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Domestic abuse IS child abuse

April is National Child Abuse Prevention month. When most people think of child abuse they think of bruised and battered children.  They think of children who are locked in closets and punished too severely.  Or they think of children who are sexually abused by relatives or friends of the family.  This is all of course true and happens far too often to many children.  But often people forget that there are children living every day being emotionally, mentally, physically and sexually abused because they live in an environment of domestic abuse.

Some people think these children live in a vacuum and aren’t affected by what happens between their parents.  Although changing, this has been a belief among some judges, social workers, community members and adult victims of domestic violence themselves.  Often victims won’t leave until the abuser does something violent in the physical presence of their children or until the abuser does something physically to the children.  But what about the emotional and physical impact it has on the children even before it gets to that point.

Bureau of Justice Statistics show that an estimated six million children witness domestic violence every year.  Witnessing can mean more than just seeing the physical abuse.  It can mean hearing the abuse, seeing the aftermath such as blood or bruising.  It can also simply mean being acutely aware of the tension and fear that permeates the home when the abuser is present.  There are studies that show that being in this type of environment even affects the brain development of babies and can cause negative physical and emotional effects that last their whole lives.  As they grow children often feel fear, guilt, shame and anger.  They can grow up depressed and anxious and often exhibit symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.  These can include a heightened fear response, physical symptoms such as stomachaches and headaches and bedwetting.  It can negatively impact their ability to learn and do well in school.  It often leads to a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Disorder, eating disorders, self-harming behaviors and bullying.  All these and many others are very real consequences of living in a home where there is domestic abuse.  And let’s also not forget that children in homes with domestic abuse are also six to fifteen times more likely themselves to be victims of physical and sexual abuse than other children.  When educating victims of domestic abuse and community members alike  let’s be sure to talk about the very real and long lasting effects that simply existing in a home where there is domestic abuse has on these helpless victims.