Intimate partner violence, typically domestic abuse involving current or former spouses, boyfriends or girlfriends, impacts 17 to 28 percent of married and cohabiting couples and is best treated when impacted children and mothers are helped together, according to the research detailed in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.
Sandra Graham-Bermann, U-M professor of psychology and women studies, along with colleagues at Idaho State University, the University of New Hampshire and Boston University, studied 181 children ages 6-12 and their mothers exposed to intimate partner violence. While past research has focused on the minority of women in shelters, this study took a much broader approach.
"We learned that the average length of violence exposure was 10 years, in essence, the entire life of most of the children in this study," Graham-Bermann said. "Even though only 17 percent of the mothers were living with a violent partner at the time of the study, two thirds of the remaining mothers still had contact with their violent partner."
The findings suggest that even when mothers leave abusive relationships, the majority of children in such situations remain in contact with that abuser, especially if the abuser is the child's parent.
The researchers found that children who were helped with their mothers at the same time showed the greatest improvement over time in externalizing problems and attitudes about violence. Parent training with behavior management plus training in the development of social skills have been found to help the most, the researchers concluded.
"Because parents serve as models for relationships and social interaction as well as emotional anchors for children in times of stress, their coping is vital to their child's well-being," the report says.
The study, which followed such victims in five urban areas of Michigan, found the women had experienced anywhere from one to 252 events of violence over the past one year period and children observed 89 percent of the incidents of psychological mistreatment and 82 percent of the physical violence.
Mothers also reported that 30 percent of the children were physically harmed within the past year. Of these, 33 percent were harmed one time, six were harmed twice a week and nine were harmed each day. According to the mothers' reports, 70 percent of the women, 12 percent of the children and 0.5 percent of the abusers sustained a physical injury as a result of the most violent episode over the past year.
Of the injuries to the mothers, 31 percent were mild (bruises or swelling) and required no intervention, 33 percent were moderate (cuts, sprains, bite marks) and 20 percent were severe, requiring immediate medical attention (broken bones, stabbings, concussions).
The other researchers involved with the study included Shannon Lynch of Idaho State University, Victoria Banyard of the University of New Hampshire, Ellen DeVoe of Boston University and Hilda Halabu of U-M.
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