Children need love and nurturing to feel secure and develop the life skills they will need to form stable and functional relationships as adults. When they grow up in home environments where incidents of domestic violence occur, they lack this essential framework. But that only scratches the surface of the problem of intimate partner violence in the home.

Victims of spousal abuse who have children with their abusers are in especially precarious situations. Not only must they try to protect themselves from domestic violence, but they must also shield their children as well. Parents who fail to protect their children can find that their custodial rights to parent their children could be in jeopardy. An outsider making a report of the abusive conditions in the home could result in the children entering the system and being placed in foster care.

The damage doesn’t have to be physical

The bruises and scars from domestic violence can be horrific, but over time, most heal and fade. When children witness one parent behaving abusively toward their other parent, it has more far-reaching consequences, as it normalizes abusive and dysfunctional relationships to them. These same children frequently grow up unconsciously repeating these dangerous relationship patterns they witnessed during their formative years.

Children of both sexes can learn that the way to achieve their aims in a relationship is to bully their partners, lash out verbally or physically or torment them psychologically until they concede. Others seek out domineering, tyrannical partners who ride roughshod over them in their relationships out of a twisted view that this passes for loving interactions.

Domestic violence has its roots in control and power

Getting to the root of the problem of intimate partner violence reveals that the abuser exerts and obtains control and power over the victim(s) through acts or threats of violence. When children are thrust into the mix, that gives the abuser another tool to use to keep his or her victim firmly under the abuser’s thumb. Below are some tactics abusers use that involve the kids.

  • Extending the abuse to the children as well.
  • Calling, or threatening to call, the police, CPS or immigration to cause the victim to lose custody.
  • Taking the children away or preventing the victim from seeing them.
  • Degrading the victim in front of the children.
  • Telling the kids lies to get them to be angry or stop loving the victimized parent.
  • Having the kids spy on the victim and report back to the abuser what they learn.

Nobody has to live in fear

Eventually, most abused spouses reach their breaking point and decide to leave their abusers. Maybe it’s the day he hit the kids, or the first time a child parrots the words of the abuser. It might be a particularly bad beating, or the intervention co-workers stage when make-up no longer is sufficient to cover the bruises.

Whatever is the catalyst, the decision to leave an abusive relationship is the right one. A family law attorney can file protective orders to prevent the abuser from making contact. Friends, family members and domestic violence groups can offer safe havens and resources for those victims and their children who are fleeing from these abusive home environments.