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In 2014, there was enormous outcry over video footage of pro football player Ray Rice knocking his wife Janay unconscious, then dragging her off an elevator. In the midst of the coverage, the Rices appeared together at a press conference. She clearly seemed to have no intention of leaving him. This set off a whole new barrage on social media asking why in the world she would stay.

In the U.S., it’s estimated that every nine seconds a woman is beaten. Moreover, research indicates that 85 percent of reported cases of domestic violence are by men against women. These relationships usually involve intense jealousy, controlling behavior, denial and blame, intimidation, coercion and threats, and isolation.

  • Approximately 50 percent of men who assault their partners also assault their children.
  • As many as 10 million children witness domestic violence annually.
  • Men and women engage in comparable levels of abuse and control, though women are more likely to use emotional manipulation. In contrast, men are more likely to use sexual coercion and physical dominance. (Statistics from Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network)

Dr. David M. Allen, Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, says it’s important to realize that not all abusers were abused as children. And, that many—if not most—people who are abused do not become abusers. However, child abuse is most likely the single largest risk factor—biological, psychological or sociocultural—for later adult abusive behavior.

According to Allen, significant family dysfunction is almost always present in a repetitive abuser’s background. Unfortunately, these dysfunctional patterns rarely stop when abused children grow up.

Why do people stay in abusive relationships?

Fear, reliance on the abusive partner, pressure and conflicting emotions are all reasons why someone would stay in an abusive relationship.

“The reason many of these victims stay is because they are brainwashed to believe that the violence is their fault. They may think they cannot survive without their abuser and that they are too stupid, too ugly or too unfit to be a good employee, wife, friend or mother,” says Dr. Charlotte Boatwright, President of the Chattanooga Area Domestic Violence Coalition.

So, what can you do if you have a friend who is in an abusive situation?

  • Recognize the abuse. Help your friend see that what is happening is not normal. Healthy relationships revolve around mutual respect, trust and consideration for the other person. Intense jealousy and controlling behavior, which could include physical, emotional or sexual abuse, all indicate an unhealthy relationship.
  • Support your friend’s strength. Acknowledge the things she does to take care of herself.
  • Help your friend with a safety plan. There are resources available in our community to help victims of domestic violence. Express your concern for your friend’s safety and the safety of her children. Encourage her to get help as soon as possible. Give her the phone number to the National Domestic Violence hotline, 1-800-799-7233. Assure her that when she is ready to leave, you’ll be there for her.
  • Be a good listener. Empower her through listening. Be nonjudgmental.

“Never underestimate the power and encouragement of a friend,” Boatwright says. “Sometimes all a victim needs is permission to seek help.”

Of the 76 million children living in the United States, a staggering 60 percent (46 million) of them will experience violence, abuse, crime and psychological trauma before they turn 18. That’s according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Believe it or not, home life plays a huge part in these statistics. Specifically, children from single-parent homes seem to be at higher risk for adverse childhood experiences than those who live with both parents.

The National Survey of Children’s Health asked parents of 95,677 children under 18 if their kids had ever seen or heard “any parents, guardians or any other adults in the home slap, hit, kick, punch or beat each other up.” Nineteen of every 1,000 children living with their two married biological parents experienced that type of behavior. Sadly, the exposure rate was seven times higher (144 children per 1,000) in homes with a divorced or separated mother. These comparisons are adjusted for differences across age, sex, race, family income, poverty status and parent’s education level.

In an Institute for Family Studies article, Nicholas Zill, a psychologist and child and family well-being researcher with more than 40 years of experience, writes:

“Experiencing family violence is stressful for children, undercuts their respect and admiration for parents who engage in abusive behavior, and is associated with increased rates of emotional and behavioral problems at home and in school. For children of never-married mothers who witnessed family violence, 58 percent had conduct or academic problems. Among children of divorced or separated mothers, nearly half of those exposed to family violence, 48 percent, had had conduct or academic problems at school.”

So, how do adverse childhood experiences affect children long-term? Do they set the stage for greater difficulty later in life? Are children resilient?

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE), conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, studied more than 17,000 adults to find out. It examined the links between traumatic childhood experiences (abuse, neglect and family dysfunction including divorce, incarceration, substance abuse and mental health issues) and current adult health and well-being.

According to that study, exposure to adverse childhood experiences hinders the ability to form stable and healthy adult relationships. Plus, those experiences increase risk for:

  • Experiencing substance abuse;
  • Depression;
  • Cardiovascular disease;
  • Diabetes;
  • Cancer; and
  • Premature death.

In contrast, healthy relationships at home, school and in the community can nurture a child’s physical and emotional growth. Children need these types of relationships from birth forward in order to thrive and grow into productive adults.

What can you do?

  • Create a safe and stable home for your kids.
  • Actively engage in your child’s life.
  • Learn skills to help you manage and resolve conflict.
  • Take parenting classes for various ages and stages.
  • Make sure your neighborhood is a safe place.

Safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments are among the most powerful and protective forces in a child’s life. So in order to promote healthy child development, we must be diligent to create those safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments. As a community, we all share responsibility for the well-being of our children.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***