Child Exposure to a Batterer’s Violence:
A Proposal for Research
Melanie Dowling & Sandra van den Bosse
University of Minnesota - Duluth
Advanced Research, SW 8102
July 17, 2007
Although child exposure to domestic violence is quite prevalent, a review of academic
literature reveals few studies focused on the experiences of children living with a batterer’s
violence. The search did not reveal any studies that focus on how children experienced an
intervention by the child welfare community. Further research is needed to provide a voice for
the victims and fill the information gap that currently exists.
This research study will focus on the lived ...view middle of the document...
Edleson and his team are currently developing a more
sophisticated assessment tool. Until this tool is fully developed, we must look at the numbers
that do exist. Ornduff (1999) gives us some figures:
It is estimated that spouse abuse occurs in twenty to thirty percent of all marriages, with
repeated abuse occurring in about 10% of couples (Rosenbaum & O'Leary, 1981).
Extrapolating from these and other data on rates of family violence, the number of
children exposed to parental assault in this country each year exceeds 3 million (Straus &
Gelles, 1990) and may be as high as 10 million (Davidson, 1994). (p. 351)
Edleson et al (2006) quotes higher figures using the same technique:
Carlson (2000) has more recently raised her estimate as a result of additional studies. She
now conservatively estimates that from 10% to 20% of American children are exposed to
adult domestic violence each year (Carlson, 2000). Based on recent US Census data (US
Census Bureau, 2000), this would indicate that approximately 7 to 14 million American
children are exposed to adult domestic violence annually. (p. 962)
Difficulties in defining the terminology
It is important to define what we mean by domestic violence as many researchers define
it differently. Some only count physical violence as domestic violence. Others, like Conte and
Savage (2003), tell us that:
The terms batterer, abuser, and primary aggressor are also used somewhat
interchangeably…Although the criminal justice system constructs a batterer by behavior
as one who uses physical violence (excluding self defense) or the threat of violence
(Reiss & Roth, 1993), some intervention providers and victim advocates believe one can
be a batterer without the use of physical force or threat of force (Hart, 1986). For
example, the partner of a disabled woman deserted her in an isolated wooded area
without her wheelchair as punishment (Renzetti, 1998). Although the woman was never
subject to “physical abuse,” her partner’s behavior could still be constructed as battering.
The foundation of this research project is based on the concepts in the Power and Control
Wheel©, developed by the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project in Duluth. It depicts the kinds
of behavior abusers use to gain and maintain control over their partners. Rather than a
partnership based on equality, an abusive relationship is characterized by tactics of the abuser to
control his partner through emotional, economic, sexual or physical abuse. This includes using
children to manipulate a partner, using isolation or threats, and minimizing abusive behavior.
See Appendix A for an illustration of the Power and Control Wheel©.
Adding to the controversy of defining domestic abuse and child witnessing, politics can
play a role in the ongoing national dialogue. Koverola and Heger (2003) suggest that:
Another level of complexity arises from the reality that children exposed to domestic
violence intersect with two...