Domestic Violence: We Can Live Without It: Rights and Options Available Under the Law
When Violence and Abuse Affects Children
Startling Statistics 15
Many victims of abuse do not realize the lasting effects that the abuse has on their children even when the children themselves are not actually physically abused. Statistics show that children who live with domestic violence may not be able to deal with the stress of everyday life and are more likely to commit crimes and have substance abuse problems.
Domestic violence is defined as a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner. Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, and/or psychological. It involves actions or threats of actions that influence another person, including any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound someone.16
Every year, approximately 3.3 million children in the United States between the ages of three and seventeen witness domestic violence. 17
In homes where domestic violence occurs, children run a high risk of suffering from physical abuse.
More than one-half of the men who abuse their partners also abuse their children.
A major study at battered women’s shelters found that approximately 70% of the children at these shelters were victims of physical abuse or neglect and that 30% had been sexually assaulted.
Being abused or neglected as a child increases the likelihood of arrest as a juvenile by 53%. Adults who were abused or neglected as children are 38% more likely to be arrested or to commit a violent crime.
Children raised in violent and abusive homes have a higher risk of abusing alcohol and drugs, as well as a higher risk of delinquency.
Physical Effects of Abuse
Studies show that children from violent homes often experience developmental delays; stress-related physical ailments such as headaches, ulcers, and rashes; and hearing and speech problems. Often children who are not the focus of the physical abuse are injured when trying to protect the victim of the abuse or, if younger, may be injured unintentionally during the incident.
Emotional Effects of Abuse
Emotional effects of domestic violence on children include the following: feeling guilt for the abuse, constant anxiety that another beating will occur, guilt for not being able to stop the abuse, guilt for loving the abuser, and fear of abandonment.
What is “Abuse and Neglect”?
Abuse and neglect occur when a parent or custodian of a child under the age of eighteen (18) knowingly, not accidentally, treats that child in such a way as to inflict harm or neglects the child in such a manner as to adversely affect the child’s health or well-being.18 It is a crime for a parent or custodian to abuse or neglect a child. It can also be a crime to witness child abuse and not report it. Abuse and neglect of a child eight years old or younger is a felony.
What is “Aggravated Child Abuse”?
Aggravated child abuse is child abuse or neglect that results in serious bodily harm. Aggravated child abuse can also be child abuse or neglect when a deadly weapon is used.19 Aggravated child abuse is a crime with which the abuser can be charged, but the “innocent” parent also commits a crime if he or she fails to report abuse to the Department of Children’s Services or the police.20 Aggravated child abuse is a felony.
SOME COMMON QUESTIONS:
Where should child abuse be reported?
Child abuse and neglect should be reported to the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) at the following address:
Tennessee Department of Children’s Services
2600 Western Avenue Knoxville, TN 37921
TOLL-FREE ABUSE REPORT HOTLINE: 1-877-237-0004
What are the legal ramifications for failing to report suspected child abuse to DCS?
Every individual has a legal duty to protect a child from abuse and/or neglect. A custodial person who does not timely report abuse and/or neglect of a child to DCS risks losing custodial rights. Even a parent who merely suspects that his or her child may be the victim of abuse and/or neglect has a legal duty to report that abuse. Failure to report abuse and/or neglect can result in criminal action. In addition, the innocent parent who fails to report suspected child abuse and/or neglect could lose custody of his or her children.
What steps can a parent take to protect a child from an abuser?
DCS can assist in making sure that court action is taken to keep the abuser from the children. It is very imperative to contact DCS and take the necessary steps to petition the Juvenile Court for an order to protect the children. DCS can also find treatment and counseling programs to assist children with any mental or physical problems related to domestic violence exposure. Also, the parent may request an Order of Protection, which requires the abuser to leave the household or further refrain from contact with those protected by the order. In that proceeding, the parent seeking protection may request a custody order setting out reasonable, perhaps supervised, visitation with the minor children.
What if the parent cannot support the family without a partner’s income?
If the non-abusive parent is granted custody of the children, the abusive parent may be ordered to pay child support. Child support in Tennessee is determined by the state Child Support Guidelines, specifically by the income of the parents, how often each parent has the children, and the number of children being supported.
Does an allegedly abusive partner have a right to visitation with the children?
If the parent seeking protection and the abuser are not married, and there is no court order stating that the abuser is the parent of the innocent parent’s minor children, the abuser has no right to visit with or have custody of the children, unless supervised visitation privileges are in place.
What are the long-term effects of domestic violence on children?
Domestic violence takes its toll on the family and the future of all children who are abused or have witnessed abuse. Remember, children who have witnessed abuse or who have been abused themselves are a thousand times more likely to abuse a spouse or a child when they become adults than are children raised in non-abusive homes.
15 American Bar Association Commission on Domestic and Sexual Violence, Domestic Violence Statistics, available at http://www.americanbar.org/groups/domestic_violence/resources/statistics.html; National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, National Statistics, available at http://www.ncadv.org/learn/statistics.
16 The United States Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women, What is Domestic Violence?” available at http://www.ovw.usdoj.gov/domviolence.htm.
17 National Children’s Alliance, National Statistics on Child Abuse, available at
18 Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-15-401 (2014).
19 Id at Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-15-402 (2014).