Domestic violence is a problem that is continuing to grow in all countries around the globe. While the United States has programs that are designed to provide education, support, intervention and resources for women and children to leave violent situations, what is the impact for children raised in violent homes? What implications will their early and intimate experience with domestic violence have on their ability to progress and develop into healthy, productive adults?
The statistics are overwhelming, and the research studies directly link long-term exposure to domestic violence in the home with significant physical, cognitive learning, and relationship impairments that can limit the child’s success later in life. We will discuss some research findings, programs in place to provide intervention, and where the system is not getting children out of violent situations quickly enough, to minimize emotional trauma.
Children as Victims of Domestic Violence: The Facts and Statistics
At the root of American society is a desire to protect those least able to protect themselves, including women, children, and the elderly, who are most susceptible to physical violence and threats. However, when it comes to evaluating what is really going on behind the closed doors of American households, few people realize how significant the problem really is for children, who are the victims or witnesses of moderate to severe violence on a weekly basis. Did you know that:
More than 40 million Americans have grown up living with domestic violence.
- Psychological impairments as a result of witnessing domestic violence are equivalent to being the victim of battery and assault. Exposure within the home environment creates trauma that is equal in severity, and lasts throughout the child’s life.
- Research indicates that witnessing or being the victim of injuries due to domestic violence dramatically impede IQ scoring in school-aged children, who also experience higher rates of anxiety-related disorders, including post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
- The measurable markers for PTSD in children from environments of domestic violence are equivalent to those experienced by combat veterans, with the same lasting repercussions.
Mothers in situations of domestic violence stay for a variety of reasons, according to Denver assault lawyers. For some, the intimidation and psychological abuse by the partner immobilizes them into an emotional state where they are either unwilling to try for fear of repercussions, or unable to try, due to economic or transportation restrictions that make the logistics of leaving the home virtually impossible.
Cognitive and Relational Impacts of Domestic Violence on Children
There is a lot of academic discussion about the impact of domestic violence on children, where the child has been victimized and received injuries as a result of violence in the home. But increasingly, experts are evaluating the emotional impact of witnessing abuse within the home, even if they are never physically injured by it. Did you know that an estimated five million American children witness domestic violence every year, according to the Childhood Domestic Violence Association ? It is important to remember that the violence may be a periodic, monthly, or even daily occurrence.
The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia® Center for Injury Research and Prevention noted that exposure to family violence places children in greater risk of learned behavior, increasing the likelihood that children will grow up with a higher chance of becoming adult victims of domestic abuse, or perpetrators of domestic violence.
According to research cited by the hospital, abused females are 6.6 percent more likely to perpetuate youth violence, while male children are 11.9 percent more likely to exhibit similar behaviors. In young adult populations (teens), females are 10.4 percent likely to be more violent, while males are 17.2 percent more likely to engage in violent behaviors, physical assaults and verbal abuse of other people, including “date abuse,” stalking, and other aggression related behavior. Children raised in violent homes are 74 times more likely to live in a violent home as an adult.
The tragedy perpetuates itself into what is normally describes as a vicious circle of victimization. For children who have a history of being involved in, or witnessing, domestic violence, the repercussions can last a lifetime, impacting their lives, future relationships, and spouses, as well as the mental and physical well-being of their children. There is a far-reaching, reverberating ripple effect that continues for decades, seeking and creating new victims through trauma and learned behavior, with more than fifty times more risk of engaging in drug or alcohol abuse.
An important factor to remember is that children who witness violence (even if they are not harmed physically) are statistically shown to replicate the same behaviors in adulthood, as the victim or the perpetrator. Frequently, mothers who bear the brunt of the violence rationalize that their children are not being impacted, as they are not being physically abused. In actually, the result is the same, and provides the same psychological impairment and modeling, whether the child is harmed physically or not.
Education and Early Intervention Are Key
In all areas where children are served in healthcare, childcare, and supervision, there are mandated early intervention personnel who are trained to identify and take action where child abuse is suspected. A mandated reporter can be a doctor, school nurse, teacher, or a daycare supervisor, and it is a difficult job to collect evidence and then create a report that may have lasting implications on the family with regard to access and legal custody.
The “Committee on Child Maltreatment Research, Policy, and Practice for the Next Decade: Phase II; Board on Children, Youth, and Families; Committee on Law and Justice; Institute of Medicine; National Research Council” (2014) publication based on research by Petersen AC, Joseph J, Feit M, reveal that two barriers to early intervention exist. The first is the availability of mandated early intervention individuals to identify at-risk children, and the second is the limited accessibility there is to programs, counseling, and cognitive behavioral therapy supports to aid in the recovery of children who are found to be victims of abuse. Limiting the extent of emotional and physical injury, coupled with effective therapeutic treatment, is essential to stopping the repetitive cycle of abuse. But due to funding cutbacks and reduced resources, both essential aspects of intervention in America are variable at best, depending on the region and state.
By not providing resources to assist abused children, we are inadvertently creating limitless generations of victims, whose numbers will continue to grow over time. From an economic perspective alone, the future cost of administering legal, health and wellness, and psychological services to victims will outweigh the cost of preventative and recuperative community supports today.
The crime of domestic violence and child abuse is so offensive to society, and so humiliating for families who are caught in the cycle, that it is consistently swept under the rug when possible. No one wants to address the upsetting reality and statistics, but at the same time, everyone agrees that it is an urgent problem that requires resolution, particularly as the behaviors learned repeat in adulthood, perpetually creating more innocent victims.
Researchers, lawmakers, and advocates must continue to challenge federal and state administrators to allocate more resources to providing transitional support and education, and to addressing the problem of domestic violence.