Children who are exposed to spouse battering have emotional and adjustment problems comparable to children who have actually been physically abused.
In fact, studies of young men who have been incarcerated for serious, violent offenses found that "witnessing violence is a more distinguishing feature of most violence than being abused. . . . The best predictor of whether someone will be violent is whether (a child) witnessed it in home growing up," said Elaine J. Schieck, clinical research service coordinator for the London Family Court Clinic in Canada.Schieck was the keynote speaker Wednesday at a two-day conference that focused on child abuse and domestic violence. The event was sponsored by Ogden's Child Abuse Prevention Council.
She said 57 percent of the children who grow up in domestic violence show classic signs of post-traumatic stress disorder - and boys and girls are equally affected by violence.
Boys who witness battering of a parent - usually their mother - are 17 times more likely to exhibit serious behavioral and emotional problems than their peers who grow up in nonviolent homes. Girls in that situation are 10 times more likely to have behavioral and emotional problems than their peers.
And while many abusive and abused parents like to believe the violence was a secret from the children, studies have shown that 80 percent of the children in abusive homes were present during and aware of the battery.
Schieck believes violence in many different forms has become so pervasive that society is going to have to take major steps if it hopes to turn things around.
She began her presentation with a 20-minute look at the violence commonly seen by even very young children, tracing it through sporting events, fashion magazine advertisements, music lyrics and the art on CD covers, explicitly violent video games, movies and television shows. By the time a child leaves elementary school behind, he or she will have witnessed 8,000 murders and 100,000 violent acts, just on television, she said.
During a recent concert in Toronto, Schieck said, Madonna opened with the statement, "In America, we really dig a little senseless violence. How about you, Toronto?" The audience cheered.
"It's not simply what happens in families that influences our children's behavior," said Schieck, "but what happens in our com-mun-i-ty."
She thinks the only way to break the cycles of violence are through primary prevention programs in the school systems, reaching younger and younger kids. But she also believes that will be a future - and positive - trend.