Domestic Violence affects all family members, including children and pets. Living with abuse is not only frightening to a child but it is unhealthy. Children may directly witness violence in the home, either by seeing abusive behavior or hearing it. Having children witness the abuse can also be used to threaten or manipulate a parent. The abuser may also use intimidation by threatening to harm or kill the children or kidnap them if the victim reports the abuse.
Some children may even mistakenly feel responsible or guilty for teh abuse -- if they acted differently maybe the abuse would stop or they could find a way to stop it. This is not true.
According to a study published in 2003, over 15 million children in the U.S. lived in families where intimate partner violence had occurred at least once in the past year, and 7 million children live in families in which severe partner violence occurred.
Children who witness abusive incidents between parents and relatives may become emotionally abused themselves. Very often, children are physically abused as well.
These are just a few ways in which children are affected by witnessing abuse:
- Live in constant fear
- Unable to establish nurturing bonds with either parent
- Greater risk for abuse and neglect
- Under increased stress to protect the parent being abused or keep "the family secret"
- Increased anxiety and low self-esteem
- Depression, anger, and temperament problems
- Shame, guilt, and self-blame
- Feelings of helplessness or powerlessness to stop the abuse
- Acting out, withdrawing, aggression, mood swings
- Isolation from friends and/or family
When working with children who have been exposed to domestic violence, trust is a major factor in the healing process. Children need someone they can talk to and understand what they are going through. They also need to know that someone cares about them and wants to help them.
There are numerous programs available to help children cope with witnessing abuse in the home. Art and music are ways children can express their feelings. WPS has several programs to help children who witness domestic violence in their homes.