WASHINGTON — A nationwide study of children who have witnessed domestic violence found that parents or caregivers were physically injured in more than a third of the cases, yet only a small fraction of offenders went to jail and just 1 in 4 incidents resulted in police reports, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.
“One of the most shocking findings is that less than 2 percent of the cases resulted in jail time for the perpetrator,” said lead researcher Sherry Hamby, PhD, a psychology research professor at Sewanee, The University of the South.
Children were physically hurt in 1 in 75 cases, but they experienced fear and anxiety much more often. More than half of the children said they were afraid someone would be hurt badly, and almost 2 in 5 said the violence was one of their scariest experiences ever, according to the study, published April 7 in the APA journal Psychology of Violence®.
Children who witness domestic violence are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, nightmares, teen dating violence and disruptions with school work, Hamby said. The trauma can be very similar to when children experience abuse themselves, she added.
“Family violence definitely cuts across all segments of society and has a serious impact on children,” Hamby said. “Parents are such big figures in a child’s life. If a parent is endangered, that can threaten a child’s well-being. They get worried that if their parent is in danger, then who is going to protect them?”
The nationwide study included 517 children who had witnessed domestic violence, including beating, hitting or kicking of a parent or caregiver. Three in 4 children saw the violence, 21 percent heard it and 3 percent saw the injuries later.
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