Violence at Home Hurts Children
Back-to-school time often includes a new classroom, new friends, new teachers and a new set of home lives that can either have a positive or very negative effect on children's day-to-day activities.
For some children, that home life is one of violence and fear. Those who interact with children daily in school may be among the first to notice that something is amiss. Even if the child has not experienced physical abuse, the trauma of seeing a loved one abused by an intimate partner can have a profound and lasting impact.
While it is incredibly important to be aware of the victims of domestic violence, we should not forget the "unseen" victims: children. Like a virus, the effects of such abuse spread to all members of the family.
A Unicef report on the impact of domestic violence on children found "as many as 275 million children worldwide are exposed to violence in the home."
Abusers may use children to send messages or to make the victim feel guilty. There is also the risk that the abuser will escalate to physically harming the children in an effort to mentally and emotionally abuse his or her partner.
Research shows children who are exposed to domestic violence may struggle with a variety of emotional and psychological issues, including depression, anxiety, fear and a loss of self-esteem, just to name a few. They also may be prone to aggressive or self-destructive behaviors.
School-age children and teenagers also may struggle with academic performance and engagement. Some may appear to be overachievers out of an intense fear of failure based on pressures from the abuser at home. Older children may engage in drug and/or substance abuse, suicidal behaviors or criminal activity.
Physical responses to the distress triggered by witnessing domestic violence include headaches and stomachaches, bedwetting and a hindered ability to concentrate.
In general, children who are exposed to violence may be at risk for developing poor social skills. In the absence of positive examples in the home, this is not surprising. Studies suggest some children in such situations also may lose the ability to feel empathy for others. This could have adverse implications, because a lack of empathy may make it easier to engage in aggressive behavior.
One of the greatest difficulties children in these situations face is the internal battle they experience. Some believe they must keep this "family secret" to themselves. Others may feel responsible for the abuser's actions. These children act from a position of isolation and vulnerability. They seek attention not just because they want it, but also because they need it.
Unfortunately, exposure to domestic violence also increases the risk that these children will become the next generation of victims and abusers, perpetuating the vicious cycle.
Children deserve safe, nurturing environments to live in and we are committed to helping them get there.
Sue Villilo is the executive director of CHOICES for Victims of Domestic Violence, the only domestic violence shelter and 24-hour hotline in Franklin County. For more information about domestic violence and the organization, go tochoicescolumbus.org.