Intimate partner violence (IPV) takes many forms, including physical violence, emotional abuse, and sexual violence. Witnessing this type of behavior can result in deleterious outcomes for children. Problems, including disruptive behavior, are often present in children who have been exposed to IPV. But until now, the link between specific types of IPV and disruptive behavior has not been clearly established. To establish a definitive link, Laura C. Spiller of the Department of Psychology at Midwestern State University in Texas led a study surveying 449 mothers with children between the ages of 4 and 8 years old. The mothers were all receiving aid from domestic violence organizations. They reported what types of IPV they had experienced in the previous 12 months and how much psychological stress it caused. The mothers were also asked about the behavior patterns of their children.
Spiller discovered that the most common type of violence experienced by the women was physical violence, but nearly three quarters had also been victims of sexual violence. Analysis revealed that the IPV was directly related to increases in disruptive behavior in the children. Also, as the mothers’ levels of psychological distress increased, their children’s behavior deteriorated. Spiller believes these findings are crucial for understanding the full impact of IPV on parents and children.
Of importance was the finding that sexual violence increased distress in the mothers and problem behaviors in the children, but physical violence did not predict either directly. This may imply that sexual victimization causes more trauma for the mothers, diminishing their psychological resources. Children then may experience secondary trauma because of their mother’s inability to emotionally or physically attend to them. Also, the perpetrators may have engaged in other behaviors, such as drug and alcohol use or verbal abuse that increased the mothers’ distress and problem behavior. These are factors that were not fully explored in this study, but should be analyzed in future work. Spiller believes these results demonstrate the need for additional work focusing on sexual IPV and the impact it has on children and mothers. “The overriding implication of this study is the need to advocate for the measurement of multiple dimensions of IPV, particularly women’s sexual victimization, in research, clinical, and forensic settings,” she added.
Spiller, Laura C., Ernest N. Jouriles, Renee McDonald, and Nancy A. Skopp. Physically abused women’s experiences of sexual victimization and their children’s disruptive behavior problems. Psychology of Violence 2.4 (2012): 401-10. Print.
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