When parents fight in front of their kids

Last month, Jessell Kerr, director of the Children’s Justice Center of Kauai wrote to the Corner, and suggested that I write an article about the new law HB 1993 which makes it a Class C Felony for children 13 and under to witness abuse of a family or household member in the state of Kauai. He stated, “HB 1993 (Act 117) related to Domestic Violence (Abuse of a Household Member) has significant impact with its section 709-906 (9) “Where physical abuse occurs in the presence of any family or household member who is less than 14 years of age, abuse of a family or household member is a class C felony.”

“This bill is a huge movement toward recognizing the impact of domestic violence trauma on children. Our committee felt like an article looking at the message of this bill could be beneficial to our Kauai community. Kauai police report that most perpetrators of domestic violence incidents are unaware that the presence of a child at the time of these incidents means they will be charged with a felony crime.”

He recommended that I further investigate this by contacting our prosecuting attorney, Justin Kollar, who brought the need for this to our House Rep. Derek Kawakami.

In a letter to me Kollar stated, “The reason we at OPA (Office of the Prosecuting Attorney) felt so strongly about this issue is because we see, at a macro level, the impact that family violence has on keiki. Keiki from broken homes eventually become defendants in our courts. We’ve seen over and over again how the impacts of domestic violence can be multigenerational and devastating. The studies are all in agreement that keiki who are exposed to violence in the household suffer lasting trauma. Rep. Derek Kawakami and his amazing staff also felt strongly that this is an issue warranting legislative action, and working together with them, we were able to craft this bill. We also had the support of law enforcement, police, prosecutors, and family advocates from across Hawaii, as well as Hawaii’s entire legislative delegation, to whom we are very grateful.

“The bill has already had an impact. We’ve charged and prosecuted several cases successfully, and other prosecutors (from other islands) are reporting similar results. Having offenders on a longer period of probation (felony instead of misdemeanor) ensures that they follow through on their commitments and make good on their changes.”

We can all be so proud of Justin Kollar and Derek Kawakami for leading our state in taking better care of our keiki and their parents.

I then researched what the effects of witnessing domestic volence actually are on children at the Alabama Coalition Against Domestic Violence website (acadv.org/children), with a little editing. “Children are affected in four major areas:

1) Emotionally they feel grief for family and personal losses, shame, guilt and self blame. They may have conflicting feelings about their parents. They may become frightened of being abandoned, expressing their feelings, or of being injured. They get angry, depressed, and not know what to do.

2) Behavior can get out of control. They may act out or withdraw, refuse to go to school, and begin lying. Sometimes they take over the parent’s role and try to take care of others in the family. Or they may seek attention frequently. Nightmares and bedwetting can occur, and sadly, there may be a reduction in intellectual capacity. So watching a parent hurt another can actually cause a reduction in the ability to think or reason well. It may even cause developmental delay physically or mentally (Kids won’t be as smart as they could have been).

3) Socially children may stop seeing friends and relatives, or have stormy relationships. They have a hard time trusting people, especially adults. Their anger management and problem solving skills are poor. Their parents have bullied and hurt each other to get their ways. They may also bully peers, or not get involved with them.

4) Physically they can get headaches, stomach aches, and are frequently ill. They become nervous, and may develop a short attention span. They may feel tired, and not want to do much. They may even hurt themselves, or take high risks in play. Their hygiene may get worse.

“In the adolescent hears the children may turn to drug and alcohol use, and begin skipping school. They may join gangs, run away, become pregnant, or sadly even kill themselves. Their dating relationships may also be violent as that was what they witnessed at home.”

It doesn’t seem fair that children, who depend upon their parents for safety and care, may actually have their lives damaged by watching one parent hurt another, or their domestic violence. The law agrees.

Just what can a person convicted of breaking HB 1993 look at in his future? Each case is considered individually and the best interest of the whole family is considered, but the maximum sentence could be five years in jail and/or a $10,000 fine. Many factors are taken into consideration. There may be requirements to complete domestic violence and/or anger management programs. They may be required to take a mental health assessment and get treatment.

For my kids who read this: Pass this information along to anyone you think would benefit from it. In the dark ages of human history it was considered all right for people to beat up others, but we live in a more enlightened age. We have counselors. The YWCA offers classes in anger management and for domestic abusers. Can you find a friend of your caregiver who might mention that to your caregiver? It will help them learn better ways to get their needs met.

Science has found that hurting a person doesn’t even always get them to change!

It actually makes them respect the person less, rather than more. You deserve a safe, happy life, and the opportunity to grow with all your smarts! You have so many friends and helpers who agree with this. All the police, and the courts, and family service organizations, churches, school staff, relatives and friends. Be strong. Knowledge is power.



Hale `Opio Kaua’i convened a support group of adults in our Kaua’i community to “step into the corner” for our teens, to answer questions and give support to youth and their families on a wide variety of issues. Please email your questions or concerns facing our youth and families today to Annaleah Atkinson at aatkinson@haleopio.org


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