As human beings, we are connected in ways we don’t always realize—especially within our family units. We like to tell ourselves that we alone pay the price for our mistakes, but those mistakes can potentially make a deep impact on the people we love. To give an uncomfortable example, a growing body of research strongly suggests domestic violence can be passed down generationally. In other words, children who are exposed to domestic violence have an increased likelihood of repeating the pattern in adulthood.
The Urban Child Institute summarizes the issue plainly. “Children who witness domestic violence grow up to have a greater risk of living in violent relationships themselves, whether as victims or as perpetrators,” they say. “Without more awareness of this problem and help for these families, the burden of domestic violence will continue to be passed from one generation to the next.”
In the United States, an average of 20 people a minute suffer physical abuse at the hands of a spouse or an intimate partner. That’s equal to more than 10 million men and women each year, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Although intimate partners of both sexes suffer abuse, the majority of those abused are women; every nine seconds in the U.S., a woman is assaulted or beaten.
But domestic violence includes more than physical abuse. The U.S. Department of Justice’ Office on Violence Against Women defines it as “a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship to gain or maintain power over another intimate partner. Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic or psychological actions or threats that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten terrorize, to coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure or wound someone.”
What causes someone to inflict this kind of pain on the people they are supposed to love the most? Writing on medicinenet.com, Dr. Roxanne Dryden-Edwards notes that domestic abuse can involve partners of all races, religions, socioeconomic status and sexual orientation. But certain risk factors do appear to be associated with domestic violence, including lack of a high school education, poverty, witnessing family violence as a child and attitudes of male domination.