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 This example illustrates one way in which psychological

maltreatment had adversely impacted the life of a
August 1996 By Dr. Stacy Becker woman. There are many types of psychological
Bio: Stacy L. Becker, Psy. D. is a licensed clinical maltreatment and just as many ways that it impacts
psychologist and has been an advocate of abuse the emotional, social, and intellectual development of
victims and survivors for several years. She is individuals. In this case, although her parents had,
particularly committed to educating and treating perhaps, acted in ways that they felt would be in the
survivors of psychological maltreatment. Your best interest of their children, this woman had learned
comments are welcome by e- how to "be good" at the expense of learning who she
mailing was, what she wanted, and how to express her own
feelings. Maybe she was depressed because she was
too afraid to take chances and risk making an error;
after all, in her family, making an error meant taking
A middle-aged woman walked into my office, took a
the chance of being devastated by humiliation and
seat and asked, "Is it possible for me to have been a
victim of child abuse if I was never beaten or
molested? I responded, "yes" and asked why she
asked. She described herself as being frequently What is particularly insidious about this form of abuse
depressed and unable to feel good about herself. She is that the child victim and the adult survivor often
said that she felt that she did not know who she was, have no idea "what hit them." There are no memories
or what her purpose in life was. She said that her and no physical evidence of being beaten, molested, or
parents were good, strict parents and that, in all abused because the bruises and scars are invisible. It
honesty, she had no right to feel badly about herself. is the soul that is injured.
"After all," she added, "worse things have happened to
other people."? Part of being a child is to naturally trust one's parents
or caretakers and assume that if the adult says, "this is
I thought that there had to be a reason for her asking for your own good," it truly is. Even as adults,
her original question even though she insisted that she therefore, victims of psychological maltreatment often
had a wonderful upbringing. I asked her what her find it difficult to trust their own judgment since an
parents' attitude had been like towards her. She said integral part of the abuse was reinforcing that they
that in her home children were "seen and not heard." didn't know what was best for them. Many children and
She recalled being the "good girl" in the family who adults simply accept the blame and think that they are
always followed the rules. When I asked her what the problem and are crazy, bad, or worthless. They
happened if she didn't follow the rules, she said that discredit their own reactions and feelings so that their
she never dared rebel but that she often saw her perceptions match what they are told to think or feel.
siblings publicly humiliated; they were frequently They often conclude that had they been better,
called "imbecile," "dummy," or "useless." She said that smarter, or more obedient, their parents would have
it made her feel afraid, even when she was not the one been more loving, supportive, or proud of them.
in trouble. When I asked her what she thought of this Unfortunately, depression and low self esteem are
tactic, she stated that she knew that her parents did natural consequences of this process. The good news
the best that they could. She said that her parents is: this is treatable. Therapy can bring relief and a new
were simply trying to teach all the children the "ways sense of purpose.
of right and wrong" so that they would grow up to be
"disciplined and successful adults." When I asked her if ‰ For confidentiality purposes, this is a composite of
she felt angry about how she and her siblings were many clients.
treated, she replied, "No, we weren't really allowed to
get angry. Anger just makes things worse. Besides,  c 
c c
c  c c
I've always been much too sensitive about things."
ctober 1997 By Sherry A. Quirk, Esq.
It seemed to me that as the "good girl" she even felt Bio: Sherry A. Quirk, Esq., is a member of the firm of
guilty questioning her parents as she spoke to me. She Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson & Hand. Ms.
spoke in a polite, soft tone, qualified nearly everything Quirk practices extensively in the legislative and
that she said, and reminded me several times about administrative areas, and over the past several years
her parents' good intentions. When I gently suggested has devoted significant time and effort to the issue of
that it may be beneficial that she try to begin to look sexual abuse of children. In 1992, Ms. Quirk also
more at her past and how it may be keeping her from established and continues to supervise Verner Liipfert's
fulfilling her dreams in the present, she said that she pro bono project on behalf of victims of childhood
was wrong for having come in and that blaming her sexual abuse. She is the President and co-founder of
parents was an ungrateful and disrespectful act. I One Voice: the National Alliance of Abuse Awareness
explained that the goal of therapy is to understand and its public policy project, the American Coalition for
what happened so that she could be as accepting of Abuse Awareness. One Voice, a 501 © (3) entity, is a
herself as she was of others. Therapy is never about national alliance of adult survivors and child victims of
blame. It's about understanding, healing and sexual abuse, their supporters, child advocacy
growing.* organizations, non-offending parents, health care and
legal professionals who are seeking to improve the
quality of life for children and adult survivors of sexual, arise during divorce or custody disputes are likely to be
physical and emotional abuse. One Voice is active in false, but the empirical research to date shows no such
educating the public, the national media and our increase in false reporting at that time. In many
members of congress on preventing the victimization instances, children are frightened about being alone
of children, supporting the right of victims to seek with a father they have seen use violence towards
redress through the courts and assuring access to their mother or a father who has abused them.
appropriate treatment for victims of abuse. Ms. Quirk Sometimes children make it clear to the court that
can be reached by e-mail at they wish to remain with the mother because they are
afraid of the father, but their wishes are ignored."

Americans are more aware than ever of the tragedy of Fathers, too, sometimes find themselves caught in the
child abuse: our national and local media carry daily gears of the court when they report abuse their
reports of children who have been beaten, imprisoned, children have disclosed at the hands of stepfathers or
starved, burned or sexually and emotionally abused. their mother's boyfriend. These mothers are at times
Shopping carts, milk cartons, billboards, newspapers more interested in protecting their partner than
all carry the message that children should tell if they safeguarding their children. Such cases underscore the
are being hurt and that to prevent abuse, just call a importance of having the best interest of the child at
hotline and help will arrive.? heart, and that the protection of the child should be
the goal of our child protection system. It goes without
üowever, we are slowly awakening to the fact that, saying that each case must be judged on its own
even if suspected abuse is reported, this does not merits.
always result in safeguarding the child from further
abuse. In fact, some of the worst cases are those As far as we know, no one has addressed the long
where authorities were notified of abuse and had term affects of this betrayal upon children who told
determined that the child was at risk, but nevertheless about being abused but were silenced or ignored by
left the child in the care of the abuser. We are also the judicial system and given into the hands of those
learning that not only the woman who flees domestic who had abused and violated them. Susan Smith is an
violence is at risk from further violence, but that her anecdotal example: a mother who, as a young
children are often the innocent witnesses to her being teenager reported abuse by her stepfather, received
battered -- or additional victims. And in far too many no help, and proceeded to murder her own children.
cases, the batterer has not only revenges himself on Told that the court would protect them from the
his former partner, but hurts or kills the children as abuser, how can abused children then believe that
well. they deserve help and protection? And as Randy
Burton, Esq., of Justice for Children has remarked,
But there is an aspect to this violence in the family "The public's perception of widespread abuses in the
which so far has escaped the public's attention: the family courts has created a crisis in confidence in the
granting of sole custody or unsupervised access to the judicial system in general."
batterer or child abuser. According to the American
Judges Foundation, "One of the most common reasons Please join us in drawing attention to the re-
given for resuming an abusive relationship is the fear victimization of children through a court system which
that the abuser will act on the threats of taking the allows batterers and child abusers to have unrestricted
children from the victim. Studies show that batterers access to children. Let your state and national
have been able to convince authorities that the victim representatives know about this grave problem and
is unfit or undeserving of sole custody in educate your local and national press.
approximately 70% of challenged cases."
c  c 

The idea that batterers and child abusers are awarded c

sole custody even when there has been a domestic
violence conviction or reliable evidence of sexual abuse September, 1994
may seem so bizarre as to be unbelievable to most Bio: Child Protection Leader is published quarterly by
Americans. Even those who have experienced this the American Humane Association, Children's Division,
admit that they never would have believed it possible presenting timely information on significant issues
until it happened to them. They thought that if their related to the protection of children and strengthening
child made an outcry, help would be there for them. of families. The printing of this article is with the
They thought that judges would look at a history of permission of the American Humane Association - Child
domestic violence, weigh the medical evidence, listen Protection Leader. Additional copies may be requested
to the words of their children, and choose to protect by writing to AHA-Child Protection Leader 63 Inverness
the child. Instead, as the American Psychological Drive East, Englewood, CO 80112-5117, or by phoning
Association states in its report on Violence in the (303) 7982-9900 or FAX (303) 7982-5333. If you are
Family (1996), "Family courts frequently minimize the interested in finding out more about the American
harmful impact of children's witnessing violence Humane Association please click onto their name found
between their parents and sometimes are reluctant to on our links section of our website.
believe mothers«Some professionals assume that
accusations of physical or sexual abuse of children that
A growing body of research points to a definite link control, aggression and violence as the only means of
between adult domestic violence and child abuse. getting one's needs met. Children may also imitate the
These connections are pervasive. Forty-five to seventy violent adult behavior they observe by victimizing
percent of battered women in shelters report that their younger siblings, peers, and animals. Other children
batterers have also committed some form of child may adopt the victim role, becoming passive and
abuse. Even using the more conservative figure, child withdrawn in their interactions with other people. Child
abuse is 15 times more likely to occur in households witnesses of domestic violence may also display an
where adult domestic violence is also present. Women inability to control and express emotion, or to delay
who have been beaten by their spouses are, in turn, gratification.
reportedly twice as likely as other women to abuse a
child. It is also estimated that 3.3. million to 10 million Only recently have helping professionals begun to
children witness domestic violence each year. Many coordinate interventions in child abuse and domestic
child witnesses of domestic violence experience violence. Further work is needed to develop joint
increased problems themselves.? screening mechanisms to identify families in which
both types of abuse play a role in family dynamics.
These connections make it important for those working Assessments must also consider whether a parent has
in the field of child abuse and neglect to understand the capacity to care for her children outside of a
the connection between spousal abuse and child violent situation. Intervention strategies must
abuse, and to respond with treatment and protective recognize the need for safety for victims of both
resources that recognize the link. Cooperation between spousal abuse and child abuse through services such
professionals working with battered women and as legal advocacy and shelter resources. When both
abused or neglected children is essential. In practice, women and children are victims, treatment modalities
formal connections between the two fields are not must not reinforce the idea that the battered spouse is
often in place. They are sorely needed, however, somehow to blame for the violence within the family,
beginning with the initial intake contact with the e.g., by labeling her a poor parent and mandating
abused child or battered women, and continuing attendance at parenting classes. Individual or unisex
through assessment of the precipitating incident and group counseling may be the more effective treatment
family interaction, treatment planning, intervention modality and may be less risky than joint family
strategies, and evaluations of client progress. counseling when the spouse is also a victim. Most
importantly, professionals working in both fields must
A variety of family dynamics are at work in homes not lose sight of their ultimate goal -- ending violence
where spouse abuse leads to child abuse or neglect. within families.
Sometimes a child is the unintended victim when he or
she attempts to intervene in an attack on a parent. In ?
other instances, a child is accidentally struck by a blow
directed at the mother. üowever, many children are ?
deliberate targets in violent households. The severity
of child abuse, and the manner in which children are ?
abused bears a strong resemblance to the type of
maltreatment experienced by their mothers. ?

More difficult for many to understand is the battered ?

woman who abuses or neglects her children. According
to those who work with battered woman, several ?
explanations are possible. In an effort to forestall
further violence, some battered women devote all their ?
attention to their abuser, or they withdraw from the
family -- even the children -- in an effort to protect ?
themselves. Both responses may result in child
neglect. The tremendous stress associated with living ?
in a violent situation may also prompt physical abuse
of children by those women at risk for such behaviors. ?
Some physical or emotional abuse of children also
results from battered women who are so fearful of ?
their spouse's reaction of childhood behavior that they
overdiscipline in an attempt to protect the children
from what they perceive to be the greater danger from
the batterer.

Even in households in which children are not ?

themselves physically abused or neglected, they can
be victimized by witnessing spousal abuse. Because ?
children do not fully understand the dynamics of
domestic violence, they may come to view power and


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