Effects of Domestic Violence on Children

Effects of Domestic Violence on Children

The tragic reality is that any time 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. Children do not have to be physically or verbally abused to be injured by domestic violence. Hearing or seeing the abuse of one parent by the other takes a huge toll on the children. Even if they don’t see the beating, they see the bruises, broken bones, and abrasions. In homes where domestic violence occurs, fear, instability, and confusion replace the love, comfort, and nurturing the children need. These children live in constant fear of physical harm from the person who is supposed to care for and protect them.

While many children experience difficulties resulting from their exposure to violence, many children appear to cope with the experiences and show fewer problems than in comparison to other children. This is likely because the level of violence in families and children’s exposure to it can vary greatly. Further research is needed in order to draw blanket conclusions about the effects of domestic violence on children.

Children who witness domestic violence display various emotional, physical, and behavioral disturbances.

  • Witnessing parental abuse produces feelings of anger, fear, guilt, shame, confusion, and helplessness. When the community fails to offer protection and support, children also feel undervalued and worthless.
  • Children may express these emotions as withdrawal, low self-esteem, nightmares, regressive behavior, or aggression against peers, family members, and property.
  • Child witnesses to domestic violence often suffer physical problems, such as bed-wetting, insomnia, colds and diarrhea.
  • Children often suffer developmental delays in verbal, cognitive, and motor abilities when they live in homes with domestic violence. Learning disabilities are common.

Domestic violence disrupts children’s lives.

  • Children’s living arrangements are often disrupted when a parent is fleeing the abuser. Moving to unfamiliar surroundings can add to the stress.
  • Children and their mother may suffer financially when they flee the abusive parent.
  • School performance may suffer if the child is distracted or tries to remain at home to protect the mother.
  • Many children in families where domestic violence has occurred appear to be “parentified” or “spousified.” They are forced to grow up faster than peers, often taking on the responsibility of cooking, cleaning, and caring for younger children while the mother attempts to deal with the trauma.
  • Children may also be isolated. Typical activities such as having friends over to their house may not be possible due to the chaotic atmosphere. However, school performance is not always obviously affected. Children may respond by being overachievers.
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Symptomology of Domestic Violence on Children

Symptomology of Domestic Violence on Children

Ongoing parental conflict and violence in childhood were significant predictors of serious personal crimes in adulthood, including assault, rape, murder, and kidnapping.

 

0-1 Years

  • Withdrawn
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Hyperactive
  • Failure to thrive
  • Eating disorders
  • Physical injuries

 

2-5 Years

 

6-9 Years

  • Suicidal ideation/attempts
  • Cruelty to animals
  • Fire setting
  • Running away
  • Depression
  • Low self esteem
  • Poor social skills

 

10-12 Years

 

13-17 Years

  • Poor impulse control
  • Confrontational
  • Engage in pecking order battering with mothers or siblings
  • Align with abuser to avoid being a victim
  • Dating violence

 

As they grow, children form assumptions about the world in which they live. Is their world consistent and predictable or chaotic and unsafe?

Domestic violence creates inordinate stresses in a child’s life.

 

Every child responds differently to witnessing or directly experiencing domestic violence. This is dependent on their temperament, usual coping mechanisms, developmental stage, and support systems. Some children may respond with internalized symptoms such as regression and social isolation. Others may develop externalized negative behaviors that include nightmares, hyperactivity, aggression, and delinquency.

 

  • Studies suggest that between 3.3 – 10 million children witness domestic violence a year.
  • Children in homes with domestic violence are 15 times more likely to experience child abuse.
  • 50-70% of children exposed to domestic violence suffer from PTSD – more than Vietnam Veterans
  • Children who witness domestic violence are more likely to exhibit behavioral and physical health problems including depression, anxiety, and violence toward peers. They are also more likely to attempt suicide, abuse drugs and alcohol, run away from home, engage in teenage prostitution, and commit sexual assault crimes.
  • Children in homes with domestic violence may “indirectly” receive injuries. They may be hurt when household items are thrown or weapons are used. Infants may be injured if being held by the mother when the batterer strikes out.
  • As children grow into teenagers, they exhibit higher levels of delinquency and violent behavior than those in non-violent homes.
  • Because of the shame of shelter living, moving, changing schools, fitting in with peers, and making new friends, teens face unique challenges. This can result in never learning to form trusting, lasting relationships, or ending up in violent relationships themselves.

Children Witnessing Violence Fact Sheet

Witnessing Violence Fact Sheet

http://www.musc.edu/vawprevention/research/witnessing.shtml
Joanne Davis, Ph.D. and Ernestine Briggs, Ph.D
National Violence Against Women Prevention Research Center
Medical University of South Carolina

Introduction
Society has become increasingly aware of the negative impact of child abuse on children’s’ behavioral, emotional, and social functioning. Research has shown that children do not have to be the direct targets of violence to be affected by it. Indeed, the research on negative outcomes associated with exposure to violence has grown exponentially. Children may be exposed to various types of violence including violence in the media (e.g., television or movies), in the school or in the community, and between adults at home.

This fact sheet will focus primarily on children’s experiences of witnessing domestic violence.

What Kinds of Violent Activities do Children Witness?
The violence that children are exposed to in their homes can vary in frequency, duration, degree of reciprocity, and severity (Wolak & Finkelhor, 1998). Although domestic violence is typically thought of in terms of a physical assault, it includes verbal and emotional abuse, sexual assaults, and murder.

Edleson (1999) discussed the different ways in which children can witness or be a part of domestic violence (see also Ganley & Schechter, 1996). These include witnessing the actual violent events occurring, hearing the fight, being physically assaulted while near the mother during a violent incident, being taken hostage in order to force the mother’s situation, and being forced to participate in the violence.

Also, some children ribe coping with the aftermath of domestic violence as particularly stressful. After a violent t, a child may have to aid an injured parent, call the police, witness the arrest or removal of the offending parent, relocate to a shelter and/or cope with a host of persistent family stressors (e.g., poverty, substance abuse, mental and physical illness).

How Many Children are Affected?
Prevalence estimates of children who witness domestic violence vary widely. Some commonly cited figures suggest that 3.3 million children and 10 million teenagers are exposed to domestic violence each year (Carlson, 1984; Straus, 1992). Other studies suggest that approximately 20% to 41% of adults recalled observing domestic violence when they were younger (Henning, Leitenberg, Coffey, Turner, & Bennett, 1996; Silvern 1995). Differences in prevalence rates are a function of several methodological issues including age and geographic location of participants sampled, and retrospective versus prospective nature of the studies examined. Despite the variation in the prevalence
estimates, most researchers would agree that a substantial number of children are exposed to violence in their homes.

Correlates of Witnessing Violence
Children who witness domestic violence (i.e., violence between parents, guardians, or caregivers) are often referred to as the “forgotten” victims since interventions generally target the adult victim or perpetrator (Groves, Zukerman, Marans, & Cohen, 1993). Most of the research in this area sugge that children exposed to domestic violence are at increased risk for emotional, behavior, academic, and social problems (Kolbo, Blakely, & Engelman, 1996; Pfouts et. al., 1982). More specifically, children exposed to domestic violence may exhibit immediate and long-term problems with anxiety, depression, anger, self-esteem, aggression, delinquency, interpersonal relationships, and substance abuse (Carlson,1990; Jouriles, Murphy, O’Leary, 1989; Silvern, et al., 1995; Sternberg, et al., 1993). Moreover, children who are exposed to domestic violence may react in ways that fur augment their risk for negative outcomes. For example, some children run away from violent homes, which increases the risk of substance use, prostitution, homelessness, physical illness or injury, and victimization.

The Association Between Child Abuse and Witnessing Domestic Violence
Children in violent homes are at higher risk for being abused than children in non-violent homes. McKibben, DeVos, and Newberger (1989) found that 40-60% of mothers of abused children were abused themselves by their partner, compared to 13% of mothers of unabused children. In a study investigating the effects of witnessing domestic violence, Hughes et al. (1989) compared children who had ‘only’ witnessed violence, children who were abused and witnessed violence, and those who experienced neither. The investigators found that children who experience both direct abuse and witnessed violence exhibited the most symptoms, and the group that did not experience either exhibited the least.

Revictimization and Other Long-Term Correlates
Women who witnessed domestic violence as children may be at higher risk for being victimized in their own relationships. Experiencing revictimization may also lead to greater difficulties in the women’s functioning (i.e., post traumatic stress disorder, depression) as adults. In a study of 201 battered women, Sonnleitner, Basil, and Van Hasselt (1999) found that women who also experienced or witnessed violence in their families of origin reported greater depression and hopelessness. Silvern et al. (1995) found that witnessing domestic violence was associated with depression, low self-esteem, and trauma symptoms in adult women and trauma symptoms in adult men. Henning et al. (1996) surveyed adult women in the community and found that those who reported witnessing domestic violence as children reported higher psychological distress and lower social adjustment than those who had not witnessed violence.

Limitations of Research and Future Directions
Although the research on exposure to domestic violence is steadily improving, there are limitations and methodological shortcomings that must be addressed:

  • Frequency, severity, recency, type of violence, and other important characteristics associated with a child’s exposure to violence are rarely assessed and reported by researchers.
  • Child abuse and neglect often are not assessed despite the high risk in this population.
  • Most studies have included children residing in shelters. Although this is an important group to study, the chronicity and severity of the violence they witness may not accurately represent the range of experiences and symptoms reported by children exposed to less severe forms of domestic violence. Also, many of these studies fail to differentiate between children who witness violence and those who experience it.
  • Little attention has been paid to the demographic characteristics and the differential developmental needs of children exposed to domestic violence.
  • Most studies have relied on the reports of the primary caregiver rather than assessing the child’s response directly.
  • Few studies have differentiated between the effects of observing domestic violence and the impact of negotiating multiple transitions and family disruptions that are secondary to leaving an unsafe environment.
  • Few assessment tools have been designed specifically to address the impact of witnessing violence.
  • To date, there are virtually no follow-up, prospective, or longitudinal studies that examine the effects of witnessing violence.

Interventions
When domestic violence comes to the attention of others, interventions are typically focused on the adults. In the past, law enforcement and other social service agencies have not been equipped to deal with the diverse needs of children exposed to domestic violence (Wolak & Finkelhor, 1998).

According to Wolak and Finkelhor (1998), professionals serving the needs of children exposed to domestic violence should be prepared to provide: (1) crisis intervention (i.e., assess for safety; develop a safety plan; file an abuse report; and provide crisis counseling); (2) assessment (i.e., assess current functioning, suicide risk); (3) short and long-term therapy (i.e., gradual exposure, trauma processing, reduction of feelings of responsibility and self-blame).

References
Carlson, B.E. (1990). Adolescent observers of marital violence. Journal of Family Violence, 5 (4), 285-299.

Carlson, B.E. (1984). Children’s observations of interparental violence. In A.R. Roberts (Ed.), Battered women and their families (pp. 147-167). New York: Springer.

Edleson, J.L. (1999). Children’s witnessing of adult domestic violence. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 14 (8), 839-870.

Ganley, A.L., & Schecter, S. (1996). Domestic violence: A national curriculum for children’s protective services. San Francisco: Family Violence Prevention Fund.

Henning, K., Leitenberg, H., Coffey, P., Turner, T., & Bennett, R.T. (1996). Long-term psychological and social impact of witnessing physical conflict between parents. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 11 (1), 35-51.

Hughes, H.M., Parkinson, D., & Vargo, M. (1989). Witnessing spouse abuse and experiencing physical abuse: A “double whammy?” Journal of Family Violence, 4, 197-209.

Jouriles, E.N., Murphy, C.M., & O’Leary, D. (1989). Interpersonal aggression, marital discord, and child problems. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 57(3), 453-455.

Kolbo, J.R., Blakely, E.H., & Engelman, D. (1996). Children who witness domestic violence: A review of empirical literature. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 11(2), 281-293.

McKibben, L. DeVos, E., & Newberger, E. (1989). Victimization of mothers of abused children: A controlled study. Pediatrics, 84, 531-535.

Pfouts, J., Schopler, J., & Henley, H. (1982). Forgotten victims of family violence. Social Work, 367-368.

Silvern, L., Karyl, J., Waede, L. Hodges, W.F., Starek, J., Heidt, E., & Min, K. (1995). Retrospective reports of parental partner abuse: Relationships to depression, trauma symptoms, and self-esteem among college students. Journal of Family Violence 10(2), 177-202.

Sonnleitner, M.R., Basil, V.M., & Van Hasselt, V.B. (1999, August). Impact of early exposure to violence on battered women. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, Boston, MA.

Sternberg, K. J., Lamb, M.E., Greenbaum, C., Cicchetti, D., Dawud, S., Cortes, R.M., Krispin, O., & Lorey, F. (1993). Effects of domestic violence on children’s behavioral problems and depression. Developmental Psychology, 29(1), 44-52.

Straus, M.A. (1992). Children as witnesses to marital violence: A risk factor for lifelong problems among a nationally representative sample of American men and women. Report of the Twenty-Third Ross Roundtable. Columbus, OH: Ross Laboratories.

Wolak, J. & Finkelhor, D. (1998). Children exposed to partner violence. In J.L. Jasinski & L. Williams (Eds.) Partner Violence: A Comprehensive Review of 20 Years of Research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Working with Children Living with Domestic Violence

Grandville : Cent Proverbes

An image of a child being spanked by a man while in the background a woman is being hit by another man with a stick. Image via Wikipedia

 

The published research on children’s exposure to domestic violence focuses largely on two aspects of their experience: the trauma of witnessing physical assaults against their mothers, and the tension produced by living with a high level of conflict between their parents (e.g. Rossman, Hughes, & Rosenberg, 2000). As important as these factors are, they are in fact only two aspects of many complex problems that typically pervade the children’s daily life. The bulk of these difficulties have their roots in the fact that the children are living with a batterer present in their home. The parenting characteristics commonly observed in batterers have implications for the children’s emotional and physical well-being, their relationships with their mothers and siblings, and the development of their belief systems.

 

The Batterer’s Parenting Style

  • Authoritarian
  • Under involved
  • Undermining of mother’s authority
  • Undermining of mother’s parenting in multiple ways
  • Limited sense of age-appropriateness
  • Use the children as weapons
  • Good under observation
  • Tend to see children as personal possessions
  • Rarely improve post-separation (typically get worse)
  • High risk of child abuse

 

Batterers’ Risk to Abuse Children

Physical Abuse

  • 50-70% of batterers abuse children
  • 7 times more likely than an non-batterer
  • Correlated with level of physical abuse of partner
  • Other indicators: level of control, substance abuse, rigid belief-system, abused as a child

 

Sexual Abuse

  • 2-5% of batterers will sexually abuse children
  • 6 times more likely than a non-batterer
  • Correlated with presence of violence towards partner but not with severity
  • Other indicators: high entitlement, self-centered, use of children to meet his own needs, manipulative, seeing the children as personal possessions, substance abuse

 

Psychological Abuse

  • Generally present to some degree

 

From: MCADSV New Service Provider Training Manual and Resource Guide who cites:

The Parenting of Men Who Batter, and The batterer as Parent: Addressing the Impact of Domestic Violence on Family Dynamics by Lundy Bancroft, © 2002. Published in Court Review, Vol. 36, No. 2, 44-39.

(Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence) Survival Strategies of Children and Teenagers

Survival Strategies of Children & Teenagers

from http://www.lfcc.on.ca/HCT_SWASM_18.html

When faced with a difficult situation, children “cope” by coming to an understanding (possibly distorted) about what is happening and dealing with the flood of hurtful emotions. Their strategies can involve feelings (emotional), thoughts (cognitive), or actions (behavioural).

Some strategies are helpful

  • examples are seeking peers or supportive adults to talk about the feelings
  • young children cannot easily engage in healthy strategies and need adults to buffer them from the harmful consequences of family adversities such as violence

Some strategies are helpful but costly

  • strategies may be helpful during a crisis but not healthy in the long run, such as emotional numbing, self-injury, substance use, having a baby to escape the family, or being an emotional caretaker for a parent
  • these strategies can be a response to a variety of family adversities, including violence and maltreatment
  • an objectively helpful strategy may not “work” while some objectively unhealthy strategies did do
  • they help a child get through a time of stress or crisis, such as when there is violence in the home
  • however, if used after the crisis is over, or in other circumstances, these strategies may create problems
  • the longer a strategy is used, or the more effective it is in shielding a youth from overwhelming emotions and hurt, the harder it may be to extinguish

Once the family is safe, gradually extinguishing strategies with negative effects and replacing them with healthier strategies may be the key to helping children who have lived with family adversities such as violence.


These are some coping strategies commonly observed in children and teenagers who have lived with violence and maltreatment. Remember that coping styles vary with age.

Mental Blocking or Disconnecting Emotionally

  • numbing emotions or blocking thoughts
  • tuning out the noise, learning not to hear it, being oblivious
  • concentrating hard to believe they are somewhere else
  • drinking alcohol or using drugs

Making it Better Through Fantasy

  • planning revenge on abuser, fantasizing about killing him
  • fantasizing about a happier life, living with a different family
  • fantasizing about life after a divorce or after the abuser leaves
  • fantasizing about abuser being “hit by a bus”
  • hoping to be rescued, by super heroes or police or “Prince Charming”

Physical Avoidance

  • going into another room, leaving the house during a violent episode
  • finding excuses to avoid going home
  • running away from home

Looking for Love (and Acceptance) in all the Wrong Places

  • falling in with bad friends
  • having sex for the intimacy and closeness
  • trying to have a baby as a teenager or getting pregnant as a teen to have someone to love you

Taking Charge Through Caretaking

  • protecting brothers and sisters from danger
  • nurturing brothers and Sisters like a surrogate mother / taking the “parent” role
  • nurturing his or her mother

Reaching out for Help

  • telling a teacher, neighbour, or friend’s mother
  • calling the police
  • talking to siblings, friends, or supportive adults

Crying out for Help

  • suicidal gestures
  • self-injury
  • lashing out in anger / being aggressive with others / getting into fights

Re-Directing Emotions into Positive Activities

  • sports, running, fitness
  • writing, journalling, drawing, acting, being creative
  • excelling academically

Trying to Predict, Explain, Prevent or Control the Behaviour of an Abuser

  • thinking “Mommy has been bad” or “I have been bad” or “Daddy is under stress at work”
  • thinking “I can stop the violence by changing my behaviour” or “I can predict the violence”
  • trying to be the perfect child
  • lying to cover up bad things (e.g., a bad grade) to avoid criticism and worse

Handout for Women

How my Child or Teen Copes (pdf link to off-site page)

Help women use this sheet to identify coping strategies of each of her children (this exercise will not be helpful for babies, toddlers, or most pre-schoolers). Distinguish between those used in response to violence in the past and those still used today. The group can brainstorm specific ways to encourage healthy strategies.

Want to know more?

Alison Cunningham & Linda Baker (2004). What About Me! Seeking to Understand the Child’s View of Violence in the Family. London ON: Centre for Children & Families in the Justice System.

Rape Myths

Rape Myths
Myths are attitudes and beliefs that are prejudicial, stereotyped, and false, but are widely accepted. Many rape myths exist, but they tend to fall into three categories:
Blaming the victim
• Excusing the perpetrator
• Justifying the rape
Myth #1: The motivating force behind sexual assault is sexual desire.

Fact: Rape has nothing to do with sexual attraction. It is about power and control, humiliation, and degradation. Sexual violence is the avenue used to achieve these goals. One of the oldest victims at the YWCA was a 90-year-old woman and the youngest victim was a 6-month-old baby. The common characteristic between these two victims is vulnerability, Rapists target people they view as vulnerable. Both males and females can be rape victims.
Myth #2: Sexual assaults are perpetrated mostly by strangers outside at night (i.e. parking lot, back alley, behind bushes, or deserted area).
Fact: This is the stereotype of rape and does not describe the typical rape. In 86% of all rapes, the victim knows the offender. A perpetrator can be a boyfriend (57% of all rapes occur in the context of a date), a friend, relative, neighbor, or other acquaintance. Almost half of all rapes (42%) occur in the victim’s own home.
Myth #3: Physioal violence is always involved with a sexual assault. The victim will have bruises on their body if they were really assaulted.

Fact: Most rapes do not involve a high level of physical violence. Psychological strategies (i.e. intimidation, emotional blackmail, pressuring, threats, bribery, lying, and/or manipulation) are the most common techniques used by perpetrators. Most perpetrators will not utilize physical force until psychological strategies have failed. Most victims do not walk away with bruises, cuts, or torn clothing. Victims often do not look “battered.”

Myth #4: During a sexual encounter, a person can become carried away and unable to control his or her actions. Rapists cannot stop themselves once they become aroused.

Fact: Yes, men are capable of stopping. They CAN STOP if they care about or respect the other person.

Myth #5: You can tell simply from another person’s actions or way of dressing that she or he wants to have sex with you.

Fact: You can never assume what someone wants according to his/her appearance. It is an insult to assume that men have no self-control. An attractive person does not compel someone to ‘attack’ him/her. They may be attracted to someone but that does not mean they have to act on it.

Myth #6: Some people ask to be raped or sexually assaulted and are at fault for whatever happens.
Fact: People may make poor judgments but no one ever DESERVES to be a victim of sexual assault. Rape has nothing to do with circumstances or the victim’s reputation and/or appearance.

Myth #7: Women make up accusations of rape against men to get revenge.

Fact: False reporting is less than 2% (no different from other crimes). Rape is tremendously underreported.

Myth #8: Rapists are severely disturbed men.

Fact: Perpetrators may test higher on aggression and their tendency to use violence. Generally, rapists test “normal” on psychological testing.

Behind Closed Doors: Fear and intimidation tell the real truth about domestic violence

Behind Closed Doors
Fear and intimidation tell the real truth about domestic violence
By Judy Chaet
Sheila walked into my office; she was a bundle of nerves. She looked down at her hands, which were twisting a handkerchief round and round between her fingers. She had come back in to talk about her problem (she was having trouble sleeping and remembering things). The first thing she said was, “I’m not one of those battered women — he doesn’t hit me.”
Sheila and I met many times over the next six months. Her story came out in bits and pieces. It was true: he didn’t’ hit her, except for that one time — the time he broke her jaw, her cheekbone and her favorite mixing bowl (all over the kitchen). After that, he never hit her again. But there was the time he cut the cord to the telephone, and wouldn’t let her fix it — because she talked to her 85- year- old mother too much. There was the time he threatened to kill her twin sister, if she ever left him. There were the times he kept her awake all night, telling her what a lousy mother she was and that she couldn’t even keep the house clean. And then there was the time he hanged her dog in the garage, because she couldn’t make it stop sleeping on the sofa.
The thing about domestic violence is that it is insidious — it is, by definition, private and “behind closed doors.” The true depth and impact of the violence are almost impossible to quantify. Was Sheila a battered woman? YES. The number of hits, or who hit whom first, does not define abuse. It is, rather, a pattern of behavior. Was Sheila afraid of her husband? You bet.
The more telling point is who has the power — and who is afraid. One partner in a relationship may have been the one to “hit first,” this time. But what went on in the hours or days before that hit? Domestic violence goes far beyond the physical violence. It is also the coercion and threats, the sexual abuse, the intimidation, the isolation, the economic abuse, the use of the children as a threat (or to make her feel guilty). And, most often, it is the minimizing of that abuse – the denial and the blame.
The minimizing, denial and blame are all cruelly intentional acts designed to make the victim feel responsible for the abuse. Sheila believed that her actions were the cause of his violently abusive behavior.

We have all been taught from infancy that the well-being of homes, families and marriages is the responsibility of women. When there are problems in these arenas, we look to the women first: “Where was she while the children were doing that?”“Why does she stay?” These are the questions we are used to hearing, and asking. These are the questions that battered women ask themselves. And these questions are reinforced by everything that batterers tell their victims: If it’s her fault, then there must be something she can do to stop the abuse. But the truth is there is nothing she can do to stop the abuse:
it is the batterer’s intentional choice to batter.