New laws that address psychological harm done to children who witness domestic violence are catching on across the country, the New Orleans Times-Picayune says. Such measures recognize children as victims, even if they have not been harmed physically, and help get social services to youngsters who come from violent homes, said Thomas Kirkman of the domestic violence prosecution unit for Cape Cod and Massachusetts’ islands. Kirkman, who said the laws might deter batterers, spoke at a domestic violence conference of the National College of District Attorneys. Even children who only hear violence rather than see it might become abusive or aggressive themselves or might suffer educational and social developmental delays, he said.
Louisiana enacted a Domestic Abuse Child Endangerment Law this year, part of a more comprehensive law that created the crime of domestic abuse battery. District Attorney Jerry Jones of Monroe, La., said he pushed for the legislation to enact an increasingly severe set of penalties for repeat batterers. The child endangerment section was included because boys who watch their fathers hit mothers can grow up to become batterers. Jones said he wanted to try to break the cycle.
Kirkman said that two states, Utah and Georgia, have separate laws that set penalties for domestic abuse that is done in front of children. Several other states, including Louisiana, have tacked on “enhancement” clauses to their domestic violence laws that provide such penalties. Some states have made it a crime of neglect for a parent not to remove children from potentially violent situations. These laws worry some prosecutors and victims advocates because they could lead to charing battery victims with neglect if they remain in abusive relationships.
Merni Carter of the Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence is pleased with the graduated set of penalties for people who batter again and again. But she said that many police make “dual arrests” of both the batterer and victim, who might have tried to fight back, rather than try to identify the “predominant aggressor.” Carter is afraid the new law could backfire if women arrested face heavier penalties that will not be suspended.