violence can develop post-traumatic stress disorder, said April Gerlock, a psychiatric nurse practitioner who has worked with batterers and their families since 1980. Children's emotional and intellectual growth can halt or slow, and they can develop behavioral problems, she said.

Adults often believe children don't see or understand domestic violence. But McAlister Groves said her youngest patient was an 11-month-old traumatized by seeing her mother assaulted.

Some estimate that almost half of those children who witness domestic violence grow up to be abusers or victims of it themselves, Gerlock and McAlister Groves said.

Steve Pepping, who runs a Tacoma counseling agency for batterers, said 85 percent of the men he treats either witnessed or experienced domestic violence in the home growing up.

It's a depressing cycle, but it's not the rule, Gerlock and McAlister Groves said.

"Many children grow up to lead healthy productive lives and have healthy relationships," McAlister Groves said.

Children are most likely to succeed if they're raised in a healthy, loving family, she said.

"Kids need other role models, other adults they can talk to to help them feel good about themselves," she said.

And it's important that the family is able to talk about the past violence, she said.

"Children may be ashamed or embarrassed to talk about it," she said. "There's tension in our society between the privacy of what goes on in one's home and the public cost."

Lisa Kremer: 253-597-8658


On the Net

Learn more about children and domestic violence at www.childwitnesstoviolence.org