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"You Made Me Hit You!" Interventions with Male Batterers
Male Batterers continuing education social worker CEUs

Manual of Articles Sections 13 - 22
Section 13
Short-Term Effects of Children's Witnessing Parental Violence

CEU Question 13 | CE Test | Table of Contents | Domestic Violence
Social Worker CEUs, Psychologist CEs, Counselor CEUs, MFT CEUs

The longer a child is exposed to violence, the more likely it is that the violence will have short-term, in addition to immediate and possibly transitory, influences on the child. Cummings et al. (1981) found that frequent fighting between parents was associated with children's making repeated attempts at intervening within the conflict. The most common reactions of children were distress and withdrawal, however, some children responded with anger and others with affectionate/prosocial behavior. Children's differential responses to observing violence may mirror differences in their personality development. Three early patterns of reactions to family violence can be conceptualized: the child behaving as a victimizer of others (externalizing reaction), as a victim (internalizing reaction), or resiliency.

The Victimizer
The research of Grusznski, Brink, and Edleson (1998) and Straus et al. (1990) indicates that many child witnesses of parental violence become aggressive and engage in delinquent acts. Sonkin, Martin, and Walker (1995) found that 24% of adult batterers had, as children, attacked one of their parents. Boys from violent homes have been found to be highly aggressive with peers and with other adults. Although sons may initially hate the spousal violence, many come to direct violence at their mothers, sisters, or girlfriends (Barnett, Pittman, Ragan, & Salus, 1990). At school they may be unwilling to do schoolwork, rebel against authority, and fight constantly with peers (Barnett et al., 1990; McKay, as cited in Jaffe et al., 1990).

How might this victimizing behavior begin? Children learn the roles and behaviors of their own sex by observing and interacting with their parents ( Straus et al.). Within the violent home, children learn that violence is the basis for power and control (Jaffe et al., 1990) and that inequality of power, with men being more powerful, is acceptable (Wilson, Cameron, Jaffe, & Wolfe, 1989). Children in these violent homes learn that women nurture but are weak and victimized (Carlson, 1984) because they are insignificant, incompetent, or less important than men (Frieze, 1987). Lessons on intimacy within the violent family may teach that it is acceptable to physically hurt those you love (Carlson, 1984). Violent parents teach children communication and problem-solving skills that highlight violence as an appropriate and effective method for conflict resolution (Wilson et al., 1989) and as the primary mode for demonstrating dissatisfaction and desire for change (Straus). The greater community teaches children that it supports violence by doing little or nothing about it when family violence is reported to community services (Wilson et al., 1989) and through tacit social support for males' expressions of dominance and control (Walker & Browne, 1985).

Dodge, Bates, and Pettit (1990) have found children from violent households to exhibit cognitive deficits in the processing of social information, including failure to attend to relevant cues, bias in attributing hostile intentions to others, and lack of competent behavioral strategies to solve interpersonal problems. This and other research suggests that the experience of physical harm can lead the child to conceptualize the world in deviant ways and thus to develop a victimizer identity (Garbarino, 1990).

While both boys and girls may begin developing victimizing identities, there may be a higher prevalence among boys. Within the United States, sex role socialization encourages the development of different behaviors for males and females, with males encouraged to be less verbally expressive and more physically aggressive (Hartnett & Bradley, 1997). In a cross-cultural study, Zammuner (1987) found that males were more likely than females to become angry in response to provocation and more likely to engage in physical aggression when aggressive behavior was viewed as socially acceptable. In addition, boys are more likely than girls to show angry responses to witnessing interpersonal aggression (E. M. Cummings et al., 1989). In terms of response styles, Achenbach and Edelbrock have found boys to present more externalizing problems (impulsivity, aggression) and girls to present more internalizing problems (anxiety, depression, fear). Similarly, approximately 9% of boys are diagnosed with conduct disorders, in comparison to 2% of girls (American Psychiatric Association).

The Victim
Rather than becoming victimizers, some children may come to see themselves as powerless and valueless and thus assume a victim role (Barnett et al.). In response to violence, some children become withdrawn, clingy, dependent, and socially isolated (Dodge et at., 1990). How might this begin? A basic role of the family is to provide safety and security (Minuchin & Fishman). Within the violent home, children learn that to survive physically, women must focus on how to avoid being punished, rejected, or physically abused (Berman, 1989). Abused women become hypervigilant of their male partners in attempts to avoid violence (Walker & Browne, 1985). In terms of interpersonal relationships, these children might conclude that women are powerless and it is not safe for them to be independent (Straus et al.) or for children to be independent either. As children become older and strive for independence, the batterer may respond with attempts to control them as he has controlled his wife (Walker, 1984a). When children turn to their mother for nurturance and safety from a violent father, she may be unable to offer it (Van der Kolk, 1987) proving that she is as incompetent as her partner has indicated she is (Frieze, 1987). In such families, women's personal needs are considered unimportant, and the needs of others must always come first (Berman, 1989). Problem-solving and communication strategies in these families suggest that violence is inevitable and/or an indicator of love (Carlson, 1984; Walker & Browne, 1985) and that victims are responsible for the violence or must at least tolerate it (Wilson et al., 1989).

Dodge et al. (1990) hypothesize that internalizing outcomes may be mediated by attributions of self-blame and expectations that aggression would not succeed in eliminating negative outcomes. This belief on the part of the children that aggression will not help protect them may be supported by their witnessing of their mother fighting back but not succeeding in protecting herself (Straus & Gelles, 1986). Walker stresses that while men use violent acts for power and control, women use them in self-defense to stay alive or to minimize their own injuries. Finally, over time, abused women begin to deny and minimize the extent of the violence, underestimate the lethality of the situation (Browne, 1987; Walker & Browne, 1985), and display signs of learned helplessness (Walker, 1984). These maternal tendencies might prevent their children from establishing a meaningful context for understanding the abuse (Garbarino, 1990) and may provide, especially for their daughters, a model of passive and ineffectual problem solving. These passive tendencies can be reflected in school by low academic achievement, school phobia, difficulties in concentration, and social isolation (Hughes, 1986).

Compounding these factors, sex role socialization encourages girls to be insecure and dependent and boys to be independent and self-confident (Hartnett & Bradley, 1987). It also encourages them to model the same-sex parent (Barnett et at., 1980), for girls to respond to provocation by becoming anxious and boys by becoming angry (Zammuner, 1987); for females to respond with passivity and acceptance to aggression and domination by males (Walker & Browne, 1985), and for the former to view their self-esteem in terms of their relationships and their ability to maintain these relationships (Walker & Browne, 1985). Thus sex role socialization increases the likelihood that more girls than boys will respond to the violent family situation by beginning to assume a victim role.

The Resilient Child
Resilience is the most positive route for the child's identity. While resilience has been defined in many ways, within the context of family violence it might best be defined as effective coping, where the child makes efforts to restore or maintain internal or external equilibrium under threatening circumstances (Masten et al., 1990). What lessons might children learn from their parents' abusive relationship that could encourage the development of a resilient identity? Some abused women continue to be nurturing parents (Jaffe et al., 1990), and researchers have underscored the potency of strong emotional support from a nonabusive adult in aiding resilience (Egeland, Jacobvitz, & Sroufe, 1988; Kalmuss, 1984; Kaufman & Zigler, 1987; Masten et al., 1990). Garbarino (1990) hypothesizes that the ability of the mother to provide a strong, nurturing adult role model who can give meaning to the violent events (for example, that violence is a result of alcohol abuse, chronic unemployment, or lack of education) might provide a positive cognitive accommodation to the violent events, thus generating resilience in the child. Alternatively, while parents involved in marital conflicts may have decreased parenting skills (Emery), children with natural competencies and feelings of self-worth can fill in the parenting gaps. Jaffe and associates (1990) report that older girls may be especially likely to try to protect their younger siblings during episodes of violence and to offer nurturance at the end of these episodes. From these supportive, nurturing relationships the child can learn that respect and love from mothers and younger siblings can be gained through nurturance rather than violence.

Children may see their parents' problem-solving and communication patterns as ineffectual: their fathers explode and their mothers focus on survival of, rather than escape from, the violence (Walker). Through relationships with supportive adults and peers outside the family, school-age children receive concrete evidence that rewarding relationships exist and that people can be available to them in time of need (Egeland et al., 1988). For teenagers, who have the capacity for abstract reasoning, these experiences allow them to imagine and try out relationship patterns that are different from those used by their parents. Finally, through seeing the negative effects of violence on family members, children can make conscious decisions that their own future family lives will be different (Egeland et al., 1988).

Being resilient is not equivalent to being happy and secure. Resilient children, in their desire to offer protection and nurturance to their mothers and younger siblings (Jaffe et al., 1990), may stay at home with the violence when they could leave. By trying to protect their mothers and younger siblings and to calm their fathers' anger, they generate cross-generational coalitions that violate the integrity of both the spouse and child systems. The resilient child is put in the position of having to grow up too quickly and take on more responsibility within the family than is developmentally appropriate (Barnett et al). It is the role of the parents to protect children, not the reverse (Minuchin & Fishman, 1981). However, despite these difficulties, some children show resilience in terms of functioning well academically and with peers (Jaffe et al., 1990). Turning to schoolwork and peers provides an avenue for day-to-day escape and can lay the groundwork for future life success.

Prevalence Rates
Although the descriptive and empirical research literature on child witnesses indicates the existence of victimizing, victimlike, and resilient reactions to family violence, there are no prevalence rates for these reactions based on epidemiological studies. Most existing studies compare group scores on mothers' reports of child behavior. The presence of children with elevated scores on internalizing and externalizing behavior is almost universally reported. There are usually no direct discussions of resilient reactions to family violence. Rather, resilience is implied by the fact that some child witnesses do not show elevations on either internalizing or externalizing scales.
Hansen, Marsali, Battering and Family Therapy: A Feminist Perspective. Sage Publications. Newbery Park, CA. 1993.

Effective Intervention in Domestic Violence &
Child Maltreatment Cases: Guidelines for Policy and Practice

- Schechter, S. and Edleson, J. L. (1999). Effective Intervention in Domestic Violence &
Child Maltreatment Cases: Guidelines for Policy and Practice. The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges.

Personal Reflection Exercise Explanation
The Goal of this Home Study Course is to create a learning experience that enhances your clinical skills. We encourage you to discuss the Personal Reflection Journaling Activities, found at the end of each Section, with your colleagues. Thus, you are provided with an opportunity for a Group Discussion experience. Case Study examples might include: family background, socio-economic status, education, occupation, social/emotional issues, legal/financial issues, death/dying/health, home management, parenting, etc. as you deem appropriate. A Case Study is to be approximately 250 words in length. However, since the content of these “Personal Reflection” Journaling Exercises is intended for your future reference, they may contain confidential information and are to be applied as a “work in progress.” You will not be required to provide us with these Journaling Activities.

Personal Reflection Exercise #1
The preceding section explored short-term effects of children's witnessing parental violence. Write three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section of the Manual in your practice.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Buchbinder, E. (2018). Metaphors of transformation: Change in male batterers. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 19(3), 352–361. 

Enosh, G., & Buchbinder, E. (2019). Mirrors on the wall: Identification and confrontation in group processes with male batterers in prison. Psychology of Men & Masculinities, 20(4), 575–584.

Gerbrandij, J., Rosenfeld, B., Nijdam-Jones, A., & Galietta, M. (2018). Evaluating risk assessment instruments for intimate partner stalking and intimate partner violence. Journal of Threat Assessment and Management, 5(2), 103–118. 

Online Continuing Education Question 13
What are three areas in which children from violent homes show a cognitive deficiency regarding the processing of social information? CE Test

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