Domestic violence can affect children in two ways: DIRECTLY and INDIRECTLY. Let’s look at each of these two categories:
– the violence is DELIBERATELY aimed at the child with the INTENTION of causing him/her harm
– The child witnesses the violence in the household (e.g. sees the father beat up the mother); whilst the violence is not perpetrated directly against the child, the child incurs psychological damage as a result of the experience
STATISTICS RELATING TO DOMESTIC VIOLENCE :
In the USA, approximately 1.5 million children per year are affected by domestic violence (although this is thought to be a substantial underestimate due to all the cases of domestic violence which go unreported/undetected). Shockingly, about 2000 – 5000 children will actually die as a result of the violence (figures come from The National Crime Survey).
Worse still, these are just the figures that relate to direct violence; millions of more children are harmed indirectly. The proportions, then, are truly epidemic.
WHAT TYPE OF FAMILIES DOES DOMESTIC VIOLENCE OCCUR IN?
All types of families are affected by domestic violence – no religious sector, ethnic group or socio-economic class are immune. However, it needs to be noted that children are more likely to be affected by domestic violence in families affected by :
– being a single-parent family
WHAT ARE THE MOST COMMON TYPES OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE?
The most common types are as follows:
– immersion in scalding water
WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ON THE CHILD?:
The effects upon the child are wide-ranging and may include:
– low self-esteem
– non-communicativeness/refuge in silence
– feelings of hopelessness
– feelings of being trapped
– academic/social problems at school, including failure to make friends
– feeling unloved/unlovable
– anxiety/exaggerated startle response/nervous behaviours
– aggression/fighting/hostility/destructiveness/abuse of pets/abuse of siblings
– avoidance of discussing anything about family with peers
– feelings of self-hatred
– irrational feelings of guilt/shame together with irrational feelings of being ‘bad’ and ‘to blame’.
DO CHILDREN WHO SUFFER DOMESTIC VIOLENCE GO ON TO PERPETRATE DOMESTIC VIOLENCE THEMSELVES IN ADULTHOOD?
Research suggests that about 30% of those who suffer the effects of domestic violence in childhood go on to perpetrate domestic violence themselves as adults.
The chances of this occurring are reduced considerably if the person gains insight into the effects of his/her childhood experiences had upon him/her through appropriate therapy.
WHEN IS PROFESSIONAL INTERVENTION APPROPRIATE?
It goes without saying that professional intervention is necessary if significant physical harm is occurring. Other indicators that professional intervention may be especially urgent include :
– the child’s physical/emotional/cognitive development is being adversely affected
– the child emotionally regresses (i.e. starts behaving significantly younger due to emotional distress – e.g. a fourteen -year -old who frequently has emotional tantrums more usually displayed in a four-year-old)
– significant, recurring, aggressive behaviour
– extreme social withdrawal
– the child is suffering from significant anxiety (e.g has an exaggerated ‘startle response’)
N.B. The above list is in no way exhaustive; indeed, some children may be suffering a high level of internal emotional distress which s/he suppresses making it less easily detectable. It is, therefore, always best to err on the side of caution.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)