Studies show that 3-4 million children between the ages of 3-17 are at risk of exposure to domestic violence each year. U.S. government statistics say that 95% of domestic violence cases involve women victims of male partners. The children of these women often witness the domestic violence.
What does witness actually encompass? A child can SEE actual incidents of physical/sexual abuse and HEAR the threats or fighting from another room. Children can OBSERVE the aftermath of physical abuse: the blood, bruises, tears, clothing torn and in disarray. Finally, children are AWARE if the undercurrents and tension in the home with mother’s hiding the child when the abuser drives into the driveway or comes through the front door.
Children who are exposed to the battering and abuse become extremely fearful and very anxious. They are always on guard and waiting for the next abusive event to occur. A child never knows what will be the trigger for the next round of abuse – they tend to hide and make themselves small to prevent the abuser using them as punching bags once they have abused the mother.
Basically, a child feels worthless and powerless, particularly if they are young and cannot fight back. They are constantly on edge and worry about themselves, their mothers and their brothers and sisters.
Children who grow up with abuse are expected to keep the family secret, sometimes not even talking to each other about the abuse. Children from abusive homes look fine to the outside world, but inside they are in terrible pain and agony. Their family life is chaotic and downright nuts.
Children of abuse blame themselves for the abuse thinking that they have done to cause it or if they could just do something better, their parents would stop fighting. They internalize grief, rage, anger and frustration at not being able to stop the abuse. They are embarrassed and humiliated, especially if the abuse is known outside the home.
Children of abuse feel isolated and starved for attention, affection and approval. Because mom is struggling to survive, she is often not present for her children. Because dad is so consumed with controlling everyone, he also is not present for his children. ‘
Whether or not children are physically abused, they often suffer emotional and psychological trauma from living in homes where their fathers abuse their mothers. Children whose mothers are abused are denied the kind of home life that fosters healthy development.
Children who grow up observing their mothers being abused, especially by their fathers, grow up with a role model of intimate relationships in which one person uses intimidation and violence over the other person to get their way.
Most experts believe that children who are raised in abusive homes learn that violence is an effective way to resolve conflicts and problems. They may duplicate the violence they witnessed as children in their teen and adult relationships and parenting experiences. 1
Boys who witness their mothers’ abuse are more likely to batter their female partners as adults than boys raised in nonviolent homes. For girls, adolescence may result in the belief that threats and violence are the norm in relationships.
Children from violent homes have higher risks of alcohol/drug abuse, post traumatic stress disorder, and juvenile delinquency. Witnessing domestic violence is the single best predictor of juvenile delinquency and adult criminality. It is also the number one reason children run away. 2
1 Domestic Round Table, http://www.domesticviolenceroundtable.org/effect-on-children.html