October is Domestic Violence Prevention Month

Domestic Violence…interpersonal violence…dating violence…sexual violence…family violence. Perhaps you can think of another way to say it. These are terms we use in home visiting to describe a phenomenon that occurs much too often in our society. These terms can not, however, express the heavy burden or the significant damaging impact of violence in relationships.

Home Visitors are trained to know that violence or abuse occurs in more ways than physical harm. They are trained to recognize the signs and assess the risk in relationships if the participant is willing.  Home visitors are trained in having these hard discussions. In fact, one victim confessed, “I just wish he’d hit me” after suffering for years of emotional and verbal abuse, all the while thinking “it’s not bad enough to justify leaving.” Multiple factors keep people in abusive and violent relationships, and this space is not large enough to list them all.  It is not our place to judge people who do stay.  As home visitors, it is our job to listen attentively, believe the narratives, talk about what healthy relationships look like, bring activities that build self-esteem, and help victims build protective factors into their lives so they can make the best decision for their family. And then home visitors provide referrals, help victims navigate the helping system, and continue to support the building of more protective factors.  Why?  Because two out of three children in the United States are exposed to trauma and violence. In fact, 15.5 million children in the United States live in families in which partner violence occurred at least once in the past year, and seven million children live in families in which severe partner violence occurred. Our local program sees domestic violence as often as the statistics suggest. When participants suddenly drop out of contact without an explanation, we worry. We wonder why domestic violence is still such a large problem. But we keep talking about it and we keep on educating our participants and the community. Not only because of the impact on the victims, but on the impact of the young children in their care.

First of all, “Women who have experienced domestic violence are 80 percent more likely to have a stroke, 70 percent more likely to have heart disease, 60 percent more likely to have asthma and 70 percent more likely to drink heavily than women who have not experienced intimate partner violence.” In other words, children whose mothers are victims of domestic abuse may eventually lose their mothers sooner than others even if they survive the violence. Children living in homes where domestic violence occurs are at higher risk for child abuse themselves,  show higher rates of learning disabilities, emotional dysregulation and disorders, more antisocial behaviors, increase in self harm, and a lesser ability to perceive danger themselves. Some of them even grow to think, “It’s not bad enough to leave.” When home visitors are assessing for violence in relationships, they are doing more than educating an adult.  An assessment for domestic violence could be the turning point a parent needs to change the trajectory of their child’s life. And if we know anything as home visitors, a loving parent will do just about anything to give their child a better life.

Whitfield, CL, Anda RF, Dube SR, Felittle VJ. 2003. Violent Childhood Experiences and the Risk of Intimate Partner Violence in Adults: Assessment in a Large Health Maintenance Organization. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. 18(2): 166-185. 

Adverse Health Conditions and Health Risk Behaviors Associated with Intimate Partner Violence, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. February 2008. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/PDF/wk/mm5705.pdf

Alarming Effects of Children’s Exposure to Domestic Violence: Children exposed to domestic violence may experience a range of difficulties.  Psychology Today. Posted February 26, 2019.  Article can be found at Alarming Effects of Children’s Exposure to Domestic Violence | Psychology Today