By Geri Redden
Family violence is the most popular violent crime in America. According to Physical Violence in American Families, “just over 16%, or one in six, American couples experienced an incident involving physical assault during 1985″ (Straus & Gelles, 1992). Although alcohol is not necessarily involved in all cases of family violence, any police officer, ambulance driver or emergency room doctor will tell you that it is involved in a large percentage of these crimes and certainly in the most violent incidents. The family is a system, which means that violence in any part of the family equals violence in every part. Woman abuse is a primary indicator of child abuse and vice versa. This system of violence in the family is so exact that the family dog tied up in the yard and abused indicates that inside the house the family is being battered, too. Most people who work with children of alcoholics are well aware that these children often suffer from physical violence against them by a drunken parent. What they may not understand is that these children probably suffer more often because of abuse against their mothers, because woman abuse is even more common than child abuse. Many children of alcoholics have mothers who are abused and the mother’s abuse affects the child in significant ways:
- Children who have witnessed abuse often suffer low self-esteem, depression, stress disorders, poor impulse control and feelings of powerlessness. They are at high risk for alcohol and drug use, sexual acting out, running away, isolation, fear, and suicide (Jaffe, Wolfe & Wilson, Children of Battered Women, 1990, pp. 28-29).
- Children of battered women are fifteen times more likely to be battered than children whose mothers are not abused (“Women and Violence”, U.S. Senate Judiciary Hearing, August/December, 1990). A woman who is battered may turn to alcohol for relief from her pain and become alcoholic herself.
- The woman who becomes unable to cope as a result of the battering may develop an emotional or mental illness that leaves her unable to fulfill her parenting role.
- Because the abuser often uses the children’s behavior as an excuse for battering the woman, children come to blame themselves for their mother’s abuse.
- Children of battered women suffer “survivor guilt” because they must watch helplessly while their mother is beaten and can do nothing to save her.
- Since battered women are often raped (and, therefore, have little access to birth control), an alcoholic battered woman is at high risk for having a FAS/FAE child.