In a Washington Post article from early February, the authors (two state attorneys) describe children who are exposed to incidents of domestic violence as the “invisible victims.” They write:
“As prosecutors, we have long noted with distress how often children are present when violent crimes are committed. Kids don’t need to be the target of the violence to be scarred by it. Ask any adult who witnessed domestic violence while growing up; decades later, he or she will still be able to talk vividly of the event and how it affects them today.”
Domestic abuse affects everyone — family, friends, and even the community. As highlighted in the Post article, children often are affected if they are living in a space where this is taking place. They become the ‘secondary’ victims of the abuse, whether it’s emotional, physical or sexual, and whether it takes place constantly or in isolated incidents.
Here are some interesting facts about children and domestic violence:
- Over half of female domestic violence victims live in households withchildren under the age of 12.
- Research indicates that up to 90 percent of children living in homes where there is domestic violence know what is going on.
- In a study of more than 6,000 families in the United States, it was reported that half of the men who physically abused their wives also abused their children. Also, older children are frequently assaulted when they interfere to defend or protect the victim.
- A child’s exposure to domestic violence is the strongest risk factor for transmitting violent behavior from one generation to the next.
- Childhood abuse and trauma has a high correlation to both emotional and physical problems in adulthood, including tobacco use, substance abuse, obesity, cancer, heart disease, depression and a higher risk for unintended pregnancy.
How Can I Help
One resource for learning how to assist children in these situations is Lundy Bancroft’s “Helping Your Children Heal the Wounds of Witnessing Abuse,” in which he shares ways parents can encourage their children to cope, heal and talk about the abuse they’ve seen.
If your child is witnessing abuse in your home, what you’re experiencing is likely made even worse by the worry and concern you feel for your child. It’s important to remember that both you and your children’s needs are important.
Have conversations. Let children know that it’s okay to talk about what has happened. Stress that abuse is wrong, but avoid criticizing the abuser if they are a parent or parent-figure to the child.
Remind your kids that the abuse is never their fault. Make sure that they know that you care about them. Children are extremely resilient, and while the impact of abuse can be long lasting, knowing that they have someone to depend on that loves them will help them heal.
Above all, proceed with caution and listen to your instincts. Tap into what you feel is best for both you and your child. There are often pros and cons of either staying with or leaving an abusive partner. It can be a dangerous situation either way. If you do decide to leave your relationship, consider when and how to best leave. Allow children to be open about their feelings in the process, and devise a safety plan (whether staying or leaving).
Call The Hotline toll free, 24/7 at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for more information about what you can do.