We think of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) in reference to the parties. However, what we fail to extrapolate is the impact on children of the same household.
Different target, same consequences
Research has shown that children exposed to IPV have many of the negative outcomes experienced by those who are subjected to direct violence. Namely, increased risk of mental health struggles like anxiety and depression, as well as difficulties in school. (1) In other words, witnessing and living in a violent environment is damaging- regardless of the direct victim.
This is true whether or not the child directly witnesses the violence. Often, children may not be directly exposed to violence between caregivers. However, this doesn’t mean the child is unaware of these interactions. A child who is ‘asleep’ often will wake on hearing parents fighting. A child may overhear conversations or be subjected to comments that reveal a violent incident has occurred.
All forms of IPV are maltreatment
Another important facet is that IPV impacts children in all its forms. This includes psychological violence. In other words, where a partner is emotionally violent (without physical or sexual components) this is still experienced as violence by the child.
IPV is its own threat
This type of violence is widely recognized by the justice system, yet largely unconsidered in the civilian population.
In fact, the most commonly recorded type of child maltreatment is IPV (along with neglect). (2) Moreover, the BC Family Law Act directly includes exposure to IPV as a kind of ‘family violence’. (3)
At first, it can seem odd that IPV would classify as child maltreatment. However, when we think about it, this makes perfect sense. A child would undoubtedly experience massive fear and nervous system activation enduring the battle between their caregivers. This a threat as great to their safety as direct violence.
Thus, it is important to consider not only what a child has directly experienced- but also what has happened to those around them.
(1) cn Wathen, Hl macmillan. children’s exposure to intimate partner violence: impacts and interventions. paediatr child Health 2013;18(8):419-422.
(3) Family Law Act, definition of ‘family violence’. http://www.bclaws.ca/civix/document/id/complete/statreg/11025_01#section1