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Government News
Bill Calls for Increase in Services For Domestic-Violence Victims
Psychiatric News
Volume 36 Number 21 page 2-28
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Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.): "Nowhere is violence more isolated from view, more difficult to combat, and more far reaching in its impact than violence in the home."

More than 3 million children in the United States witness domestic violence every year. This puts them at greater risk of developing psychiatric and emotional problems, experiencing academic difficulties, and repeating patterns of abuse when they become adults than children not exposed to such violence, according to Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.).

The bill is designed primarily to protect and serve children exposed to domestic violence but also addresses the link between domestic violence and child abuse. Forty percent to 60 percent of men who abuse women also abuse children, according to the bill. The bill defines "intimate partner violence" as rape, physical assault, or stalking committed by current and former dates, spouses, or cohabiting partners—the same definition as in the Violence Against Women Act of 2000.

Wellstone said in a press statement that he introduced this legislation because "nowhere is violence more isolated from view, more difficult to combat, and more far reaching in its impact than violence in the home. To turn a blind eye to the suffering of the victims of domestic violence and their children is to be, however unwittingly, complicitous in the crime because it is out of sight and behind closed doors that domestic violence thrives."

The bill requires agencies that provide services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault to train workers in child welfare agencies and the courts, law enforcement personnel, prosecutors, and health care professionals to recognize the signs of domestic violence and sexual assault and to collaborate on developing interventions.

Training would also extend to elementary and secondary school faculty, administrators, and staff to recognize the effects of domestic violence on children and make appropriate referrals.

In addition, schools would be required to develop and implement educational programs to prevent children and youth from becoming victims or perpetrators of sexual assault, domestic violence, or stalking.

When battered women leave their abusers, they often take their children with them. As a result, children make up more than 50 percent of the residents in shelters for battered women, according to the legislation. Wellstone’s bill would provide funds to shelters to develop and implement programs that address the physical, emotional, and logistical needs of children who are housed at shelters.

Other temporary safe havens for young children are "crisis nurseries." But there are not enough to accommodate all the children who need them, and Wellstone’s bill would provide funds to states so private and public agencies could expand temporary respite care for children at risk for abuse in their homes.

Graeme Hanson, M.D., chair of APA’s Committee on Family Violence and Sexual Abuse, told Psychiatric News that this is the first bill to recognize and address the negative impact of domestic violence on children. "The research is clear that these children experience long-standing negative consequences."

Children who witness domestic violence are at higher risk of developing depression and anxiety and exhibit more aggressive, antisocial, inhibited, and fearful behaviors than other children, the bill points out.

Hanson praised the provision on funding comprehensive research on the link between child abuse and domestic violence. The bill would also fund research on the link between domestic violence and violent behavior in youth and adults. For example, men who witnessed domestic violence have been found to be twice as likely to abuse their wives as men who had not had violent parents. In addition, 50 percent of youngsters who come before delinquency courts have been exposed to domestic violence, according to the bill.

Hanson agreed that teachers should be trained to recognize the effects of domestic violence on students and make appropriate treatment referrals. "All 50 states already require teachers to report child abuse to the authorities. The new training would heighten awareness of this vulnerable group of children."

Hanson suggested that pediatricians and primary care physicians be included in any training program to improve their awareness and detection of the problem.

Carole Warshaw, M.D., director of the domestic violence and mental health policy initiative at the Cook County Hospital in Chicago, told Psychiatric News that "the bill recognizes the importance of reaching beyond traditional mental health settings to schools and shelters and welfare and other agencies to identify children affected by domestic violence and offer needed services."

She praised a provision for teaching child welfare and law enforcement staff how to increase the safety of the nonabusing parent and the children who witness domestic violence.

"The most helpful thing [that these professionals can do] for children witnessing abuse is to maintain an attachment to the nonabusive parent and to help that parent and the child live in a safe environment. It is not helpful to punish the mother by taking her kids away if she doesn’t have other options at that time," said Warshaw.

A summary and full text of S 1483 can be accessed on the Web at thomas.loc.gov by searching on "S 1483." Wellstone’s comments on the bill are posted on his Web site at www.senate.gov/~wellstone/What_s_New/witnesflr2.htm.

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Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.): "Nowhere is violence more isolated from view, more difficult to combat, and more far reaching in its impact than violence in the home."

More than 3 million children in the United States witness domestic violence every year. This puts them at greater risk of developing psychiatric and emotional problems, experiencing academic difficulties, and repeating patterns of abuse when they become adults than children not exposed to such violence, according to Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.).

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