Victims of domestic violence often experience repeated threats, violence, and intimidation, as well as physical, sexual, financial, emotional, and psychological abuse. Constant, repeated exposure to such abuse can have a profound effect on how adult victims perform daily activities, think, interact on a personal level, and view their sense of self.[1] Victims may also be in denial about the actual risk from their batterers and may take responsibility for the abuse.

The history of abuse experienced by adult victims and the concerns or fears they may have for themselves and their children create the context for their behavior. It is important for visitation center staff to understand this context in order to respond better to the needs of child(ren) and adult victims. Without such understanding, center staff may misconstrue a victim’s protective behavior as being unfriendly, uncooperative, or antagonistic toward staff or the other parent,[2] which may in turn distract staff from ensuring safety for adult victims and instead focus their attention on the batterer’s articulated needs.

It is also important for visitation center staff to understand that the victim of domestic violence may not be the custodial parent; and that although both parents may have a criminal record, only one of the parents poses an ongoing risk to the children or the other parent, or that the parent with such record is actually the victim, not the batterer.[3]


[1] Nat’l Cent. for Victims Crime, Domestic Violence, at http://www.ncvc/main.aspx?dbName=DocumentView&DocumentID=32347#4.

[2] See Clare Dalton, Leslie Drozd & Hon. Frances Wong, NCJFCJ, Navigating Custody & Visitation Evaluations in Cases with Domestic Violence: A Judge’s Guide 25 (2004, revised 2006) (citing Am. Psychol. Ass’n, Issues and Dilemmas in Family Violence: Issue 5, at

[3] Id. at 13.

Domestic violence plays out differently in every family experiencing such violence; therefore, child(ren) and adult victims coming to visitation centers will have their own unique safety needs, with the children’s safety and well-being often dependent on the adult victim’s safety.[1] More than two decades of studies show that in families where women are abused, many of their children also are abused or neglected.[2]

Other studies have found that children who are exposed to domestic violence often exhibit behavioral and emotional problems, cognitive functioning and attitude problems, and longer-term problems.[3] In addition, children may demonstrate good behavior in the presence of the batterer and act out in the presence of the adult victim for many reasons not readily apparent to or understood by visitation center staff.[4] The opposite could also occur if the children feel safe with staff present.[5] Understanding that children could have their own valid reasons to criticize or be afraid of the batterer is important to understanding more fully the safety needs of child(ren) and adult victims.

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[1] Susan Schechter & Jeffrey L. Edelson, NCJFCJ, Effective Intervention in Domestic Violence & Child Maltreatment Cases: Guidelines for Policy and Practice 11 (1999).

[2] Id. at 9.

[3] Jeffrey L. Edelson, VAWNet Applied Research Forum, Problems Associated with Children’s Witnessing of Domestic Violence (revised Apr. 1999), at See also Schechter & Edelson, supra note 1, at 11.

[4] Clare Dalton, Leslie Drozd & Hon. Frances Wong, NCJFCJ, Navigating Custody and Visitation Evaluations in Cases with Domestic Violence: A Judge's Guide 12 (2004, revised 2006).

[5] Id.

Batterers often minimize or deny their violence or project blame on others, and can appear charming and in control. Visitation center staff who do not understand the nature and dynamics of domestic violence may have difficulty believing the batterer has abused the children or adult victim, and unwittingly comply with a batterer’s tactics.

Visitation center staff, therefore, need to be aware of the ways batterers may attempt to use the services to threaten, intimidate, and control their victims. A sampling of tactics batterers use in a visitation setting include frequently changing the visitation schedule in a way that causes problems and anxiety to child(ren) and adult victims; passing messages to the adult victim by way of the children; or bringing to the visit a toy or object that the children or adult victim associates with past abuse.

Supervised visitation and exchanges are artificial situations that have protections built in to ensure the safety and appropriateness of the visit or exchange. In this context, a batterer is highly motivated to follow the rules. Therefore, it is important for visitation centers to understand and articulate to collaborative partners that observations of no battering behavior in this artificial setting provide little if any information needed to predict future behavior.

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