In the next year, about one in 12 minor children will be exposed to domestic violence, either as a witness or as a victim or as both. During their childhood, about one out of three Americans witness violence between family members.
Studies of these children show that they suffer as witnesses the same mental, emotional, behavioral, social and physical effects as they would if the perpetrator had physically abused them.
As adults, if the past is any guide, these children will become adult victims or perpetrators of domestic violence at a far higher rate than other Americans. They will also suffer more health problems, including addiction, attention disorders and depression.
New Jersey has resources available 24/7
Our state has no laws in its statutes that specifically deal with exposing children to domestic violence or confronting the trauma they suffer, although half of American states do. One common approach of such laws is to punish perpetrators more harshly if they commit their crimes with minors present.
But make no mistake. New Jersey policy, courts and New Jersey law enforcement do not leave those experiencing domestic violence, including children, without protection and resources.
What can you do right now?
If you are in an abusive household, the first step is to end the violence as soon as possible. In the immediate short term, this may mean dialing 911, going to your nearest police station, or calling the Domestic Violence Hotline of New Jersey at 1-800-572-7233 (1-800-572-SAFE).
Once you physically remove yourself and your children from immediate danger, you can think of the next step, ordinarily a temporary restraining order (TRO).
Remember that you are not alone. You have legal rights, including a right to legal representation. Consider contacting a qualified attorney. The state of New Jersey and local officials have grappled with this problem countless times. Reaching out is difficult but it is the first step to a better life and to healing for you and your family.