Because children who witness domestic violence are at serious risk for long-term physical and mental health problems, the Marysville City Council unanimously approved an ordinance that creates a separate crime for individuals who commit an act of domestic violence that is witnessed by a minor child. The Council took the action at its Oct. 11 meeting.
“Domestic violence is a serious problem and is particularly damaging to children who are exposed to it,” Jennifer Millet told the Council. She and Elisabeth Gribble, the city’s prosecuting attorneys, worked together to forward their recommendation.
The new law allows the city to prosecute both an underlying domestic violence crime (such as assault) and the separate crime of exposing that violence to a child, including the minor child or stepchild of the suspect or victim, or a minor child living within the suspect or victim’s household. The law carries a mandatory minimum of 15 days in jail, which can be waived or reduced if (1) the prosecutor recommends it after reviewing relevant factors or (2) the municipal court enters written findings that the mandatory minimum is not appropriate after considering relevant factors.
The ordinance also includes a non-merger clause that permits a domestic violence offender to be held accountable for both the underlying crime (such as assault) and for the damage caused by exposing a child to domestic violence, as these are two separate societal harms.
“In witnessing a crime of domestic violence, the child is a victim and should be treated as such,” City Attorney Jon Walker wrote.
According to the Office of Women’s Health of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, children who live in homes in which domestic violence has happened at least once are at greater risk for repeating the cycle as adults. For example, a boy who sees his mother being abused is 10 times more likely to abuse his female partner as an adult. A girl who grows up in a home where her father abuses her mother is more than six times as likely to be sexually abused as a girl who grows up in a non-abusive home.
Children in homes where one parent is abused may feel fearful and anxious. They may always be on guard, wondering when the next violent event will happen. These children are at higher risk for health problems, which can include mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Find information and resources at https://www.marysvillewa.gov/1189/Domestic-Violence-Awareness.