POLICE ASSOCIATION OF NOVA SCOTIA 85 The scope and seriousness of wife abuse is increasingly becoming known in our society. Thirty percent (3 in 10) of Canadian women reported at least one incident of physical or sexual violence at the hands of a marital partner in a large-scale 1993 national survey on violence against women conducted by Statistics Canada. Of the women who had been abused, one-third had feared for their lives during the abusive relationship. Forty-eight percent of women with a previous marriage reported having experienced abuse. The profound negative effect on children who witness their mother being assaulted is now being recognized. Children are affected in their emotional development and behaviour, as well as in their educational adjustment. Children, especially boys, who witness violence are more likely to be violent when they grow up. Witnessing violence in childhood increases the likelihood of a man becoming an abusive husband and causing severe injuries. How many children are affected? Estimates of the proportion of children of abused women who witness the violence range from 40 to 80 percent. The consensus of opinion is that children see, overhear or are aware of the majority of violent incidents. Best estimates indicate that three to five children in every Canadian school classroom have witnessed their mother being assaulted. In many cases children witness severe violence. For example, in the 1993 Statistics Canada study, children were reported to have witnessed violence in more than half of the cases in which women feared for their lives. Children who witness physical violence toward their mother almost invariably witness a great deal of psychological abuse, including verbal abuse, belittling and threats toward her. What are the links between wife assault and child abuse? • Children who witness the violent behaviour of their father or their mother's partner toward their mother are being emotionally abused. • There is 30 to 40 percent overlap between children who witness wife assault and children who experience direct physical abuse themselves. • Women are often abused during pregnancy and miscarriage sometimes results. • Abuse and the resultant trauma and stress on the mother lessen the coping resources that mothers have available for parenting. This can result in less effective parenting by the mother and neglect or child abuse in some cases. • A pattern of physical and emotional abuse of mother by father or other male partner is common in families in which children are sexually abused by fathers or male partners of mothers. What are the emotional and behavioural effects on children? • Children who witness their mother being abused by their father or mother's partner frequently experience Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The symptoms of PTSD include re-experiencing the trauma (nightmares, intrusive thoughts or images, flashbacks); fear, anxiety, tension and hyper-vigilance; irritability and outbursts of anger and aggression; and efforts to avoid being reminded of the abuse. • If the mother takes her children and leaves, the children suffer disruption of their home, routine, relationships with their friends, and often their school. These children may be pre-occupied with fear that violence will re-occur and are often aware of threats and attempts at renewed contact, or stalking, by their fathers. At the same time the children may be relieved to be in a safer place. • Children who have witnessed their mothers being assaulted display greatly elevated rates of depression, withdrawal, low self-esteem and other emotional problems. • These children who witness wife assault have a much greater risk of behaviour problems, such as aggression with peers, non-compliance with adults, destructive behaviour, and conflict with the law. • These children who witness wife assault and whose parents separate may have ambivalent feelings toward their father. They may miss him, and worry about his well-being, but also be afraid of him at the same time. • Children, as they enter adolescence, may also have mixed feelings about their mothers. They may feel sympathy and support, but also be resentful and disrespectful, because of their opinions about their mother's choices. • Their level of emotional and behavioural problems is of a magnitude similar to that of children who are themselves physically abused. (continued...) Wife Abuse - The Impact on Children