Children and Domestic Violence

I grew up living with domestic violence. So did my mom. So did her mom. So did 40 million other adults in the US. So I asked some of them, “In your life, can you remember a time when domestic violence was more talked about?” They all said, “No, never.”

Then I asked, “But why is no one talking about Childhood Domestic Violence? You know, when you grow up in a home living with domestic violence.” They didn’t have an answer.

250,000 searches for domestic violence … 51 included children.

I asked a friend of mine who is a fellow board member at and digital media expert to look at the data to see if my assumptions were true. What he found was startling. When looking at a two year period, there was never a time when the term “Domestic Violence” was more searched than it was this past month, largely driven by the negative stories coming out of the NFL. But the startling point was how infrequently “domestic violence” was searched along with the word, “child” or “childhood” or “children,” as this chart makes clear. He wrote, “even during the large spike in September the highest weekly search total for domestic violence + childhood or child or children only reached 51 searches!”

While we may be aware of domestic violence, we aren’t seeking to understand the impact it has on a person who grows up living with it. And we must, if for no other reason than, this is the best predictor of whether someone will be in a domestically violent relationship in the first place.

What is Childhood Domestic Violence — CDV?

You may be saying to yourself, “What is Childhood Domestic Violence? I never heard of it.” If you grew up living with domestic violence, you experienced Childhood Domestic Violence (CDV). And domestic violence, from a childhood standpoint, is violence between parents, or violence towards a parent, perhaps from a stepparent or a significant other. It’s violence in one’s home. And this violence can be physical or non-physical. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard, “there was no physical violence in our home, but the words they used, I felt them physically.”

Children Are Not ‘Witnesses’ — They Are the Victims We Don’t Talk About

Even though UNICEF calls CDV “one of the most pervasive human rights issues of our time,” as the data points out, there is still very little awareness. One of the reasons is that many who grow up with domestic violence struggle with what to call it. They don’t call it domestic violence, because that’s between adults. They don’t see it as physical child abuse (even though that happens in more than half of the homes). They may say, “my family is dysfunctional” as a way to try and make sense of it. Researchers use the phrase CWIPV or “Child Witness to Intimate Partner Violence” — that has less than 1% awareness. And this word “witness” — people who experienced CDV take issue with it, because the word doesn’t adequately describe the impact.

What is the impact?

Among other things, CDV negatively wires a developing brain. It encodes a series of negative beliefs early in life and then the brain throughout childhood and into adulthood, doing its job, seeks to find evidence as to why these beliefs are true. These negative beliefs then often take the form of actions, as people who grow up living with domestic violence are…

  • 6 times more likely to commit suicide
  • 50 times more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol
  • 4 times more likely to commit a violent crime
  • 90% of prisoners come from these homes

“They will not reach their full potential in life”

But perhaps one of the most haunting impacts is this. According to David Sousa, author of, How the Brain Learns, “if you grow up living with domestic violence, you will not reach your full potential in life…unless you unlearn what was learned.” But how are we to unlearn what was learned if no one is aware…if no one talks about it? If no one knows to search for it!

You must become aware, seek to understand & then share

I first became aware of CDV when I was volunteering at a domestic violence shelter and came across a research study. That one study led to my seeking another, and another. Never before had I understood what to call it. Never before had I understood that growing up with domestic violence had an impact. I had no idea how common it was, with more than 1 billion people experiencing the same thing. This gave me the confidence to share what I experienced with another. All the research concludes that sharing is critical, but it so rarely happens.

What to do next

One thing we can all do, now that we are aware and understand is to give another the same gift. Consider asking this question of yourself, someone you love, your parent, your friend – Did you grow up living with domestic violence? That question is the first step to unlearning the lies and revealing the truths.

South Africa

South African athlete Oscar Pistorius has been given five years in jail for killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

Judge Thokozile Masipa also gave Pistorius a three-year suspended sentence for a firearms charge.

The parents of Reeva Steenkamp told the BBC they were happy with the sentence and relieved the case was over. The defence said it expected Pistorius to serve about 10 months in prison.

Pistorius was convicted of culpable homicide but cleared of murder.

Prosecutors had called for a minimum 10-year term, and the defence had argued for community service and house arrest.

Stand Your Ground & Domestic Violence


South Carolina is one of more than 20 states that has passed an expansive Stand Your Ground law authorizing individuals to use deadly force in self-defense. The law has been used to protect a man who killed an innocent bystander while pointing his gun at several teens he called “women thugs.” But prosecutors in Charleston are drawing the line at domestic violence.

In the cases of women who claim they feared for their lives when confronted with violent intimate abusers, prosecutors say the Stand Your Ground law shouldn’t apply.

“(The Legislature’s) intent … was to provide law-abiding citizens greater protections from external threats in the form of intruders and attackers,” prosecutor Culver Kidd told the Post and Courier. “We believe that applying the statute so that its reach into our homes and personal relationships is inconsistent with (its) wording and intent.”

Most recently, Kidd raised this argument in vigorously pursuing a murder case against Whitlee Jones, whose screams for help as her boyfriend pulled her down the street by her hair prompted a neighbor to call the cops during a 2012 altercation. When the officer arrived that night, the argument had already ended and Jones had fled the scene. While she was out, Jones decided to leave her boyfriend, Eric Lee, and went back to the house to pack up her things. She didn’t even know the police officer had been there earlier that night, her lawyer Mary Ford explained. She packed a knife to protect herself, and as she exited the house, she says Lee attacked her and she stabbed Lee once in defense. He died, although Jones says she did not intend to kill him.

On October 3, Circuit Judge J.C. Nicholson sided with Jones and granted herStand Your Ground immunity, meaning she is exempt from trial on the charge. In response to Kidd’s argument that individuals could not invoke Stand Your Ground to defend against violence in their own homes, Nicholson said that dynamic would create the “nonsensical result” that a victim of domestic abuse could defend against an attacker outside of the home, but not inside the home – where the most vicious domestic violence is likely to occur.

Kidd is unsatisfied with this reasoning, and is appealing the case to argue that Jones and other defendants like her can’t invoke the Stand Your Ground law so long as they are in their home. The Post and Courier reports that there are two other similar cases coming up the pike that are being pursued by the same prosecutor’s office. In one, a judge who dismissed a murder charge against a women who stabbed a roommate attacking her called the charge “appalling.” In another, the defendant’s attorney plans to ask for a Stand Your Ground hearing.

Solicitor Scarlett Wilson, the top prosecutor for that office, is also siding with Kidd. Wilson and Kidd do have a legal basis for their arguments. South Carolina is one of several states that has two self-defense provisions. One known as the Castle Doctrine authorizes occupants to use deadly force against intruders. Recently, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that this provision could not apply to fellow occupants of the home, in a case involving roommates, although that ruling was since withdrawn and the case is being re-heard this week. The Stand Your Ground law contains a separate provision that authorizes deadly force in self-defense against grave bodily harm or death in another place “where he has a right to be.” Prosecutors are arguing that neither of these laws permit one occupant of a home to use deadly force against another. But as Nicholson points out, this interpretation would yield the perverse result that both self-defense provisions explicitly exempt domestic abusers when they perpetrate violence within their own home.

The Post and Courier, which originally reported prosecutors’ position, has beendoing a series on domestic violence over the past few months, in which it found that women are dying at a rate of one every 12 days from domestic abuse in South Carolina, a state “awash in guns, saddled with ineffective laws and lacking enough shelters for the battered … a state where the deck is stacked against women trapped in the cycle of abuse.” More than 70 percent of those who kill their spouse had “multiple prior arrests on those charges” and the majority spent just days in jail.

It is in that context that the Post and Courier gave front page treatment to another strike against domestic victims in Stand Your Ground laws, even as those who engage in what many consider vigilante killings are protected by the law. The man granted immunity for killing an innocent bystander, Shannon Anthony Scott, reportedly had a sign posted in his window that read, “Fight Crime – Shoot First.”

Lee, the victim in Jones’ case, had previously been arrested when “a woman said he smashed her flower pot and shattered her bedroom window with a rock during a fit of rage” and had a prior conviction for property a property crime.

Jones said she feared for her life. And those like her who defend themselves against domestic abuse shouldn’t need Stand Your Ground laws to raise a claim of self-defense. Most states, including South Carolina, have longstanding court precedent that permits individuals to raise claims of self-defense in cases where their life is threatened. And those common law claims are one of the reasons many opponents argue that the expansive protection of Stand Your Ground laws is not needed, and gives those who turn to force too much legal cover. But one of the demonstrated flaws of Stand Your Ground laws is that their imposition has been arbitrary, and allowed immunity in many more cases involving white shooters and black victims. In cases in which women have invoked Stand Your Ground laws, an MSNBC analysis found that women invoking the Stand Your Ground defense against white men succeeded in only about 2.6 percent of cases (2.9 percent of the woman was also white). The disparity of Stand Your Ground cases came to national attention with the case of Marissa Alexander, who was sentenced to 20 years in jail for firing a warning shot against her alleged abuser. She was denied Stand Your Ground immunity.

Private Violence Documentary

Private Violence is a feature-length documentary film and audience engagement campaign that explores a simple, but deeply disturbing fact of American life: the most dangerous place for a woman in America is her own home. Every day in the US, at least four women are murdered by abusive (and often, ex) partners. The knee-jerk response is to ask: “why doesn’t she just leave?” Private Violence shatters the brutality of this logic. Through the eyes of two survivors – Deanna Walters, a mother who seeks justice for the crimes committed against her at the hands of her estranged husband, and Kit Gruelle, an advocate who seeks justice for all women – we bear witness to the complicated and complex realities of intimate partner violence. Their experiences challenge entrenched and misleading assumptions, providing a lens into a world that is largely invisible; a world we have locked behind closed doors with our silence, our laws, and our lack of understanding. Kit’s work immerses us in the lives of several other women as they attempt to leave their abusers, setting them on a collision course with institutions that continuously and systematically fail them, often blaming victims for the violence they hope to flee. The same society that encourages women to seek true love shows them no mercy when that love turns dangerous. As Deanna transforms from victim to survivor, Private Violence begins to shape powerful, new questions that hold the potential to change our society: “Why does he abuse?” “Why do we turn away?” “How do we begin to build a future without domestic violence?”