Children Witnessing Violence Fact Sheet

Witnessing Violence Fact Sheet
Joanne Davis, Ph.D. and Ernestine Briggs, Ph.D
National Violence Against Women Prevention Research Center
Medical University of South Carolina

Society has become increasingly aware of the negative impact of child abuse on children’s’ behavioral, emotional, and social functioning. Research has shown that children do not have to be the direct targets of violence to be affected by it. Indeed, the research on negative outcomes associated with exposure to violence has grown exponentially. Children may be exposed to various types of violence including violence in the media (e.g., television or movies), in the school or in the community, and between adults at home.

This fact sheet will focus primarily on children’s experiences of witnessing domestic violence.

What Kinds of Violent Activities do Children Witness?
The violence that children are exposed to in their homes can vary in frequency, duration, degree of reciprocity, and severity (Wolak & Finkelhor, 1998). Although domestic violence is typically thought of in terms of a physical assault, it includes verbal and emotional abuse, sexual assaults, and murder.

Edleson (1999) discussed the different ways in which children can witness or be a part of domestic violence (see also Ganley & Schechter, 1996). These include witnessing the actual violent events occurring, hearing the fight, being physically assaulted while near the mother during a violent incident, being taken hostage in order to force the mother’s situation, and being forced to participate in the violence.

Also, some children ribe coping with the aftermath of domestic violence as particularly stressful. After a violent t, a child may have to aid an injured parent, call the police, witness the arrest or removal of the offending parent, relocate to a shelter and/or cope with a host of persistent family stressors (e.g., poverty, substance abuse, mental and physical illness).

How Many Children are Affected?
Prevalence estimates of children who witness domestic violence vary widely. Some commonly cited figures suggest that 3.3 million children and 10 million teenagers are exposed to domestic violence each year (Carlson, 1984; Straus, 1992). Other studies suggest that approximately 20% to 41% of adults recalled observing domestic violence when they were younger (Henning, Leitenberg, Coffey, Turner, & Bennett, 1996; Silvern 1995). Differences in prevalence rates are a function of several methodological issues including age and geographic location of participants sampled, and retrospective versus prospective nature of the studies examined. Despite the variation in the prevalence
estimates, most researchers would agree that a substantial number of children are exposed to violence in their homes.

Correlates of Witnessing Violence
Children who witness domestic violence (i.e., violence between parents, guardians, or caregivers) are often referred to as the “forgotten” victims since interventions generally target the adult victim or perpetrator (Groves, Zukerman, Marans, & Cohen, 1993). Most of the research in this area sugge that children exposed to domestic violence are at increased risk for emotional, behavior, academic, and social problems (Kolbo, Blakely, & Engelman, 1996; Pfouts et. al., 1982). More specifically, children exposed to domestic violence may exhibit immediate and long-term problems with anxiety, depression, anger, self-esteem, aggression, delinquency, interpersonal relationships, and substance abuse (Carlson,1990; Jouriles, Murphy, O’Leary, 1989; Silvern, et al., 1995; Sternberg, et al., 1993). Moreover, children who are exposed to domestic violence may react in ways that fur augment their risk for negative outcomes. For example, some children run away from violent homes, which increases the risk of substance use, prostitution, homelessness, physical illness or injury, and victimization.

The Association Between Child Abuse and Witnessing Domestic Violence
Children in violent homes are at higher risk for being abused than children in non-violent homes. McKibben, DeVos, and Newberger (1989) found that 40-60% of mothers of abused children were abused themselves by their partner, compared to 13% of mothers of unabused children. In a study investigating the effects of witnessing domestic violence, Hughes et al. (1989) compared children who had ‘only’ witnessed violence, children who were abused and witnessed violence, and those who experienced neither. The investigators found that children who experience both direct abuse and witnessed violence exhibited the most symptoms, and the group that did not experience either exhibited the least.

Revictimization and Other Long-Term Correlates
Women who witnessed domestic violence as children may be at higher risk for being victimized in their own relationships. Experiencing revictimization may also lead to greater difficulties in the women’s functioning (i.e., post traumatic stress disorder, depression) as adults. In a study of 201 battered women, Sonnleitner, Basil, and Van Hasselt (1999) found that women who also experienced or witnessed violence in their families of origin reported greater depression and hopelessness. Silvern et al. (1995) found that witnessing domestic violence was associated with depression, low self-esteem, and trauma symptoms in adult women and trauma symptoms in adult men. Henning et al. (1996) surveyed adult women in the community and found that those who reported witnessing domestic violence as children reported higher psychological distress and lower social adjustment than those who had not witnessed violence.

Limitations of Research and Future Directions
Although the research on exposure to domestic violence is steadily improving, there are limitations and methodological shortcomings that must be addressed:

  • Frequency, severity, recency, type of violence, and other important characteristics associated with a child’s exposure to violence are rarely assessed and reported by researchers.
  • Child abuse and neglect often are not assessed despite the high risk in this population.
  • Most studies have included children residing in shelters. Although this is an important group to study, the chronicity and severity of the violence they witness may not accurately represent the range of experiences and symptoms reported by children exposed to less severe forms of domestic violence. Also, many of these studies fail to differentiate between children who witness violence and those who experience it.
  • Little attention has been paid to the demographic characteristics and the differential developmental needs of children exposed to domestic violence.
  • Most studies have relied on the reports of the primary caregiver rather than assessing the child’s response directly.
  • Few studies have differentiated between the effects of observing domestic violence and the impact of negotiating multiple transitions and family disruptions that are secondary to leaving an unsafe environment.
  • Few assessment tools have been designed specifically to address the impact of witnessing violence.
  • To date, there are virtually no follow-up, prospective, or longitudinal studies that examine the effects of witnessing violence.

When domestic violence comes to the attention of others, interventions are typically focused on the adults. In the past, law enforcement and other social service agencies have not been equipped to deal with the diverse needs of children exposed to domestic violence (Wolak & Finkelhor, 1998).

According to Wolak and Finkelhor (1998), professionals serving the needs of children exposed to domestic violence should be prepared to provide: (1) crisis intervention (i.e., assess for safety; develop a safety plan; file an abuse report; and provide crisis counseling); (2) assessment (i.e., assess current functioning, suicide risk); (3) short and long-term therapy (i.e., gradual exposure, trauma processing, reduction of feelings of responsibility and self-blame).

Carlson, B.E. (1990). Adolescent observers of marital violence. Journal of Family Violence, 5 (4), 285-299.

Carlson, B.E. (1984). Children’s observations of interparental violence. In A.R. Roberts (Ed.), Battered women and their families (pp. 147-167). New York: Springer.

Edleson, J.L. (1999). Children’s witnessing of adult domestic violence. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 14 (8), 839-870.

Ganley, A.L., & Schecter, S. (1996). Domestic violence: A national curriculum for children’s protective services. San Francisco: Family Violence Prevention Fund.

Henning, K., Leitenberg, H., Coffey, P., Turner, T., & Bennett, R.T. (1996). Long-term psychological and social impact of witnessing physical conflict between parents. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 11 (1), 35-51.

Hughes, H.M., Parkinson, D., & Vargo, M. (1989). Witnessing spouse abuse and experiencing physical abuse: A “double whammy?” Journal of Family Violence, 4, 197-209.

Jouriles, E.N., Murphy, C.M., & O’Leary, D. (1989). Interpersonal aggression, marital discord, and child problems. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 57(3), 453-455.

Kolbo, J.R., Blakely, E.H., & Engelman, D. (1996). Children who witness domestic violence: A review of empirical literature. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 11(2), 281-293.

McKibben, L. DeVos, E., & Newberger, E. (1989). Victimization of mothers of abused children: A controlled study. Pediatrics, 84, 531-535.

Pfouts, J., Schopler, J., & Henley, H. (1982). Forgotten victims of family violence. Social Work, 367-368.

Silvern, L., Karyl, J., Waede, L. Hodges, W.F., Starek, J., Heidt, E., & Min, K. (1995). Retrospective reports of parental partner abuse: Relationships to depression, trauma symptoms, and self-esteem among college students. Journal of Family Violence 10(2), 177-202.

Sonnleitner, M.R., Basil, V.M., & Van Hasselt, V.B. (1999, August). Impact of early exposure to violence on battered women. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, Boston, MA.

Sternberg, K. J., Lamb, M.E., Greenbaum, C., Cicchetti, D., Dawud, S., Cortes, R.M., Krispin, O., & Lorey, F. (1993). Effects of domestic violence on children’s behavioral problems and depression. Developmental Psychology, 29(1), 44-52.

Straus, M.A. (1992). Children as witnesses to marital violence: A risk factor for lifelong problems among a nationally representative sample of American men and women. Report of the Twenty-Third Ross Roundtable. Columbus, OH: Ross Laboratories.

Wolak, J. & Finkelhor, D. (1998). Children exposed to partner violence. In J.L. Jasinski & L. Williams (Eds.) Partner Violence: A Comprehensive Review of 20 Years of Research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.



April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Sexual assault is pervasive in Michigan and in the United
States. Recent studies provide compelling evidence to indicate the scope of the problem. The National
Violence Against Women Survey found that 1 of 6 U.S. women and 1 of 33 U.S. men has experienced
an attempted or completed rape as a child and/or an adult. (Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences
of Violence Against Women. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs. November 1998.)
Statistics indicate that sexual assault is a significant problem.

In Michigan, 40% of women have experienced some form of sexual violence, ranging from unwanted
touching to forcible rape, since the age of 16. (Survey of Violence in the Lives of Michigan Women.
Michigan Department of Community Health, Community Public Health Agency, 1996.)

Almost 5000 rapes and attempted rapes were reported to Michigan law enforcement agencies in 2000.
(Michigan Uniform Crime Report. Michigan State Police, 2001.)

Sexual assault is a crime committed primarily against girls and women under the age of 25.

The National Violence Against Women Survey found that of the women who reported being raped at some
time in their lives, 21.6% were under the age of 12 years old, 32.4% were 12-17 years old, 29% were 18-24
years old, and 16.6% were over 25 years old when they were first raped. This means 54% of women
victims were under 18 at the time of the first rape and 83% of women victims were under the age of 25.
(Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of Violence Against Women. U.S. Department of Justice, Office
of Justice Programs. November 1998.)

Most sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows, not a stranger.

About 6 in 10 rape or sexual assault victims knew their assailant. Approximately 43% of victims are raped
by a friend or acquaintance; 34% by a stranger; 17% by an intimate; and 2% by another relative. (National
Crime Victimization Survey. Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice. 2000.)

More than 70% of rape or sexual assault victims knew their attackers, compared to about half of all violent
crime victims. (Sexual Victimization of College Women. Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of
Justice. 2001.)

Men and boys are also victims of sexual assault.
In one study, 5% of boys in grades 9-12 and 3% of boys in grades 5-8 reported that they had been sexually
abused. (The Commonwealth Fund Survey of the Health of Adolescent Girls. New York: The
Commonwealth Fund. 1997.)

About three percent of American men—a total of 2.78 million men—have experienced an attempted or
completed rape in their lifetime. (Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of Violence Against Women.
U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs. November 1998.)

Sexual assault victims do not lie about the assaults, in fact sexual assault is a vastly underreported

Rape or sexual assault is the violent crime least often reported to law enforcement. In 1999, only 28% of
victims reported the assault to police. (Criminal Victimization 2000: Changes 1999-2000 with Trends
1993-2000. Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice. June 2001.)

The rate of “false reports” or false allegations of rape is 2% to 3%, no different than that for other crimes.
(Schafran, L. H. 1993. Writing and reading about rape: A Primer. St. John’s Law Review, 66, 979-1045.)
Assailants use many forms of coercion, threats and manipulation to rape including alcohol and
drugs. Alcohol, Rohypnol, and other drugs are often used to incapacitate victims.

Men who have committed sexual assault also frequently report getting their female companion drunk as a
way of making it easier to talk or force her into having sex. (Abbey, A., McAuslan, P. & Ross, L. Sexual
Assault Perpetration by College Men: The Role of Alcohol, Misperception of Sexual Intent, and Sexual
Beliefs and Experiences. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 17, 167-195. 1998.)

Although the media has labeled drugs such as Rohypnol and GHB as the date-rape drugs of the present,
these are only two of the many drugs used to incapacitate a victim. Of the 22 substances used in drugfacilitated
rapes, alcohol is the most common. (LeBeau, M., et al., Recommendations for Toxicological
Investigations of Drug Facilitated Sexual Assaults, Journal of Forensic Sciences. 1999.)

Michigan Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence
3893 Okemos Road, Suite B2 Okemos, MI 48864
Phone: (517) 347-7000 Fax: (517) 347-1377 TTY: (517) 381-8470

Drug Facilitated Sexual Assault

Drug Facilitated Assault

Drug facilitated assault: when drugs or alcohol are used to compromise an individual’s ability to consent to sexual activity. In addition, drugs and alcohol are often used in order to minimize the resistance and memory of the victim of a sexual assault.

Alcohol remains the most commonly used chemical in crimes of sexual assault, but there are also substances being used by perpetrators including: Rohypnol, GHB, GBL, etc.


Diminished Capacity

Diminished capacity exists when an individual does not have the capacity to consent. Reasons for this inability to consent include, but are not limited to: sleeping, drugged, passed out, unconscious, mentally incapacitated, etc.

It is important to understand diminished capacity because oftentimes victims of sexual assault in these situations blame themselves because they drank, did drugs, etc. It is essential to emphasize that it is not his or her fault, that the aggressor is the one who took advantage of his or her diminished capacity.



Rohypnol is not approved for medical use in the United States. It is smuggled into the country and has become an increasingly popular street drug.

Street Names: Roofies, Roach, the Forget Pill, Circles, Mexican Valium, Rib, Roach-2, Roopies, Rophies, La Rochas, Rope, Poor Man’s Quaalude, Whiteys, Trip-and-Fall, Mind Erasers, Lunch Money, and R-2.

What is it?: A small white tablet that looks a lot like aspirin. It quickly disolves in liquid and can take effect within 30 minutes of being ingested. The effects peak within 2 hours and may have lingering effects for 8 hours or more.







GHB has not been approved by the FDA since 1990. Therefore, it is illegal for distribution and sale in the U.S.

Street Names: Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH), Liquid X, Liquid E, G, Georgia Home Boys, Easy Lay, Cherry Meth, Soap, PM, Salt Water, Vita G, G-Juice, Great Hormones, Somatomax, Bedtime Scoop, Gook, Gamma 10, Energy Drink, and Goop.

What is it?: Pure GHB is commonly sold as a clear, odorless liquid or white crystalline powder. Because it is made in home labs, the effects are often unpredictable. Once ingested, GHB takes effect in approximately 15 minutes and can last 3-4 hours.




  • Sedation of the body
  • Intense drowsiness
  • Hampered mobility
  • Verbal incoherence
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Nausea, aspiration on own vomit
  • Headache
  • Respiratory failure
  • Unconsciousness
  • Seizure-like activity
  • Coma, death


A GHB-like product, GBL is often sold under the guise of a dietary supplement or an industrial cleaner.

What is it?: When the body metabolizes GBL, it becomes twice as potent as GHB. It has a bitter taste that can easily be masked by strong-tasting drinks. GBL now comes in flavors such as lime, cinnamon, and cherry. Once ingested it takes approximately 30-45 minutes to take effect.




  • Severe amnesia
  • Nausea, aspiration on own vomit
  • Lethargy
  • Confusion
  • Hypothermia
  • Coma
  • Respiratory arrest
  • Seizures
  • Agitation
  • Loss of bowel control
  • Death

NOTE: People who take GBL may act normally (i.e., may not appear intoxicated or sedated) but will have no memory of the time period. This effect can make it difficult for friends or acquaintances to identify that the individual has been drugged.



What is it? Commonly prescribed as anti-anxiety and sleeping medications in the United States, these drugs can be put into an alcoholic drink or soft drink in powder or liquid form. These are legal forms of Rohypnol.

What it does: Like the other drugs described above, Benzodiazepines can markedly impair and even abolish functions that normally allow a person to resist, or even want to resist, sexual aggression or assault.


GHB, GBL, Rohypnol, & Benzodiazepines

NOTE:For all of these drugs, alcohol increases the effects.

All four of these drugs have some common effects that make them appealing to perpetrators. These drugs are common weapons of sexual assault due to the combined efforts of the sedative effect and the memory-impairment qualities.

How they Work
  • They are typically odorless, colorless, and tasteless when placed in liquid (except for GBL).
  • 5-30 minutes after ingestion, the victim of the drugging may struggle to talk or to move and may eventually pass out.
  • At this point the drugged individual is vulnerable to assault.
  • A survivor of such an assault may have virtually no memory of the events that occurred.

Another factor that makes these drugs dangerous and difficult to detect is that they leave the body rapidly, leaving little time for detection.

  • Rohypnol– leaves in 36-72 hours
  • GHB– leaves in 10-12 hours
  • GLB– leaves the urinary system within 6 hours and the blood stream within 24 hours.
Some Good News

The producers of Rohypnol have recently changed the chemistry of the pill so that it changes the color of clear drinks to bright blue and makes dark drinks go cloudy. It will, however, take a while for these new pills to hit the streets.


A dissociative general anesthetic that has stimulant, hallucinogenic, and hypnotic properties. It is usually used by veterinarians.

Street Names: K, K-Hole, Special K, Vitamin K, Purple, Psychedelic Heroin, Kit Kat, Jet, Bump, Black Hole.

What is it?: A fast-acting liquid that can be slipped into drinks. It can be used to sedate and incapacitate individuals in order to sexually assault them. Ketamine is especially dangerous when mixed with other drugs or alcohol.

What it does: Ketamine causes individuals to feel detached from their bodies and their surroundings so that, while they may be aware of what is happening to them, they are unable to move or fight back. In addition it may cause amnesia so that they do not remember what happened.




  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Agitation
  • Disorientation
  • Impaired motor skills
  • High blood pressure
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Depression
  • Potentially fatal respiratory failure


A toxic hallucinogenic and stimulant that has psychedelic effects. It is illegal to sell or to produce in the United States.

Street Names: E, X, X-TC, M&Ms, Adam, CK, Clarity, Hug Drug, Lover’s Speed.

What is it?: Ecstasy is commonly sold as small pills or capsules and is also available in powder and liquid forms. It can be slipped into an individual’s drink in order to facilitate sexual assault.

What it does: Ecstasy causes individuals to feel extreme relaxation and positivity towards others while it increases sensitivity to touch. When under the influence of ecstasy individuals are less likely to be able to sense danger and it may leave them unable to protect themselves from attack.




  • Increased blood pressure, pulse, and body temperature
  • Nausea
  • Blurred vision
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Hallucinations
  • Chills
  • Sweating
  • Tremors
  • Strokes
  • Seizures
  • Hypothermia
  • Heat stroke
  • Heart failure


Information for this section was adapted from and materials provided by the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault. This is published on


Rape Myths

Rape Myths
Myths are attitudes and beliefs that are prejudicial, stereotyped, and false, but are widely accepted. Many rape myths exist, but they tend to fall into three categories:
Blaming the victim
• Excusing the perpetrator
• Justifying the rape
Myth #1: The motivating force behind sexual assault is sexual desire.

Fact: Rape has nothing to do with sexual attraction. It is about power and control, humiliation, and degradation. Sexual violence is the avenue used to achieve these goals. One of the oldest victims at the YWCA was a 90-year-old woman and the youngest victim was a 6-month-old baby. The common characteristic between these two victims is vulnerability, Rapists target people they view as vulnerable. Both males and females can be rape victims.
Myth #2: Sexual assaults are perpetrated mostly by strangers outside at night (i.e. parking lot, back alley, behind bushes, or deserted area).
Fact: This is the stereotype of rape and does not describe the typical rape. In 86% of all rapes, the victim knows the offender. A perpetrator can be a boyfriend (57% of all rapes occur in the context of a date), a friend, relative, neighbor, or other acquaintance. Almost half of all rapes (42%) occur in the victim’s own home.
Myth #3: Physioal violence is always involved with a sexual assault. The victim will have bruises on their body if they were really assaulted.

Fact: Most rapes do not involve a high level of physical violence. Psychological strategies (i.e. intimidation, emotional blackmail, pressuring, threats, bribery, lying, and/or manipulation) are the most common techniques used by perpetrators. Most perpetrators will not utilize physical force until psychological strategies have failed. Most victims do not walk away with bruises, cuts, or torn clothing. Victims often do not look “battered.”

Myth #4: During a sexual encounter, a person can become carried away and unable to control his or her actions. Rapists cannot stop themselves once they become aroused.

Fact: Yes, men are capable of stopping. They CAN STOP if they care about or respect the other person.

Myth #5: You can tell simply from another person’s actions or way of dressing that she or he wants to have sex with you.

Fact: You can never assume what someone wants according to his/her appearance. It is an insult to assume that men have no self-control. An attractive person does not compel someone to ‘attack’ him/her. They may be attracted to someone but that does not mean they have to act on it.

Myth #6: Some people ask to be raped or sexually assaulted and are at fault for whatever happens.
Fact: People may make poor judgments but no one ever DESERVES to be a victim of sexual assault. Rape has nothing to do with circumstances or the victim’s reputation and/or appearance.

Myth #7: Women make up accusations of rape against men to get revenge.

Fact: False reporting is less than 2% (no different from other crimes). Rape is tremendously underreported.

Myth #8: Rapists are severely disturbed men.

Fact: Perpetrators may test higher on aggression and their tendency to use violence. Generally, rapists test “normal” on psychological testing.

What Makes a Man Beat a Woman?

IN the shocking story that follows, Self reporter Bob Ivry takes a rare glimpse inside the mind of a batterer, and makes him answer for his horrible crimes.

He wouldn’t have hit her if he didn’t love her so much. That deception kept running through his head. Nobody could hurt him like she could and that’s exactly what she was doing now, back-talking him, shaking her finger at him, tearing his heart out. Why couldn’t she love, honor, and obey him like she vowed? Tom Burke walked over to the sofa, got right up in Peggy’s face: “Back Off,” he screamed, “I’m warning you.” He felt reckless anger build behind his eyes.

And then his fist came down. And then Peggy went down. She rolled off the couch, onto the carpet and cried in pain. No woman, he thought, could tell Tom Burke what to do. Peggy lay on the floor and cried. She held herself, and rocked back and forth. The children gathered silently at the bottom of the stairs to watch. “You hurt me bad,” Peggy cried. “Ah, get up,” Tom told her, “it ain’t that bad.” And then he laughed. When the judge called it abuse, Tom couldn’t believe it. “I’ve only hit er once or twice, ” he told the judge. “I’m not a batterer.” The judge wasn’t impressed. He gave Tom a choice: a batterer’s program or prison.

His first day in the program they told him that hitting was only a small part of the problem. They gave Tom a pamphlet listing the eight types of abuse. The list was arranged in a wheel – Economic Abuse, Intimidation, Using Children – and said – “Yeah, I do that.” Emotional Abuse, Threats, Using Male Privilege – “Yeah, I do that, too.” Isolation, Sexual Abuse. He went around the entire wheel saying, “Guilty, guilty, guilty.”

It was abuse when he threatened to get Peggy thrown in the psych ward so she’d never see her children again. It was abuse when he made her get a second job. It was abuse when he kept the bank account in his name and made her come to him if she wanted to spend the money she’d earned. It was abuse when he forced sex on her. It was abuse when he quietly placed a knife on the table between them during an argument.

Tom listened to the counselor in the batterers’ group make these points, but there was still no getting through to him. he didn’t want to be in the program. He had always been cold to the world. So cold they called him “iceberg” in prison. Six years for burglary and cocaine.

So cold that the night he hit Peggy, he laughed all the way to Checkers, the bar up the street from where he lives in a quiet town nestled against the bluffs that rise high above the Delaware River. A hunter’s town. Plenty of guys for Tom to get drunk with and tell his story to.

“Yeah, the old lady was raggin’ me out, so I belted her.”

“Way to go, Tommy,” they said. “The bitch deserves it. You put her in her place.” The guys at the bar never called it abuse. If a woman didn’t listen, their thinking went, you used your fists to make her. Tom never called it abuse either. After all, he told himself, he loved Peggy. So what made him do it? Sitting in a loose circle of folding chairs in a church basement with the other batterers, Tom Burke was sure it wasn’t his fault. He rushed to his own defense.

“I’m only abusive because of the anger,” he said.

“That’s a cop-out,” the other men told him. “Anger is a tactic of control. You use it as a weapon to get what you want. You get angry when you’re at the supermarket, but you don’t hit the cashier. That’s because you have no interest in controlling the cashier.”

“But it’s blind rage,” Tom said.

“Wrong. Blind rage is an excuse,” they told him, “not a reason.” “It’s an invention of defense attorneys and has no physiological basis. You’re giving yourself permission to lash out.”

“But I’m a blackout drinker,” Tom said. “It’s the alcohol that makes me do it.”

“Wrong again. When you’re drunk, how come you’re only abusive with Peggy? It’s because even when you blackout, you choose. And you choose to abuse only her.”

“She was in my face.” Tom said. “The bitch deserved it.”

“Nobody ever deserves to be beaten, raped, terrorized.” The others said. “Ever. Period.”

Tom still held out. “It’s the way I was raised.” He said. “My father was a dictator and he’d beat me with a leather belt. I used to go to bed at night praying for him to die.”

“Not every son of a violent man is violent,” they told him. “You learned to use terror as a means to control others. To control Peggy.”

Did Tom Burke learn anything from the therapy and the counselors? He thought he had. He said that one day God smacked him on the head and showed him who he really was; an angry controlling man who was so scared of being alone he’d rather beat a woman than endure the thought that she had her own mind, her own will. He said he now understood that there’s only one reason men batter: control. So, he quit drinking, saw a therapist, and did everything he was supposed to do.

And then one dim morning he woke in a jail cell, still drunk, covered with blood. He didn’t know whose blood it was.

They told him he’d shoved his new girlfriend, Marge, clear across the kitchen and bounced her off the fridge. She called the cops. By the time they arrived, Tom was in the street, loud and raging. when the cops tried to stop him, he took a swing. Resisting arrest. The blood was his own.

Will Tom Burke hit a woman again? Ask him and he’ll say it has been a year since that drunken and bloody trip to jail. He’ll say he keeps a copy of the Power and Control Wheel at home to study when he feels the rage build behind his eyes.

He’ll say that his life is finally going in the right direction. But ask him a second time, and he’ll say he doesn’t know if he’ll ever hit a woman again, not for sure.

Male Privilege


a poem for men who don’t understand what we mean when we say that they have it.

by De Clarke from Banishee, 1981

privilege is simple:

going for a pleasant stroll after dark,

not checking the back of your car as you get in,

sleeping soundly,

speaking without interruption,

and not remembering dreams of rape that follow you all day,

that woke you up crying, and


is not seeing your stripped, humiliated body

plastered in celebration across every magazine rack,


is going to the movies and not seeing yourself

terrorized, defamed, battered, butchered – –

seeing something else.


is riding your bicycle across town

without being screamed at or run off the road,

not needing an abortion,

taking off your shirt on a hot day, in a crowd,

not wishing you could type better, just in case–

not shaving your legs,

having a good job and expecting to keep it,

not feeling the boss’s hand up your crotch,

dozing off on late-night busses,


is being the hero on the TV show,

not the dumb broad,

living where your genitals are totemized – – not denied,

knowing your doctor won’t rape you.


is being smiled at all day by nice, helpful women,

it is the way you pass judgment on their appearance with magisterial authority,

the way you face a judge of your own sex in court

and are overrepresented in Congress

and are not assaulted by the police

or used as a dart board by your friendly mechanic.


is seeing your bearded face echo through the history texts

not only of your high school days, but all your life,

not being relegated to a paragraph every other chapter,

the way you occupy entire poetry books

and more than your share of the couch unchallenged.

it is your mouthing smug, atrocious insults at women

who blink and change the subject – -politely


is how seldom the rapist’s name appears in the papers

and the way you smirk over your PLAYBOY.

it’s simple, really – –


means someone else’s pain.

your wealth is my terror,

your uniform is a women raped to death – – here

or in Cambodia or wherever

wherever your obscene privilege

writes your name in my blood

it’s that simple.

you’ve always had it – –

that’s why it doesn’t seem

to make you sick at stomach.

you have it – – we pay for it.

now do you understand?

Confidentiality Policy

Confidentiality Notice

Staff and volunteers at the YWCA of Greater Flint Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services (DVSAS) will keep confidential all information communicated to them by survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault utilizing YWCA services. This means that:

  1. We will not disclose to any other person or entity whether we have had contact with you or provided services to you, or whether or not you are residing in our shelter.
  2. We will not disclose to any other person or entity information or materials that you have disclosed or given to us or that we have disclosed or given to you.
  3. We will oppose any subpoena or other legal effort to obtain this information from us, when you have not authorized the release of this information.

There are some exceptions to this. The information that you give us may not be kept confidential if:

  1. We learn or have reason to suspect that a minor child is being abused or neglected. In such a case, we will contact Child Protective Services;
  2. We witness through sight or hearing an actual or imminent physical assault or other unlawful and dangerous act upon you by another person. In such case, we may contact law enforcement for assistance;
  3. We learn or have reason to believe that you intend to harm yourself. In such case, we may notify law enforcement and/or emergency medical personnel to seek assistance for you;
  4. We learn or have reason to believe that you intend to harm another person and have the means and ability to do so. In such case we may contact law enforcement and/or may warn the person who you intend to harm.

If you give us written or verbal permission to release information to others, we will do so in accordance with the terms of that permission. You have the right to revoke that permission at any time.

In order to further protect the confidentiality of survivors of domestic violence, we ask that you not share the names, identities, or any other information about anyone you believe to be receiving services from YWCA of Greater Flint.

Client’s Rights and Grievance (Complaint) Procedure

We welcome your thoughts, suggestions, and concerns regarding our services. Please share them either with the person you are working with or with their supervisor. You can find out who someone’s supervisor is by calling our Crisis Line (810) 238-7233.

You have the right to a fair hearing if services to you are denied, reduced, or ended, or if we fail to act upon your request for service within a reasonable period of time. You have the right to start a formal grievance process. This is how:

Filing a Recipient’s Rights Grievance:

  1. Address your issue directly with the staff member involved. If you feel that this is not safe or that the resolution is unlikely, proceed to step #2.
  2. Contact the staff person’s direct supervisor to discuss your issue.
  3. If the matter cannot be resolved by the supervisor, submit your written grievance within 6 days to the Program Director. You may ask for assistance in writing your statement. Please include the following information so that your concerns can be addressed as quickly as possible:
  • Statement explaining your grievance.
  • What right(s) you feel have been violated.
  • What you think will resolve your grievance.

Within five business days of receiving your grievance, the Program Director will contact you and the staff involved. If necessary, a meeting may be set up between the Program Director, you, and staff.

A letter with solutions and/or outcomes will be sent to you within five business days of all discussions and meetings.

  1. If your grievance has not been resolved by step #3, you may submit another written statement within five business days to the Program Director which will be forwarded to the CEO within two business days.

Within five business days, the CEO will send you and the Quality Assurance Committee a letter informing you of actions taken to resolve the grievance. The QA Committee will use information from the grievance procedure to consider changes in agency practices. The timelines are for your guidance; every effort will be made to resolve your grievance in a timely manner.

I, ______________________________________, understand the YWCA Flint DVSAS Policy of:

  • Confidentiality as explained to me by a staff member. I have received a copy of this policy.
  • I understand that DVSAS will report to Child Protective Services any known or suspected child abuse or neglect. I also understand that DVSAS will contact law enforcement if we have reason to believe that you will harm yourself and/or another person.
  • Further, I agree not to disclose any identifying information about anyone that I encounter during my interaction with YWCA Flint or YWCA DVSAS. This includes saying whether or not someone is staying at or receiving services from YWCA DVSAS.
  • This is to acknowledge that the client rights and grievance procedure has been explained to me on this date, and I fully understand what has to be done to file a grievance if it becomes necessary.

I have received a copy of the YWCA of Greater Flint DVSAS Confidentiality Notice and Client’s Grievance Procedure.

Client Signature:_________________________________________________Date:_____________

Witness:_______________________________________________________ Date:_____________