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Domestic Violence – Children/Child Victims

Domestic Violence – Children Victims

Domestic violence this is one of the most invisible forms of violence. If there is abuse or violence inside the family home the children are most likely to experience some or all of the domestic violence. Children do not have to be abused themselves in order to be impacted by violence in the home. Children must be taught at an early age non-violent conflict resolution.

In homes where domestic violence occurs, fear, instability, and confusion replace the love, comfort, and nurturing children need. These children live in constant fear of psychological and/or physical harm from the person who is supposed to care for and protect them. A high proportion of these children are themselves being abused – either physically or sexually – by the same perpetrator. The abuse and violence is perpetrated most often by a father, stepfather, grandfather, brother, uncle, or another male relative in a position of trust, the rights of the child are usually sacrificed in order to protect the name of the family and that of the adult perpetrator. They may feel guilt at loving the abuser or blame themselves for causing the violence.

Domestic violence has an enormous effect on the children in the family who are living in households where one of their parents/carers is abusing the other. Children get hurt when they see their parents being yelled at, pushed, or hit. They may feel confusion, stress, fear, shame, or think that they caused the problem. The child’s need for predictability and consistency is threatened by domestic violence. Routines are likely interrupted, and the sounds and images are distressing.

Children who witness family violence suffer the same consequences as those who are directly abused. In other words, a child who witnesses spousal violence is experiencing a form of child abuse. Children witnessing family violence is as harmful as experiencing it directly.

Children who live in situations of family violence:

  • Can experience short and long-term emotional
  • Behavioral and developmental problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Can suffer immediate and permanent physical harm and even death.
  • Domestic violence hurts all family members. Everyone has the right to feel safe in a relationship. The only answer to this problem is to treat domestic violence as a crime. The first step in ending the misery is recognition that the situation is abusiveand once you acknowledge the reality of the abusive situation, then you can get the help you need. A personal safety plan is a way of helping you to protect yourself and your children. Noticing and acknowledging the warning signs and symptoms of domestic violence and abuse is the first step to ending it.

Effects on Children

The effects on children living in an abusive environment may be harmful and lasting. If a parent remains in an abusive home, children learn there are few consequences for violent behaviour. They become confused in their feelings of love and hurt. Children who witness domestic violence may develop serious emotional, behavioral, developmental, or academic problems. As children, they may become violent themselves, or withdraw. Some act out at home or school; others try to be the perfect child. Children from violent homes may become depressed and have low self-esteem.

Some children learn to accept violence as a normal part of family life and will often mimic their parents and become violent themselves. Children may grow up to abuse the partners they choose or accept violence in relationships because they think of violence as a normal part of a relationship.

Warning Signs

  • Young children may display some of the following difficulties when they are living with domestic violence. By taking notice of these warning signs may give you an opportunity to save your child from any further abuse and violence.
  • Your children’s behaviours may
  • Be at greater risk of being a runaway, being suicidal, or committing criminal acts as juveniles and adults.
  • Exhibit emotional problems, cry excessively, and display withdrawn or shy behaviour.
  • Experience stress and show it indifferent ways, including difficulty in sleeping, bedwetting, over-achieving, behavior problems, withdrawing, stomach aches, headaches and/or diarrhea.
  • Have difficulty making friends or have fear of adults.
  • Suffer from depression and excessive absences from school.
  • Use violence for solving problems at school and home.
  • With sexual abuse, you may find the child victims to have considerable problems with behaviour, negative peer involvement, depression and anxiety, violence to others, developmental delays, irregular school attendance, and inappropriate sexual behaviour.
  • The tragic reality is that anytime a mother is abused by her partner, the children are also affected in both overt and subtle ways. What hurts the mother hurts the children. Watching, hearing or later learning of a parent being harmed by a partner threatens children’s sense of stability and security typically provided by their family. It is usually very difficult for children who are abused or neglected to report the problem to anyone. That is why it is important to be aware of the signs of child maltreatment and know what to do about it. Everyone has a duty to report child abuse, whether a child tells you about it or you have reasonable suspicion. If a child tells you about abuse, believe him or her. Listen openly and calmly. Reassure the child and be supportive. Tell the child that what happened is not her or his fault. Write down what the child tells you, using the child’s exact words, and contact your local police or child welfare agency.
  • Children who observe violence may have or show the many of the following signs anxiety and uneasiness
  • Constant worry about possible danger(s)
  • Difficulty choosing and completing an activity or task
  • Excessive worry about the safety of loved ones (needing to see siblings during the day, asking constantly about Mommy)
  • Increased aggressive behavior and angry feelings (physically hurting self or others)
  • Lack of interest in or feelings about anything
  • Physical complaints (headaches, stomach-aches)
  • Seeming loss of previously learned skills (toileting skills, naming colors)
  • Separation anxiety (beyond what you would normally expect for the age of the child)
  • Sleep difficulties (fear of falling asleep)
  • They may themselves be abused, or neglected while the mother attempts to deal with the trauma.
  • Very high activity level, constant fidgeting and/or trouble concentrating at levels atypical for the child’s age and stage of development
  • Withdrawal from others and activities

Those victimized suffer physically and psychologically are unable to make their own decisions, voice their own opinions or protect themselves for fear of further repercussions.

The impact on our children

  • Adopt rigid gender role identification. Girls can become withdrawn, passive, and given to approval-seeking behaviour; and boys can become aggressive, bullying and given to self-destructive behaviour.
  • Children living with domestic violence are at increased risk of experiencing physical injury or childhood abuse – such as: physical, emotional, psychological. Have physical complaints such as headaches and stomach aches
  • Children may experience increased emotional and behavioral difficulties – they may feel frightened, confused, unhappy, seek punishment with behaviours such as lying or stealing (believing punishment means love), exhibit self-destructive, accident-prone behaviour
  • Children may experience strong ambivalence toward their violent parent: affection coexists with feelings of resentment and disappointment
  • Children may imitate and learn the attitudes and behaviors modeled when intimate partner abuse occurs – such as: behaving aggressively, become belligerent or withdrawn and act fearful
  • Exposure to violence may desensitize children to aggressive behavior. When this occurs, aggression becomes part of the “norm” and is less likely to signal concern to children.
  • Some children who experience difficulties display traumatic stress reactions – such as: sleep disturbances that can include insomnia, nightmares and bedwetting, intensified startle reactions, constant worry about possible danger, depression or even suicidal
  • The abuser/batterer may use children as a control tactic against their adult victims by: claiming the children’s bad behavior is the reason for the assaults on the non-offending parent, holding the children hostage or abducting them in an effort to punish the adult victim or to gain compliance, threatening violence against the children and their pets in front of the non-offending parent
  • When a mother is abused, the children may feel guilty that they cannot protect her, or that they are the cause of the strife, feel responsible for the violence;
  • As they develop, children and teens that grows up with domestic violence in the household are:
  • Children grow up learning that it’s okay to hurt other people or let other people hurt them. Some of the children who see their mothers beaten develop emotional problems. Boys who see their fathers beat their mothers are ten times more likely to be abusive in their adult intimate relationships.
  • Children who grow up in violent homes have much higher risks of becoming drug or alcohol abusers or being involved in abusive relationships, as a batterer or a victim.
  • Likely to become abusers in their own relationships later in life. Boys who witness family violence are more likely to batter their female partners as adults and girls who witness their mother’s abuse have a higher rate of being battered as adults.
  • More likely to attempt suicide
  • More likely to commit crimes, especially sexual assault
  • More likely to run away
  • More likely to use violence to enhance their reputation and self-esteem
  • More likely to use violence at school or in the community in response to perceived threats
  • They may have learned that abusing others is a way to exert power and control.
  • Solutions to free yourself and your children from domestic violence

As a parent, you have a responsibility to protect your children. If you decide to leave an abusive situation, take your children with you. If the police are involved, they can escort you to a safe place. Although removing children from a violent home or having your abusive partner leave will not automatically remove the damage already done, it is a first step in encouraging a positive change in their lives. Counseling is available to help children with the confused emotions or trauma they are experiencing.

The domestic violence that our children find themselves facing can threaten the development of their ability to think and solve problems. The most important opportunity that will enable a child to deal with the ongoing exposure to violence they experience every day is a strong relationship with a competent, caring, positive adult, most often a parent. But with the support of good parenting by either a parent or other significant adult, a child’s cognitive and social development can proceed positively even with adversity. So we must find ways to help abused children heal: allow them to break the silence on the violence in their lives, increase their ability to protect themselves physically and psychologically, strengthen their self-esteem and provide a safe and fun environment where they can have positive experiences. If you are a parent, family member or caregiver who abuses, you can get help for yourself and for the children. It’s never too late to stop family violence. It is never too late to make a change for the better.

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