The Risks and Unintended Consequences


Society often looks for ways to offer greater protection for children who witness family violence.  One remedy that is frequently proposed is enhanced penalties for assault and battery against a family or household member when a child is present.  While on the surface this would seem to be an appropriate solution, the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance has concerns that such an enhancement puts children at greater risk of physical and emotional harm and has other unintended consequences.

Enhanced Penalties put Children at Greater Risk

  • To prove h/she present, the child may be required to testify against a parent or other adult in the home, putting the child in the middle of an already volatile situation.
  • If a child testifies against the offender, the offender and in some instances the non-offending parent may retaliate against the child, putting the child’s safety at risk.
  • If the child is afraid of the offender, and/or does not want to testify against a parent or loved one, s/he may feel that it is necessary to perjure him/herself in order to protect the family.
  • The offender, non-offending parent or others may blame the child for the enhanced penalty (jail time or fine) and therefore the child may blame him/herself for the violence and effect of the penalty on the family.


Actions Requested by VSDVAA

Below are three alternatives to enhancing penalties or creating a misdemeanor for when a minor is present during an assault and battery of a family or household member:

  • Support increased funding and availability of services for children and teens who witness and/or are impacted by family abuse.  This could include services in domestic violence programs, child advocacy centers and supervised visitation centers.
  • When preparing the pre-sentencing report, include information about the presence of a minor during the incident and the impact of the violence on the child or teen.
  • During the sentencing phase, consider the impact of the violence on the minor.


For more information, contact Stacy Ruble at Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance (VSDVAA) at:  804-377-0335 or

reposted from the Action Alliance website: