Children and Domestic Violence

Domestic violence affects not only those abused but also children who witness abuse. Children who grow up around violence are at greater risk for depression, poor school performance, aggressive behavior, withdrawal, and complaints like stomachaches and headaches. 

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Teens are at increased risk for depression, drug and alcohol use, and disruptive behavior; and affected teen girls attempt suicide more often. Exposure to violence in the home teaches children that violence is a normal way of life and increases their risk of being part of a violent relationship as adults, either as abusers or as victims.  Committing domestic violence in the presence of a child less than 16 years old is a class D felony.

“Families under stress produce children under stress.  If a spouse is being abused and there are children in the home, the children are affected by the abuse.  Moreover, spouse abuse is a form of child abuse.  Hurting someone the child loves also hurts the child.” (Abused No More: Recovery for Women in Abusive or Co-dependant Relationships, R. Ackerman & S. Pickering )

Each year, an estimated 3 to 10 million children witness assaults against a parent by an intimate partner.

A survey of 6,000 American families found that 50 percent of men who assault their wives, also abuse their children.(Pagelow, “The Forgotten Victims: Children of Domestic Violence,” 1989) More recent estimates put the figure at 50-70%.

The more severe the abuse of the mother, the worse the child abuse. (Bowker, Arbitell, and McFerron, “On the Relationship Between Wife Beating and Child Abuse,” Perspectives on Wife Abuse, 1988)

For many children, domestic violence interrupts their experience of consistent safety and care, and creates an environment of uncertainty and helplessness.

Parents who are violent with one another are at higher risk for physically abusing their children.

It is a class D felony in Indiana to commit an act of domestic violence in the presence of a child under the age of 16.

Older children are frequently assaulted when they intervene to defend or protect their mothers. (Hilberman and Munson, “Sixty Battered Women,” Victimology: An International Journal, 1977-78)

Male children who witness the abuse of mothers by fathers are more likely to become men who batter in adulthood than those male children from homes free of violence (Rosenbaum and O’Leary, “Children: The Unintended Victims of Marital Violence,” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 1981) There is a correlation between adverse childhood experience (ACE) and migraines, chronic headaches, and inflammation leading to strokes. (Khubehandani, May 2012).

Some potential effects that violence may have on children are:

  • Emotional effects-anxiety, nervousness, low self-esteem, shame, guilt, depression, self blame, anger, embarrassment, withdrawal, attempts of suicide .
  • Behavioral effects-acting out, aggressive, refusing to go to school, acting as a parent substitute, excessive attention seeking, nightmares and bedwetting, dependency, mood swings, poor school performance, drug and alcohol use.
  • Social effects– isolation from friends and relatives, difficulty trusting, bullying, poor problem solving skills .
  • Physical effects-headaches, stomach aches, short attention span, tired, frequently ill, poor personal hygiene, regression in development, self abuse.

Children exposed to domestic violence are at risk to repeat their experience in the next generation, either as victims or as perpetrators of violence in their own intimate relationships.

It is important to remember that individual children’s responses are dependent on many factors within the child, the family and the environment.

Early education on the subject can help prevent the cycle of domestic violence from continuing to the next generation.

When working with children who have been exposed to domestic violence it is important to:

·        Listen and provide space and respect.

·        Use books on the subject to help children open up.

·        Refer children to professional counselors, as needed.

·        Tell them often that you care.

Trust is a major factor when working with children exposed to domestic violence.