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National Criminal Justice Reference Service
Family violence, including child physical and sexual abuse, child neglect and maltreatment, intimate partner violence, and elder abuse, takes place in homes across the country every day. Exposure to such violence has a devastating impact on both children and adults in those households and communities, whether they are direct victims of abuse or witnesses to it. Children exposed to such violence at an early age are likely to become either perpetrators of abuse or victims of violence in adulthood. A Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report found that, between 1993 and 1998, the average number of victims of intimate partner violence who lived with children under the age of 12 was 459,590 (Intimate Partner Violence, 2000). This paints a daunting picture for the future of our children, even if only one child in each of those households is exposed to violence.
In The Nurturing Parenting Programs, Dr. Stephen Bavolek writes, "[C]ontemporary social scientists agree that the continued maltreatment of children today is primarily the result of poorly trained adults who, in their roles as parents and caretakers, attempt to instill discipline and educate children within the context of the violence they themselves experienced as children." This and other reports describe the process in which abused children or witnesses to abuse often become violent offenders themselves, a phenomenon called the "cycle of violence." A study sponsored by the National Institute of Justice reviewed the arrest records of 908 victims of childhood abuse and 667 other children in 1988 and again in 1994. The study found that "being abused or neglected as a child increased the likelihood of arrest as a juvenile by 59 percent, as an adult by 28 percent, and for a violent crime by 30 percent" (An Update on the Cycle of Violence, 2001).
In 1999, OJJDP reported that "[c]hildren who are exposed to domestic violence are at increased risk of being murdered or physically injured." Additionally, children who do not become offenders or victims may face great obstacles in emotional, mental, and physical development. These obstacles include attention deficits, educational difficulties, substance abuse, mental health problems, symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, and lack of appropriate social skills (Safe From the Start: Taking Action on Children Exposed to Violence, 2000).
Another aspect of family violence includes the little researched crime of elder abuse. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, "Relatives or intimates committed more than 1 in 4 of the murders and 1 in 10 of the incidents of nonlethal violence against persons age 65 or older" (Crimes Against Persons Ages 65 and Older, 1992-1997). Elder abuse can increase the mortality and depression rates of the elderly victim.
Undoubtedly, abuse committed by family members has the potential to detrimentally affect children for the rest of their lives. To combat the cycle of violence, the following resources provide a glimpse of available research on child abuse and domestic violence, elder abuse, and prevention and intervention programs that focus on family therapy.
The following information and statistics were derived from a wide variety of publications that address family violence.
This document is not necessarily endorsed by the Almanac of Policy Issues. It is being preserved in the Policy Archive for historic reasons.