It is estimated that nearly 3,000 children in the United States each year are affected by Uxoricide, murder of an intimate partner, because the victim, the perpetrator, or both are their parents. While the affects of uxoricide on the victim’s and/or perpetrator’s children are similar to those experienced by a child of any murdered parent, there are additional traumas experienced by the children of Uxoricide, most importantly that most cases end either in a murder/suicide or in incarceration of the guilty parent. In either of these cases the child loses both parents at once and this is especially traumatic. We have a complete chapter on Children of Uxoricide in our comprehensive guide to Mental Health Issues of Child Maltreatment including a section on the effective and ineffective coping mechanisms of these children.
Denial is a commonly used but ultimately ineffective and unhealthy coping mechanism. In one study, many children who had survived parental uxoricide had to be taught that denial was not a healthy coping mechanism, most were unable to identify it as problematic on their own. Many patients seem to repress memories from that part of their lives, pretend that the tragedy did not happen, try not to think about it, or even develop harmful habits such as drugs and self-harming to avoid thinking about the trauma that they faced.
This illustrates the importance of teaching these children from a young age that denial is a harmful tool in recovering from such a tragedy, and this may apply to victims of other tragedies as well. Instinctively, it seems to work and so it may not seem so problematic to the victim themselves and guidance away from denial and the resulting behaviors is incredibly important.
While many of the participants in this study recognized that talking about the problem was healthy and productive, many still refrained from doing so for various reasons. One reason was that denial felt more natural, and talking about the issue removes the possibility of experiencing denial. Others felt the need to keep their situation as secret as possible. Many people maintain the desire to keep these dark secrets away from the public eye as they grow older, but it is productive and helpful to have an outlet accessible where the victims feel that they are able to discuss their experience if they feel comfortable doing so. Keeping a journal can also be an effective means of talking about the issue without having to worry about another person’s response, but is not recommended for everyone, as some may dwell on the trauma and retraumatize themselves by reading their own testimonies repeatedly.
Many participants also cited the need not only for an outlet to speak, but for incoming information about what happened, some reasons why, and for some general truth behind the confusing situation.
Counseling should be offered immediately after experiencing such an incident, and many feel that it should be pursued long-term , not just immediately following the tragedy. Coping mechanisms learned from a therapist can help children to avoid harmful behaviors such as drug use and self-mutilation. Therapy should be offered immediately and often, but it is also important that no child is forced into therapy before he or she is ready.
Also, many victims found it useful to have someone well-versed in psychology explain the psychological issues of the perpetrating parent. This helped many victims to understand the reason that they tragedy happened, make peace with their parent, and move on.
While many survivors surveyed did not label the experience that helped them as “structured,” it is evident that a structured environment is helpful. A stable school and household setting helped many of the survivors to move past their experiences while some were further traumatized by the experience of feeling “on their own” from a young age. Reasonable monitoring of a child’s behavior and a caring environment are the most important parts of this that universally could have helped the children surveyed.
Religion could be very comforting for some of the survivors. Many used religious imagery in their speech revolving around their healing, and many cited God or other religious figures such as Jesus or Mary as protectors, friends, or healers.
Many survivors cite officials such as police or judges as people who contributed to their trauma. Many felt that they were grilled too harshly in questioning or in court when they themselves had not understood what was happening to them, only that they were alone and afraid. The survivors surveyed were adult survivors referring to their experiences as children, and thus understood that procedure has changed since then, and indeed many strides have been taken to ensure that children do not experience further trauma upon investigation, but still, we can help by being advocates for these children. Members of law enforcement have the power to do everything that they can to protect the children from further trauma while doing the necessary questioning by providing developmentally appropriate information, avoiding all leading questions, and remaining objectively aware of how each individual situation might affect a child’s development.