Intimate Partner Violence also known as domestic violence is a public health issue where millions are affected. The statistics related to domestic violence are extremely high. Our perspective of the issue has changed as we now understand that both men and women find themselves in abusive relationships. In addition, we also know, that intimate partner violence does not only happen to “certain people” as all races, ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations, and genders are impacted by abusive relationships. Many times, what people do not realize is that families that are affected by violence have silent victims; the children. There have been many adverse consequences for children who witness violence in their home or between their parents.
It is estimated that more than fifty percent of victims of abuse live in a household with children under the age of 12 (United States Department of Justice—Violence by Intimates, 1998). The numbers are quite high as it is estimated that between 2.3 and 10 million children witness domestic violence each year in the United States. Being that children are not always “directly impacted” by the abuse, their experience falls often times falls through the cracks. However, if we do not raise our awareness about children who witness abuse, these children can grow to experience many negative consequences such as:
- Aggressive Behaviors
- Increased likelihood to develop mental health concerns i.e. depression and anxiety
- Academic difficulties
- Long term difficulties with adjustment
- Increased likelihood that the child will be a victim or a perpetrator of violence
It is important to remember that directly or indirectly witnessing domestic violence is considered a form of child abuse. For a long time, child abuse and neglect were viewed separately from domestic violence but the reality is many times they are connected.
Witnessing Domestic Violence; Defined
Over the years, there has been some confusion as to what is considered witnessing domestic violence. It is important to note, that witnessing domestic violence is also known as “being exposed” to domestic violence or intimate partner violence. There were questions whether it meant that the child had to be physically present. We have to be aware that most times children are aware of what is going on therefore witnessing abuse can be “direct” or “indirect”. This means that witnessing or being exposed to violence can mean that the child is SEEING actual incidents of physical/emotional and or sexual abuse. It can mean HEARING threats or fighting noises, or a parent screaming from the abuse. In addition, children may OBSERVE the aftermath of physical abuse such as blood, bruises, tears, torn clothing, and broken items. Lastly, children may be AWARE of the tension in the home or feel the discomfort between spouses such as their mother’s fearfulness when the abuser’s car pulls into the driveway or the fear that a parent may feel when they are in the presence of the other parent.
How the Children Feel
Children who witness abuse in their home are prone to develop symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder. This means that the child may experience nightmares, shame, guilt, hypervigilance, and flashbacks. They may always be on guard and feel like they are walking on eggshells at home. These children feel anxious and vulnerable. They often times do not know what triggers the violence so they are constantly fearful that one of their parents will be abused. It is also common for children who grow up in these environments to be starving for attention as one parent is trying to survive abuse while the other is focused on abusing and controlling their partner. Thus, these children feel abandoned, worthless, and powerlessness.
They may also experience physical symptoms like stomach aches, headaches, bedwetting, and an inability to concentrate. It is also important to remember that children who grow up in violent homes are at risk to be injured. They may also become victims of sexual and/or physical abuse. It is highly likely that these kids will develop or experience negative consequences.
Even if the children are not physically abused they do experience long term emotional and psychological trauma where they are exposed to violence. It is difficult to process that one of your parents is being abused by your other parent. Children often times identify with the abusive partner as they ally with strength. Therefore, they may learn that violence is the right way and only way to resolve conflicts. They also do not know what a healthy relationship looks like or feels like putting them at risk to take part in an abusive relationship as adults. These children are also more likely abuse substances and have trouble with the law. Also, growing up in an abusive home is the number one reason why children run away.
There are factors that are related to the impact the abuse will have the child. It is always hard to predict the exact outcome certain experiences will have but there are factors to take into consideration. Firstly, the age of the child when they are first exposed to the violence is related to the outcome it will have. Also, the relationship the child has to the abuser and the victim will be related to how they process and cope with the situation. Lastly, their access to services is very important when it comes to the outcome. Research shows that the older the child is the more likely it is that they will be more able to cope with the situation. Support services are also correlated to more positive outcomes for the child.
Keep in mind that not everyone relates the abuse to problematic behaviors or mental health issues. For example, if a parent is being told that their child is having academic difficulties, and there is a need for a psychological evaluation to explore the situation, it is important to consider what is going on at home to add to this. Sometimes difficulties concentrating is related to not being able to process what occurred. Therefore, before asking yourself where you can “psychological evaluation near me” explore if your home environment is safe. If you are looking for services in South Florida visit https://rkcaregroup.com/.