As national data readily confirm, there is a significant correlation between partner violence and child abuse and neglect, with domestic violence surfacing as one of the leading risk factors with regard to the physical and emotional safety of children. (38) In addition, children exposed to domestic violence in their homes often suffer a range of potentially serious effects including somatic problems such as gastrointestinal distress, headaches, insomnia, bed wetting, behavioral difficulties, and declines in academic performance. (39) Children who witness domestic violence often feel responsible for the violence, and subsequently experience guilt, shame, and self-blame. As teenagers, these children are more likely than other teens to be involved in alcohol and other drug use and criminal activity, and they comprise a disproportionate number of teen parents and homeless youth. For boys, there is the additional risk of engaging in abusive and controlling behavior in their adolescent and adult relationships. (40)
Abuse and violence in dating relationships occurs at alarmingly high rates. Studies of high school and college students conducted during the 1980's have reported rates of violence in dating relationships ranging from 12% to 65%. (41) As with adult partner violence, teen and young adult abusers generally engage in a pattern of repeated violence and coercion that escalates and increases in severity the longer the relationship continues. Teenaged abusers can and do perpetrate assaults that result in serious and life-threatening injury and death. Their abuse may also take the form of sexual harassment and/or date rape.
Efforts to promote the health and well-being of children and families has been a priority goal for New York State's Department of Education based on the simple premise that when children are healthy and safe, they are better learners. Because school, pre-school, and Head Start personnel have continuous contact with children, they have significant opportunities to identify the negative effects on children of violence in the home and to provide information and support. School personnel including administrators, teachers, guidance counselors, nurses, and staff psychologists should be prepared to respond to disclosures by students of domestic violence as well as to participate in creating an environment of zero tolerance for violence in the school community.
The frequency with which abuse and violence occur in dating relationships virtually ensures that this problem will emerge in educational environments, particularly at the junior high, high school, and college levels. Junior high, high school, college, and university personnel should be actively engaged in both prevention and intervention efforts and, therefore, need to be adequately prepared to deal with the problem. In addition, intervention and education efforts at the primary grade levels may prevent interpersonal violence in their young adult and adult relationships.