When many of us think about domestic violence, we likely consider how it impacts the adult victim. Yet if there are children in the home, domestic violence affects them, too — even if they are not subject to the abuse themselves. It is important to understand these effects so that we can better protect kids from both the immediate harm and the consequences over their lifetimes.
In the United States, more than 15 million children live in homes where domestic violence has happened at least once. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in homes where violence between partners occurs, there is a 45 to 60% chance of child abuse also occurring.
In the short-term, children who live in a home where one parent is being abused may experience fear and anxiety. They may constantly be on high alert, worried about when the violence or other form of abuse will happen. Younger children (such as kids in kindergarten or preschool) may revert to more childish behaviors, such as bed-wetting, thumb-sucking, and whining. They may also have difficulty falling or staying asleep, develop a stutter, or have severe separation anxiety. Elementary and middle-school aged children may blame themselves for the abuse, and suffer from self-esteem issues as a result. They may also have headaches and stomachaches due to the stress. Teens may handle witnessing domestic violence by acting out in negative ways. This can include using alcohol or drugs, having unprotected sex, and skipping school. They may also withdraw from friends and family and experience depression.
Over the long-term, children who witness domestic violence are at greater risk of either becoming abusive or being victims of abuse themselves. Studies show that a boy who saw his mother being abused is 10 times more likely to abuse his female partner as an adult (compared to boys who did not witness domestic violence). A girl who saw her father abuse her mother is more than 6 times as likely to be sexually abused as compared to girls who grow up in homes free from abuse. In addition, children who witness abuse or who are victims of emotional, physical or sexual abuse have an increased risk of health problems, such as depression, anxiety, diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.
While each child who experiences or witnesses abuse will respond differently, having a good support system and healthy relationships can help kids recover from this type of trauma. If your child — or a child that you love — has either experienced or witnessed domestic violence, we can help. Blackburn Center offers a range of services to victims of domestic violence and other types of abuse. And these services are available for children and teens, as well as adults. Our hotline is available 24 hours a day: 1-888-832-2272 or 724-836-1122. All of our client services are confidential and are provided at no cost to you.
Domestic violence has the potential to impact entire family systems — and may affect children for the rest of their lives, even if they are never physically harmed or directly abused in any way. Simply witnessing domestic violence is a form of trauma. This Domestic Violence Awareness Month, let’s shine a light on this reality — and help kids heal and recover.