CHILDREN - THE HIDDEN VICTIMS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
WITNESSING PARENTAL ABUSE – Common effects on children and teens.
CHILDREN AND TEENS EXPOSED TO DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
- At least 3 million children in the United States live in abusive households.
- Children as young as 2 years old will emulate violent behaviors, and may come to perceive them as normal.
- An abused parent may not be able to respond appropriately and/or consistently to a child’s needs, negatively affecting the parent-child bond.
Exposure to domestic violence during early childhood affects:
- A child’s developing brain and nervous system
- Every developmental process that the child will experiences as he/she grows up.
Significant damage may occur even when the child is not consciously aware of violence in the home!
- Half of the girls whose mothers are battered will become involved with abusive men.
- As many as 75 percent of children who see their fathers battering their mothers have behavioral problems.
- A history of family violence is one of the greatest predictors of juvenile delinquency.
- The rate of partner abuse was 1000% higher for men who observed domestic violence in their childhood than for men who came from families without violence.
- Children and adolescents in families in which domestic violence has occurred are 6–15 times more likely to be abused than those who are not
- In cases of more severe domestic violence, child abuse may coexist in as many as 77 percent of cases.
- Domestic violence perpetrators often use children and adolescents as a control tactic against adult victims by:
— claiming the children’s bad behavior is the reason for the assaults on the non- offending parent;
— threatening violence against children and their pets in front of the non-offending parent;
— holding them hostage or abducting them in an effort to punish the adult victim or to gain compliance;
— talking negatively to them about the abused parent’s behavior
HOW TRAUMA FROM EXPOSURE TO DOMESTIC VIOLENCE MAY affect CHILDREN AND TEENS:
Definition - Trauma: Any experience that poses overwhelming physical and/or psychological threats, and cause extreme fear and a sense of powerlessness.
THE “NORMAL” HUMAN BEING’S RESPONSE TO TRAUMA:
• Complex changes in brain and body
• “Fight or Flight” response
• The impact of trauma may vary from:
- Temporary loss of sense of trust in life and others
- Long term and severe symptoms such as depression, anxiety, phobias and other psychological problems
Definition - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): The long-term symptoms caused by trauma, which disrupt an individual's capacity to function.
Traumatic stress – is produced by exposure to events so extreme or severe and threatening, that they demand extraordinary coping efforts. These events:
- are often unpredicted and uncontrollable.
- can overwhelm a person's sense of safety and security
PTSD - involves patterns of avoidance and hyper-arousal.
- Victims may begin to organize their lives around avoidance of pain caused by their trauma
CHILDHOOD EXPOSURE TO DOMESTIC VIOLENCE - is related to higher rates of PTSD and other adverse consequences in childhood and in later life than other “non-personal” traumatic events or acts of violence (accidents, natural disasters. . .) . . . . . . . . . . . . WHY?
WITNESSING DOMESTIC ABUSE IS “BETRAYAL TRAUMA”
Children who witness violence in their homes often feel betrayed.
Their pain is caused by the very people who are supposed to love and protect them. Both the domestic violence aggressor and victim are the child’s PRIMARY ROLE MODELS for learning about social and emotional relationships. The child’s core feelings in this situation are:
- “There is no safe or protected place for me”
- “My caregiver cannot protect her/himself . . . and, therefore, can’t protect me”
CYCLE OF HARM TO CHILDREN WHO WITNESS ABUSE
CHILDREN EXPOSED TO DOMESTIC VIOLENCE MAY FEEL:
- feel split down the middle - loves both parents
- conflicted – what I see happening compared to what I am told happened
- sent many mixed messages
For example - argument overheard by child:
“If you hadn’t made me so angry I wouldn’t have had to hit you!”
The child learns:
- one isn’t responsible for their own actions
- it is okay to hurt or be hurt by someone you love if they do something to make you angry
SCARED – Are constantly worried about the safety of the victim.
GUILTY – Often blame themselves and feel responsible for the violence
“If I was a better kid and didn’t get in trouble mom wouldn't get hit . . .”
ANGRY – Some children may develop high levels of externalized aggression
- Easily engage in fights,
- Destruction of property
- Other activities, which can have devastating social implications.
ANXIOUS – Some children tend to internalize the anger, which causes:
HELPLESS – The child may feel responsible for protecting the victimized parent and/or their siblings from the aggressor. When their attempts at protection do not work, they feel powerless and angry:
- with the aggressor for their violence;
- with the victimized parent for their perceived weakness and/or for doing something to “deserve” the abuse
NUMB - Desensitized to aggressive behavior.
- As parental violence and aggression become part of the child's “norm” they are increasingly less likely to signal concern or alarm.
BEHAVIORS FREQUENTLY SEEN IN DOMESTIC VIOLENCE EXPOSED CHILDREN AND TEENS:
- Easily startled - exaggerated startle response
- Reluctance to try new things - low self-esteem and lack of confidence
- Excessive tiredness - sleep difficulties or nightmares
- Frequent physical complaints - headaches, stomachaches
- Outbursts of anger - toward peers, adults or self
- Bullying and/or aggression - toward peers or animals
- Expressing stereotyped beliefs - rigid male and female roles
- Perfectionism - upset when self or others are not perfect
- ADD/ADHD – may display similar symptoms
- Sadness or withdrawal - from friends and activities
- “Dissociation” - periods of extreme dreaminess or disconnectedness
- Eating problems/eating disorders – overeating, binge eating, anorexia, bulimia
- Self-harming behaviors - cutting, burning
- Unhealthy or abusive relationships – dating violence as victim or aggressor
- Use of alcohol, tobacco and other substances
- School truancy or
- Running away from home
- Suicidal thoughts and/or actions
- UNDERSTANDING THE ROLES CHILDREN MAY PLAY WHEN LIVING WITH DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
In all families, members may adopt (or are assigned) certain “roles” that they unconsciously play out while interacting with others within in their family. Frequently, the early role (or roles) played by...