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Real Talk About Children Exposed to Violence


July 28, 2022
Real Talk About Children’s Exposure to Domestic Violence

Lonna Davis the Director of the Children and Youth Team at Futures Without Violence

Real Talk About Children’s Exposure to Domestic Violence

In a recent campaign appearance, Ohio Senate Candidate JD Vance urged women to stay in violent marriages. His remarks are reckless and harmful. And they are fighting words to all the survivors and single parents out there doing whatever they can to protect and care for their children.

When he says women are obligated to stay in violent marriages for the sake of their children, it minimizes the harm of domestic violence to women and children and sends a dangerous message to mothers trying to survive. It also suggests that a child’s wellbeing relies on an intact marriage (however violent or abusive it may be) between a man and a woman. It does not. Children need safe, stable and nurturing relationships. Those can exist within all types of families.

Here are the facts: Between one in three and one in four women experiences domestic violence in her lifetime – and millions of children experience the trauma of growing up in a violent family.

Sadly, children in the U.S. are exposed to violence more often than adults. According to a national survey, 25% of children are exposed to domestic violence, and many more are exposed to other forms of violence in school or in the community (Finkelhor et. al 2009).

The consequences for children who are exposed to domestic violence are well documented and are dependent on many factors such as their age, how often they are exposed, the relationship children have with the person using violence and the degree of the violence they witness, including the aftermath of the violence.

Think of seeing your mom cry all the time or with a bruised face and/or a cast for weeks. In my almost 40-year career working with children and their parents who survive domestic violence, I can attest to the harm children experience. I’ve heard it in their stories, seen it in their small faces and behaviors and read it their writings. Besides the trouble they can have in school, forming friendships and intimate relationships, children can suffer from shame and low self-esteem, mental health problems and some end up using violence and repeating the cycle of abuse in adolescent and adult relationships.

But healing is possible.

I know many adults who have found peace with their childhood experiences and found love and stability in the families that they have created. I know countless young people who have become leaders in their communities, including by mentoring younger children about healthy relationships. And I’ve seen in my own extended family, truth telling about abuse that has opened real talk and commitments to breaking
cycles of abuse.

There are multiple pathways to healing but they all require courage. Courage to leave or stay in a marriage. Courage to ask for help. Courage to tell the truth in our families and communities. Courage to apologize if we’ve harmed someone. Courage to create the conditions and experiences that children and their families deserve to thrive. Courage to choose adult survivor and child survivor safety and wellbeing, instead of pitting them against each other.

Courage to say “no” to Mr. Vance.

After 40 years, I still have courage and hope.