Dating violence does not affect the survivor alone -- it greatly affects other people involved in their lives, including children. Parents in a relationship experiencing unhealthy or abusive behaviors have to worry not just about their personal safety, but must consider the safety of their child or children. Seven million children live in families where severe partner violence has occurred. Another says one in eight pregnant adolescents reported having been physically assaulted by the father of her baby in the preceding 12 months. Although people many not think of children when they think about teenage dating violence, it’s a problem that can be overlooked.
The consequences of dating violence for those with children go far and beyond themselves. Witnessing dating violence can have a huge impact on children. According to The Journal of Pediatrics, children who were exposed to violence suffered symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and were at greater risk for health problems. Other studies point to cognitive and emotional responses, behavioral problems, reduced social competence and issues in school as adverse side effects of experiencing abusive behaviors in their household. Children experiencing abuse are more likely to intervene when they see it against a parent, and if those children do not receive help, they are more vulnerable to experiencing abusive behaviors as teens or adults, or exhibiting abusive behaviors with an intimate partner as a teen or adult.
Someone exhibiting abusive behaviors may use children against their partner. They may use manipulation, isolation or humiliation on the partner or the children, or have the kids "check in" on the partner’s actions and goings. A partner using abusive behaviors may threaten to take them away or not let a partner see them, or call immigration or the police so they will have custody of the children. They may also abuse the child physically, verbally, emotionally, financially or sexually. This can make the situation even more dire, as the parent fears for their child’s safety. Therefore, if they leave, their children are in more danger.
Making the decision to leave an abusive relationship can be extremely hard, especially if there are children. Whether or not a partner is ready or able to leave, you can take steps to help keep them and the children safe. Prepare a safety plan with the partner and their kids to follow whenever possible. Arrange a safe meeting place for the children and plan a code word to let them know when they should leave, as well as where to get help. The safety plan should also include important documentation like birth certificates and a go-bag with anything the kids might need, like medicine, formula, diapers, and so on that’s kept hidden or left with someone the abused partner trusts.
Moreover, talk to the children directly. It’s the children’s job to stay safe, not protect their parent. Make sure they understand the abuse is not their fault and violence is never okay, even when someone they love is exhibiting abusive behaviors. The safety of the family comes first, so if you know someone with children who is experiencing abusive behaviors, provide resources on how to talk to a who can walk them through various legal options like protective orders and custody rights. Be there and listen to them, or offer to help them create a safety plan. If you or someone you know needs immediate help, call 911. If they want to talk to someone about their options, chat or call one of our peer advocates at loveisrespect 24/7 -- they can help find a safe place for the partner and their children to stay the night. Remember, no one -- with or without children -- deserves abuse.