10/30/2014 (press release: ContentDivas) // New York, New York, USA // Anna Radev
“Child witness to intimate partner violence” is the official term for a child who lives in a home with domestic violence. Speaking to the over 600 attendees at the New York City Housing Authority Annual Domestic Violence Conference this past weekend, founder of CDV – Children of Domestic Violence.org Brian Martin made it clear that that term has got to go. A child who lives in a home with domestic violence is much more than a “witness” and will be impacted into adulthood unless they unlearn what was learned.
When adults in a home are violent with each other, it’s called “intimate partner violence,” and a lot has been said about it lately, with several very high profile cases in the news over the past few months. If the violence is turned to the children in the home, we call it “child abuse,” and the authorities take swift action when it becomes known. But what about the kid who’s hiding under the bed or in the closet trying not to hear the screaming in the next room and hoping it doesn’t turn to hitting again? Or the one who’s in the room, seeing his mother being beaten? Well, that’s just called a “witness.”
Addressing the conference on Saturday, Martin said, “Child witness to intimate partner violence” — less than one percent of people have even heard of that. And then we’ve got this word ‘witness.’ People like me, and maybe people like you, who grew up in these homes, we have a problem with the word ‘witness’ because the word ‘witness’ doesn’t adequately describe the impact.”
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, that impact includes problems with behavior, emotions, attitude, and cognitive function, among other things. Adults who lived with domestic violence as children experience higher levels of depression and trauma symptoms. To make matters worse, they also are more likely to be violent in adult relationships, perpetuating the cycle for yet another generation.
Calling children who live with domestic violence (or the adults who were these children) “witnesses” has the effect of marginalizing them and their situation. They are victims, whether they are hit or not, and need to be acknowledged as such so that they can get help. Changing the language would only be the first step, but an important one, in the right direction.
CDV – Children of Domestic Violence is a nonprofit organization whose mission, “To help those who experience domestic violence as children reach their full potential and break the cycle of violence,” is being accomplished through advocacy, education, training, and research. For further information, and to find out what you can do to help, visit the website at CDV.org.