When Steven Montgomery was sentenced last year in Florida, the judge who imposed the 45-year prison term for beating his girlfriend to death in front of her son called his crime the worst murder he had seen, maybe ever. The Florida Times-Union says the then 3-year-old boy who witnessed the killing is one of a handful of children who are orphaned every year by domestic violence murders, leaving one parent dead and the other imprisoned, or by murder-suicides.
Children are the missing element in the public’s understanding of domestic violence, said Betsy McAlister Groves, a social worker and director of the Child Witness to Violence Project at Boston Medical Center. “The children may be physically unharmed, but they are not psychologically unharmed,” she said. “The message about how children are affected is critically important. We call them the hidden victims.” The effects of domestic violence can reach deep into a family tree, especially if children don’t receive proper support and counseling, said Sharon Youngerman, an expert in child counseling. Donna Cohen, a University of South Florida professor who has written about murder-suicide and domestic violence homicide, said only about a quarter of families are willing to speak with researchers about the impact of such traumatic events.