Living With Domestic Violence is Damaging Our Children
When we talk about abusive relationships and domestic violence we tend to concentrate on the adults, the abuser and the abused. Sadly, though all too often the people affected most are the innocent children. The only people who have no say in the matter and have no way of getting themselves out of this dysfunctional situation.
Adults can at least decide they need help and make a decision to end the relationship, children can't. The partners can at least justify to themselves and the world why it is happening - children can't. Adults have a perception of time and they can differentiate between last month and last week - small children can't.
One in every 4 women will become victims of domestic violence sometime during their lifetime. That is a chilling fact. What is even more perturbing is the fact that more than 50% of female victims of domestic violence in America have children under 12 years old living with them. It is estimated that as many as 3 million children witness domestic violence annually.
saddest part of all is that none of these figures can truly reflect or
measure the life-long
impact that domestic violence can have on these children's self-value,
trust others, and the effect it will have on their relationships
throughout their lives, including parenthood.These children may use
violence in their own adult relationships and
generally as adults display a higher level of trauma symptoms and
depression. The only way to break the cycle is for the abused parent to remove herself and these children
from their violent surroundings and ensure that they get the best
support from suitably qualified people.
In many homes where domestic violence occurs the parents are under the misconception that their children are unaware of the violence if it has not taken place in close proximity to the children. However research suggests that more than 80% of the children living in a house where domestic violence takes place are aware of the violence. They may not witness the actual violence but they do hear the fighting, hear the screams and see the injuries. They are also traumatized by the parent's emotional pain and suffering after the violence has taken place. In cases where the domestic violence has been part of their lives for prolonged periods these children have a complete misconception of normality.
Children who are witnesses of domestic violence often have no emotional support system. The abusing parent is recognized as unsafe and the abused parent may be so traumatized that they may be unavailable to offer emotional support to the child. What aggravates the whole situation is the fact that the child is usually confused and feels guilty about loving the abuser, hating them one moment and loving them the next and feeling guilty for doing either. The abused parent may also find it difficult to comprehend that the child can express any love towards the abusive partner.
Being exposed to domestic violence often results in these children resorting to abusive and violent behavior as their primary means of resolving conflict. Studies indicate that these children have a 74% higher likelihood of committing assault as adults.
Children Don't Often Speak Out
Even if the child is old enough to disclose the violence it is highly unlikely that they will do so. Divided loyalties to parents, feelings of shame and guilt as well as fears of unpleasant consequences as a result of such disclosure will prevent them from seeking assistance.
These children often feel guilty about not being able to stop the abuse and tend to take responsibility for its occurrence. They may also perceive the world to be an unpredictable, threatening and hostile place. One can hardly begin to imagine what it must be like for a young child to have to deal with these emotions.
They are constantly on edge as
they wait for the next beating to occur and suffer severe anxiety about
being abandoned. Children who have been exposed to domestic violence
often experience difficulties at school and are known to suffer from headaches, stomach aches and other stress related ailments. They are also considered a higher risk for substance abuse.
Research has shown that witnessing domestic violence has harmful effects on the emotional, social and cognitive development of children.
Children who have been exposed to domestic violence may develop various adjustment problems or maladaptive behavior. Boys generally tend to become more aggressive whereas girls tend to become more withdrawn. The frequency and severity of the violence that children are exposed to will impact the distress level they are likely to suffer.
only negative interactions between the parents will also heighten the
distress whereas if they witness positive interactions in the time
lapses between the violence it could alleviate the level of distress
that the children endure.
No child will be unscathed by domestic violence in their family. Their reactions are not always immediately apparent and may only present themselves weeks or months after the exposure. The age of the child when exposed to the violence will play a role in how they express their confusion, anger, fear and stress.
Negative Effects of Domestic Violence on Children
Children Up To The Age of 5 Years Old
Younger children appear to be more affected by the violence and display higher levels of emotional and psychological distress. Young children may display regressive behavior (returning to behaviors exhibited at an earlier age) such as thumb-sucking or bed wetting. They can also become excessively clingy or may withdraw from contact with others, avoiding any physical contact. These children may also experience abnormal trembling and often display bouts of crying, whimpering and screaming for no obvious reason.
They may also start wandering around aimlessly or refuse to walk and revert to being immobile. Children in this age group who have been exposed to domestic violence may also start acting out abusive behavior when playing with their toys. In this crucial developmental stage the child may experience difficulty in bonding with either one or both the parents which could result in an abnormal fear of being separated from one or both parents.
Children Between 6 - 12 Years Old
Children who have been exposed to domestic violence in the 6 - 11 year age range may also display regressive behavior although this is less common than in children under 5 years old. There is a high risk of them recreating this violent behavior when playing with peers and siblings. This results in outbursts of anger and frequent fighting.
They tend to become disruptive and have problems with paying attention. Other common problems include sleeping problems, nightmares, irrational fears, stress-related ailments, depression, anxiety, emotional numbing, feelings of guilt and schooling problems including truancy.
Children Imitate Our Behavior
The adolescent often feels that they are somehow to blame for the family's problems and may suffer extreme guilt over not being able to prevent its occurrence. Children in the 12 to 17 year age group tend to find it more difficult to put the experience behind them and often have flashbacks to the actual violent episodes. These may present themselves in nightmares. The increased emotional stress often presents itself in stress-related ailments and poor academic results. There is a higher risk of substance abuse and other risk-taking behavior such as self-mutilation of eating disorders in these children.
They may also display anti-social behavior and become withdrawn even to the point where they isolate themselves from their peers. Depression is not uncommon and many of them display suicidal thoughts and at the other end of the scale they may experience emotional numbing.
Other factors that will influence these responses will include the child's personality and whether the child actually witnessed the violence or only heard it while in another room in the house.
Children who have a high self-esteem and an outgoing temperament as well as strong relationships with peers and siblings are less at risk of suffering the adverse affects of the exposure to domestic violence.
Other protective factors which can help children in these circumstances are a supportive relationship with an adult and social competence.
Research on Domestic Violence
is a very real risk that these children may eventually become
another victim of the violence if the abuser vents his anger on the
child.In an effort to intimidate and hurt the abused partner the
perpetrator may deliberately hurt the children. These assaults can be
in the form of physical, emotional or sexual abuse. Often older
children can suffer injuries during attempts by the child to intervene
during a physical assault.
According to the findings conducted by Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck of Harvard in the late 1940s as presented in The Cambridge-Somerville Youth Study, the incidence of delinquent behavior was lower in broken homes without conflict than in intact homes that were characterized by a degree of conflict and neglect.
Women who stay in abusive relationships often stay for the sake of the children. According to this study you are doing your children more harm than good by exposing them to domestic violence.
More facts and figures on Domestic Violence
The Women's Rural Advocacy Programs describes the following facts
concerning child and spouse abuse in the United States:
- Almost 70% of the 900 children at battered women's shelters were either victims of physical abuse or neglect according to a recent study. Children from homes where domestic violence occurs are often seriously neglected due to the emotional state of the mother.
- The rate at which children are physically abused or seriously neglected is 1500% higher than the national average in homes where domestic violence occurs. According to Research by the U.S. Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect domestic violence may be the single major cause of child abuse and neglect in this country.
- According to Lenore Walker's 1984 study mothers that were being physically abused were 8 times more likely to hurt their children than they would have had they been in a safe environment.
Through the Eyes of a Child
you wonder why
you wonder why i don't talk anymore
why i lie down in a heap on the floor
all curled up like a newborn baby would
and if i could tell you maybe i would
but the words don't want to come out
it started when i heard daddy shout
and beat you, and beat you, again and again
now i try to talk but its all in vain
you think i don't know what's going on
that i'm too small to know something is wrong
but i can see the tears running down your face
and i just want to be in a better place
where you hold me gently like you used to do
and you don't hurt when i try to touch you
where you play with me and you laugh again
is it my fault that you're feeling this pain
why else would you keep shutting me out
is it because i make daddy shout
doesn't daddy love us anymore
is that why you keep closing my door
or is it because you think i can't hear
when i hide under my bed and tremble with fear
the punches that fall again and again
and your voice as you shout and scream in pain
and you wonder why i don't talk anymore
and why i just lie in a heap on the floor
because mommy i'm too scared to talk to you
cos i love you mommy but i love daddy too
and i can't understand, i don't know why,
why daddy does things that make you cry
but if i say i love him i'm scared you'll throw me away
that's why i don't talk - i don't know what to say.
Laura du Toit - 2009
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