Children bereaved by fatal intimate partner violence: A population-based study into demographics, family characteristics and homicide exposure

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Children bereaved by fatal intimate partner violence: A population-based study into demographics, family characteristics and homicide exposure

Category: Domestic Violence, Homicide, Youth|Journal: PLoS ONE (full text)|Author: A Groot, E Alisic, E Putte, H Snetselaar, T Stroeken|Year: 2017

Background

In the context of violence against women, intimate partner homicide increasingly receives research and policy attention. Although the impact of losing a parent due to intimate partner homicide is intuitively obvious, little is known about the children involved. We aimed to identify all children bereaved by parental intimate partner homicide in the Netherlands in the period 2003–2012, describe their demographics and family circumstances, and assess their exposure to prior violence at home and to the homicide itself.

 

Methods and findings

We cross-examined 8 national data sources and extracted data about children’s demographics and circumstances prior to, and during the homicide. Our primary outcomes were prior violence at home (child maltreatment, neglect or domestic violence) and homicide witness status (ranging from being at a different location altogether to being present at the scene). During the decade under study, 256 children lost a biological parent due to 137 cases of intimate partner homicide. On average, the children were 7.4 years old at the time of the homicide (51.1% were boys; 95% CI 47.3–54.7) and most lost their mother (87.1%; full population data). Immigrant children were overrepresented (59.4%; 95% CI 52.8–66.0). Of the children for whom information about previous violence at home was gathered, 67.7% (95% CI 59.7–73.7) were certainly exposed and 16.7% (95% CI 11.3–22.2) probably. Of the children who had certainly been exposed, 43.1% (95% CI 41.1–60.9) had not received social services or mental health care. The majority of the children (58.7%; 95% CI 52.1– 65.3) were present at the location of the homicide when the killing took place, with varying levels of exposure. Homicide weapons mostly involved cutting weapons and firearms, leading to graphic crime scenes.

 

Conclusions

Care providers need capacity not only to help children cope with the sudden loss of a parent but also with unaddressed histories of domestic violence and exposure to graphic homicide scenes, in a culture-sensitive way. Future directions include longitudinal monitoring of children’s mental health outcomes and replication in other countries.

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