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Domestic violence tears at heart of families, cities.

The following are excerpts from "Family Violence: An Overview" published by the Office of Human Development Services of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, reprinted with permission. Copies of the full report are available at no cost from the Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect and Family Violence Information, P.O. Box 1182, Washington, D.C. 20013.

Family violence is a widespread problem in American society. Most experts agree that incidents of family violence are substantially underreported. Hundreds of thousands of Americans are harmed each year by family members. This victimization takes many forms: spouse abuse/domestic violence, elder abuse and neglect, parent abuse, and sibling abuse. These forms of violence do not always occur independently of each other. Families who engage in one form of family violence are likely to engage in others.

Government Roles in

Domestic Violence Issues

The ramifications of family violence have almost no boundaries. In addition to the obvious physical injuries and deaths that result, family violence is often cited in research and clinical case studies as contributing to numerous other individual, family, and societal problems. For example, numerous studies show that growing up in a violent home compromises the child's physical, intellectual, emotional, and social development. A variety of data suggest that abused children, especially boys, have a much greater chance of becoming involved in juvenile crime than children from nonabusive homes.

From the perspective of social institutions and society, family violence and its effects drain resources and add to other societal problems. Various public and private organizations use considerable staff and money to identify violent families. Once identified, these families and each family member (whether victim, abuser, or witness) usually need a host of remedial services. The "costs" of law enforcement, medical, social, mental health, educational, and legal intervention associated with family violent are extremely high.

Front-line caseworkers, as well as numerous other community service providers, need more training and support to deal with the physical and emotional demands of serving this population. Early identification of families experiencing violence increases the likelihood of successful intervention. Increased public education efforts and awareness of the problem will make such early identification possible.

Spouse Abuse/Domestic Violence

Severe spouse abuse is the single major cause of injury for which women seek medical attention; it is more common than auto accidents, mugging, and rape combined. When less severe types of abuse are considered, estimates of the number of victims per year increase significantly. Spouse abuse also is considered a major contributing factor to other problems, including child abuse and neglect, female alcoholism, drug abuse, homelessness, mental illness, and attempted suicide.

Domestic violence can be learned behavior. In one study, seventy percent of the abusive men participating in a treatment program had come from homes in which one or more of the children were victims of physical or sexual abuse, or where the mother had been abused by the father.

Domestic violence can be the result of trial and error learning, even for males who never experienced violence as children. Through trial and error, men experience positive reinforcement for violence in several ways. First, the use of violence tends to reduce emotional stress. Second, violence puts at temporary end to an uncomfortable situation. Third, the abuse becomes a way to control and incapacitate the woman; as a result, the man feels less threatened by her independence or the possibility of her leaving.

Studies have found that more than 50 percent of abusive men use or are addicted to some substance. Alcohol and other mood-altering drugs often reduce an individual's ability to control violent impulses. However, ending the abuser's substance dependency does not ensure that abusive behaviors will stop.

Child Abuse and Neglect

The most recent national incidence study estimates that more than 1 million children nationwide experienced demonstrable harm as a result of maltreatment in 1986. The national incidence study found that the majority of child maltreatment cases (63 percent) involved neglect and fewer than half (43 percent) involved (physical or sexual) abuse.

Parents may be more likely to maltreat their children if the parents are emotionally immature or needy; are isolated, with no family or friend to depend on; were emotionally deprived, abused, or neglected as children; feel worthless; have never been loved or cared about; are in poor health; or abuse alcohol or other drugs. Many abusive and neglectful parents do not intend to harm their children and often feel remorse about the maltreatment. However, their own problems may prevent them from stopping their harmful behavior and may result in resistance to outside intervention.

Children may be at higher risk of maltreatment if they are unwanted, resemble someone the parent dislikes, or have physical traits or behaviors that make them different or especially difficult to care for.

Some parents and children are fine on their own, put just cannot get along together, especially for long periods of time. Some characteristics commonly observed in abusive families include social isolation and parents turning to their children to meet the parents' own emotional needs.

Changes in financial condition, employment status, or family structure may shake a family's stability. Some parents may not be able to cope with the stress resulting from these changes and may experience difficulty in caring for their children.

The primary responsibility for responding to cases of family violence rests with State and local agencies. An understanding of family violence, its causes, and its effects on victims will help better equip these agencies to deal with domestic violence in their communities.
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:excerpts from 'Family Violence: An Overview' by the Department of Health and Human Services; Futures Forum: Toward Family-Friendly Communities
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Mar 2, 1992
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