Children & Domestic Violence

CHILDREN & DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

Children living in violent homes are often the forgotten victims of domestic violence. Early literature has noted that children of the battered spouses may be more at risk to grow up and become abusers or victims, but little attention was given to the immediate effects on children who witness domestic violence. Current research has indicated that domestic violence impacts children in a variety of ways. The nature and extent of the damage will vary depending primarily on two factors:

· The type of abusive control used by the perpetrator.
· The age, gender, and developmental stage of the child.

Studies clearly indicate that we can no longer presume that children free of physical injuries are not damaged psychologically, developmentally, and emotionally by domestic violence. There is growing evidence of multiple ways perpetrators use children to manipulate and control their victims.

TYPES OF ABUSE TO CHILDREN

Some batterers physically injure children during their attacks on the adult victim.

· Sometimes children are used as a weapon by the abuser against the victim. A child may be physically injured when thrown at the victim or abused for the purpose of coercing the adult victim.
· Sometimes children are accidentally injured during the batterer’s assault on the victim. A child may be injured while being held by the adult victim or injured while trying to stop the batterer’s attack.

Some batterers use the children to coercively control the adult victim.

· Like the adult victim, children may also be isolated and not allowed to participate in peer activities or friendships.
· Sometimes the children are forced to watch the abuse against the adult victim.
· The abuser may engage the children in the abuse of the adult victim by encouraging or forcing the child to participate in the physical or emotional assaults.
· Threats of violence may be used against children, pets or other loved objects. Attacks against pets or loved objects are particularly traumatic for young children who often do not make a distinction between themselves and the pet or object. Consequently, the abuser’s attack against the pet is experienced by the child as an attack against the child.
· The abuser may interrogate the children about the adult victim’s activities, force the victim to always be accompanied by a child or children, or take the child away after each violent episode to ensure that the victim will not leave.

Children are often used by an abuser to continue controlling the victim even after she has left.

· The batterer’s intent is to control the victim using any means possible with little regard for the damaging effects on children.
· Lengthy custody battles may be used as a way to continue the abuse and control of the victim.
· Children may be held hostage or abducted to punish the victim.
· Visitation periods may become uncomfortable for the children either because of physical abuse or constant interrogation about the activities of the adult victim. Some abusers may go into long tirades about the victim’s behaviors or break into tears, blaming the victim for “causing” the separation.

The negative effects of the batterer’s abuse can interrupt childhood development.

This can be seen in cognitive, psychological and physical symptoms. Symptoms may include the following:

· Eating and/or sleeping disorders, mood related disorders such as depression or emotional neediness, aggressive acting out/destructive rages, overcompliance/clinginess/withdrawal, detachment/avoidance/a fantasy family life, somatic complaints: fingernail biting/restlessness/shaking/stuttering, school problems, suicidal ideation.

A child’s experience with domestic violence can effect their perceptions and problem-solving skills.

· Young children see themselves as the cause of the abuser’s violence.
· Children use either passive behaviors, such as withdrawal or compliance, or aggressive behaviors, such as verbal or physical attacks, rather than assertive problem-solving skills.

There are also long-term effects as these children become adults.

· Since important developmental tasks are interrupted, children carry these deficits into adulthood. They may never recover from falling behind in certain academic tasks or interpersonal skills. These deficits can affect their ability to maintain a job and/or a relationship.
· Male children, in particular, are more likely to use violence in their dating and marital relationships.

PROTECTING CHILDREN

Often, the most effective way to protect the children is to protect and support the victim. Holding the perpetrator rather than the victim accountable for the abuse is critical in protecting both the victim and the child.

HOW CAN A MOTHER HELP HER CHILDREN?

Be honest with yourself and your children:

· This may be an unhealthy situation.
· This may be a dangerous situation.

Listen to your children:

· When they ask you about the violence.
· When they tell you what they saw or heard.

You are the adult:

· You must make decisions and take actions that are difficult.
· Your saying “No” to an abusive lifestyle is setting a good example for your children.
· Keeping a regular routine will help your children feel safe during changes, such as moving or going into a shelter.

Get support:

· For yourself through a support group for battered women or counseling, peer or professional.
· For your children.

Remember:

· You may feel guilty that your children didn’t have a perfect family life; you are doing your best for them.
· Your children my get angry with you for leaving or angry that you didn’t leave earlier.
· When you leave, your children may feel safe to express their true feelings and anger. It may be very difficult for you. Use gentile, consistent discipline with time-outs for yourself and for your children when things are getting out of control.