What happens when a child becomes violent at home?
My topic focuses on domestic violence perpetrated by youths and how the police respond. I am furthering the UN Sustainability goal of gender equality because domestic violence survivors are disproportionately women. That trend is consistent when a youth is the perpetrator. Women cannot be completely equal in this world until they are equally safe at home.
My community has recently experienced the rise of domestic violence awareness, demonstrated in the creation of several women’s shelters and our police’s DART program (Domestic Abuse Response Team). However, this new understanding lacks comprehensiveness: the concept of youth perpetrators has been left behind. Last summer, an adolescent in my community became domestically violent, and his mother called the police for support. Unfortunately, instead of de-escalating the situation, the police opened fire and fatally shot the teenager. I find this incident particularly concerning because my younger brother grew up with a several behavioral disorder, and I have previously relied on the police for support.
Societal understanding and established police responses to youth perpetrators are still notably lacking. As one parent noted, it is incredibly difficult to report your own child, and the police need to take that difficulty into consideration (Didier n.d.). Furthermore, “studies show that police lack guidance on how to proceed during these calls, and thus rely heavily on individual discretion….leav[ing the families] with a sense of hopelessness about the possibility of lasting change” (Beck et. al 2016). More research is a prerequisite to ethical and wholesome police reform. For the rest of my own research, I focused largely on the gendered aspect of domestic violence rather than the age aspect simply because there there is not enough research about the impacts of age. Furthermore, the gendered aspect is certainly one important part of APVA. In fact, males committed two-thirds (65%) of all youth domestic assault offenses included in a 2004 study conducted within the States (Snyder and McCurley 2008).
Most domestic violence survivors are female, and most domestic violence offenders are male. Why is this phenomenon true? One explanation concerns the social pressures from hegemonic masculinity––the concept that some men are more dominant and receive more social power than other men due to their type of masculinity. Hegemonic masculinity (favored by society) includes three pillars: emotional detachment, competition, and sexual objectification of women (Leone and Parrot 2018). All of these factors can lead to the repression of emotions and, thus, increase the risk of violence.
To understand domestic violence, one must understand the causes of hegemonic masculinity as the two phenomenons are incredibly intertwined. The reasons some men exhibit hegemonic masculinity is twofold. First, the Masculine Gender Stress Perspective asserts that some men––particularly those with non-hegemonic masculinity––exhibit heightened levels of aggression in an attempt to reassert their power. This expression can easily escalate to toxic masculinity, which is dangerous manifestations of masculinity (ie domestic violence and homophobia) (Leone and Parrot 2018). Second, society encourages men to conform to hegemonic masculinity through gender policing, which includes images in the media and popular phrases like “boys don’t wear pink.” In the United States, I see gender policing proliferated throughout the media, and I realize that my society is much more gender neutral than a large part of the world. From a global perspective, the pressures to be hegemonically masculine are so much stronger. I personally believe this pressure is reprehensible because not only does it cause men to change who they are to fit in, but it is also linked to increased rates of violence.
(Due to the nature of my project it was inappropriate to take my own photos)
I interviewed Deb Cavitt, who is a Project Director at the Minnesota Association for Children’s Mental Health. This organization operates as a first step for families finding support and help. Cavitt stressed how many families do not know about the resources available for when a crisis occurs: the issue lies in lack of awareness and not lack of resources. She also discussed the well established link between drugs / alcohol and an increased risk of domestic violence. Finally, Cavitt acknowledge that most reported domestic abuse situations have an adult, male perpetrator. Sometimes with other forms of domestic violence (such as youth perpetrators) “people don’t want to talk about it because they’re really embarrassed” (Cavitt). Personally, I felt that my interview with Cavitt was incredibly informative as it offered a professional lens and a logical step before the police.
Photo from MACMH
Next, I went to my local police department (EPPD). I first met with Lisa Vik, who works as the head of dispatch. She told me that domestic and domestic assault calls are more common than society believes. In fact, EPPD received 32 such calls in March alone, making it one of the most reported crimes. (For reference, my city is a large suburb of Minneapolis.) Vik also noted that the dispatcher’s script and procedure does not change if the perpetrator is a child rather than an adult, denoting a measure of uniformity. Finally, Vik informed me that the officers answering such calls are not specially trained on how to handle domestic situations. It is determined simply by who is closer at the moment to decrease transportation time. I appreciated talking with Vic because she helped to contextualize this issue within my own community and offer a basic framework of police procedure.
Photo from Illinois Public Media
While I was at the police station, I also interviewed a DART officer (Domestic Abuse Response Team). DART will follow up with those involved in a domestic violence report a few days after the incident, often with a phone call. Largely they intend to check-in with the victim and insure they have taken the suggested action steps. They may also take pictures of injuries at this point. The officer also informed me that DART will ask the victims to fill out a “Domestic Violence Lethality Worksheet,” which asks question such as “Has the perpetrator ever tried to kill you?” and “Are they unemployed?” The form will then be sent to Cornerstone, which is an organization in my community that works to support and empower survivors of abuse. I liked having the opportunity to talk with a DART officer because I was able to learn about my police department’s procedures specific to domestic violence cases. While I appreciated the existence of this program, I was disheartened to learn about the minimal training and lack of engagement immediately when the domestic report came in. I feel that DART officers should be at the scene of the crime as well as following up later.
Photo from City of Eden Prairie
Interacting with members of my local community, particularly my police department, taught me that the ignorance and misunderstandings surrounding youth perpetrators of domestic violence goes beyond these specific institutions. While it is easy to blame and hate the police for their involvement in the teenager’s death, their actions were also a symptom of something so much larger. It is a society problem. It is a limited resources problem. It is a lack of research problem. It is the issue that society does not want to interfere in “family problems” and “women’s problems.” Comprehensive change must occur before these children and their families can be heard and served. How can that change can best be realized? Honestly, I’m not sure yet, but I do know that we can only figure it out together.
Signs of Child on Parent Abuse
- There has yet to emerge a clear definition of APVA. That being said, it is acknowledge as a form of domestic violence and contains many of the same warning signs (Family Lives 2018).
- Fearing your child and constantly worrying that you will “set them off.” This behavior is often referred to as “walking on eggshells.”
- Emotional abuse (ie humiliation, one directional and long-term teasing, death threats).
- Physical abuse (ie slapping, kicking, throwing objections, etc).
- Sexual abuse (although this form tends to be less common).
- Threatening pets, siblings, or other family members.
What to do if You Feel Unsafe
- Understand that your child’s behavior is not your fault.
- Choose your battles with your child, and separate the child’s behavior from the child themself.
- Take care of yourself and find a safe space away from your child when they become violent.
- Create an action plan with your child for when they loose control. At what point will you call their therapist? Social worker? The police?
- Reach out to local resources for support. This could be mental health resource centers, your family / friends, or even meeting with the police to inform them about your particular situation (Family Lives 2018)
What Can You Do?
AWARENESS is the most important step. Not many people know about APVA, and an issue cannot be understand and addressed until it is known. So, talk to your family, your friends, your coworkers, and your community. It is time to end the cycle of violence.
- Contact your local police department and see if they have a training or program for diffusing domestic situations (like DART).
- If you are in the United States, share our Domestic Abuse Hotline on your social media accounts: 1-800-799-7233. If you are not, find out if there is a hotline where you live.
- Talk about APVA (Adolescent to Parent Violence and Abuse) with your families and friends. Raise awareness by starting the conversation.
- Learn more about domestic violence in general and youth perpetrators specifically. Make yourself both a resource and a safe space for people.