Children are often the forgotten victims of domestic abuse. Where there are children in the family, 90% are in the same or adjoining room when domestic abuse is taking place.
Being in another room does not mean they can’t hear what is going on, feel the atmosphere in the house or see the effects of the abuse on their parents, either straight away or later on. Children need to feel safe in their own homes but can’t when they see the adults in their lives being hurt by each other or one parent abusing another.
If a child witnesses domestic abuse, the impacts are often much greater than people realise. The immediate effects of being scared and upset are traumatic enough for a child but witnessing it repeatedly becomes a cycle of fear which has far reaching effects on a young and developing mind.
The impacts on children who witness domestic abuse include:
Crying, anxiety and sadness, confusion, anger (which can be directed toward either parent or other children), depression, suicidal behaviour, nightmares, fears and phobias. Children can become introverted and quiet. In younger children and babies, eating and sleeping disorders are common. Children can also suffer from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
Aggression, becoming troublesome at home or at school, withdrawing into or behaviour (such as baby-talk, wanting bottles or dummies), lower academic achievements.
Bed wetting, nervous ticks, headaches or stomach aches, nausea or vomiting, eating disorders, insomnia.
But the impact doesn’t stop there. Often older children hold themselves responsible for the abuse, especially where extreme violence has been an issue. Children living in an abusive environment may go on to use violence or the threat of violence to resolve conflict in their own relationships.
Older children are more likely to have poor emotional wellbeing through adolescence, and have been found to have more behaviour problems and lower educational attainment. They’re also at higher risk of self harm and attempting suicide. So the effects are huge.
30% of domestic violence begins or escalates during pregnancy and domestic abuse affects babies even before they are born.
It is the prime cause of miscarriage or still birth, premature birth and physical injury to the developing baby.
Raised levels of stress hormones in the abused mother affects the development of the baby’s brain, resulting in psychological damage. Plus, the mother may have difficulty forming an attachment to her baby once he/she is born, which can have a lifelong impact on their physical and emotional health and wellbeing.
All children witnessing domestic abuse are also being emotionally abused. This is now recognised as ‘significant harm’ in recent legislation.
Though the impacts are great and children who witness domestic abuse are at increased risk of violence later in life, the good news is that not all children who experience domestic abuse go on to be abusers as adults.
This story can be changed. Children know that it is wrong and want it to stop too. Many adults who grew up with domestic abuse are against all kinds of violence and want to speak out.
Can you help end domestic abuse by speaking out about it? Lets not keep it in the dark. Talk about it and show your support here.
If you have experienced domestic abuse as a child or are concerned about a child who may be in danger, its not too late to get support here.