Family or domestic violence can have tragic consequences on all those involved. However, children exposed to domestic violence are often the most negatively affected by domestic violence and they frequently show symptoms of psychological and emotional trauma. It is estimated that at least one in every three women have been or will be beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime (http://therapistfinder.net /Domestic-Violence/Domestic-Violence-Crisis-Hotlines.html). Furthermore, physical violence is estimated to occur in four to six million intimate relationships every year in the United States (http://therapistfinder.net/Domestic-Violence/Domestic-Violence-Crisis-Hotlines.html). It is next to impossible to get totally accurate rates on domestic violence because many cases go unreported due to inconsistency in police reports, inconsistency in what is defined as domestic violence, and general lack of police intervention (http://therapistfinder.net/Domestic-Violence/Domestic-Violence-Crisis-Hotlines.html).
It is estimated that women make up three-fourths of the victims of homicide by an intimate partner; in all actuality, 33% of all women who are murdered are murdered by a current or former boyfriend or husband (http://therapistfinder.net /Domestic-Violence/Domestic-Violence-Crisis-Hotlines.html). In addition, black women, women aged 16 to 24, and women of lower socioeconomic status are more likely to be abused by a partner than all other races, ages, and social classes of women (http://therapistfinder.net/Domestic-Violence/Domestic-Violence-Crisis-Hotlines.html).
Since many of the women who are victims of abuse have children, the children often witness their mothers suffering terrible forms of abuse. In addition, it is estimated that between 53% and 70% of male batterers also frequently abuse their children, which increases the child’s involvement in the abusive situation and subsequent negative effects (Volpe, 1996). The consequences of this are staggering.
The negative effects are infinite and often include academic problems, agitation and anxiety, behavioral problems, clinginess, depression, distractibility, emotional numbing, extreme fear, flashbacks, feelings of guilt and not belonging, insomnia, irritability, low levels of empathy, low self-esteem, nightmares, obsessive behaviors, phobias, posttraumatic stress disorder, separation anxiety, bereavement, aggressiveness, revenge seeking, suicidal behavior, truancy, withdrawal, feelings of vulnerability and helplessness, and displaced violence (Volpe, 1996, Warner & Weist, 1996, and http://therapistfinder.net/Domestic-Violence/Domestic-Violence-Crisis-Hotlines.html). These effects vary from one child to another based on the child’s intellectual development, interpersonal skills, self-esteem, self-efficacy, talents, religious affiliations, socioeconomic status, opportunities in school and employment, and social support (http://therapistfinder.net/Domestic-Violence/Domestic-Violence-Crisis-Hotlines.html).
Moreover, many children in these situations are forced to grow up faster than most children their age and become responsible for taking care of younger siblings and domestic responsibilities such as cooking and cleaning, which dramatically interferes with their chances of having an otherwise normal childhood (http://therapistfinder.net/ Domestic-Violence/Domestic-Violence-Crisis-Hotlines.html). Also, since many women who are victims of domestic violence suffer from depression, preoccupation with the violence, emotional withdrawal, irritability, and other psychological stress, their children lack a positive, responsive role model and are often emotionally and physically neglected (http://therapistfinder.net/Domestic-Violence/Domestic-Violence-Crisis-Hotlines.html).
These mothers are emotionally unavailable and chronically stressed, which makes them unable to fulfill their child’s needs (http://therapistfinder.net/Domestic-Violence/ Domestic-Violence-Crisis-Hotlines.html). Additionally, children often develop distrust for their fathers or other males who are abusing their mothers; especially because abusive males tend to be less affectionate, less available, and less rational when dealing with children, which increases overall levels of stress on children and often results in the child’s sense of heightened alert when around the male batterer (Volpe, 1996 and http://therapistfinder.net/Domestic-Violence/Domestic-Violence-Crisis-Hotlines.html). Children, as well as their mothers, are also more likely to be isolated from friends and family in an effort to conceal the abuse (http://therapistfinder.net/Domestic Violence/Domestic-Violence-Crisis-Hotlines.html).
Many of the underlying causes of the symptoms children experience as a result of witnessing domestic violence are primary emotional responses. These responses include anger, rage, misery, terror, guilt, responsibility for the violence, fear of dying, and fear of abandonment or parental death (http://therapistfinder.net/Domestic-Violence/Domestic-Violence-Crisis-Hotlines.html). The expression of these emotions can take many forms. Often, children will exhibit psychosomatic problems, eating and sleeping disturbances, stifled emotional and social development, and severe emotional disturbances (Margolin & Gordis, 2000).
In a 1999 study from Johns Hopkins, it was reported that abused women are at higher risk of miscarriages, stillbirths, and infant deaths, and are more likely to give birth to low weight babies (http://therapistfinder.net/Domestic-Violence/Domestic-Violence-Crisis-Hotlines.html). In addition, children of abused women were more likely to be malnourished and have recurring cases of untreated diarrhea and were less likely to have been immunized against childhood diseases (http://therapistfinder.net/Domestic-Violence/Domestic-Violence-Crisis-Hotlines.html).
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is caused by an “exposure to events that are so extreme and life threatening, that they demand extraordinary coping efforts. Such events are often unpredictable and uncontrollable. They overwhelm a person’s sense of safety and security” (Volpe, 1996, p. 2). PTSD, which used to only be thought of as a disease that affects war veterans, has now been found to exist in many children that have been exposed to severe violence (Volpe, 1996). PTSD can be classified in two ways, Type I and Type II PTSD (Volpe, 1996). Type I is characterized by exposure to one single, short-term event such as rape, assault, etc.; Type II is characterized by prolonged or repeated exposure, such as chronic victimization through child abuse (mostly sexual and physical) or battering (experienced or witnessed) (Volpe, 1996).
Type II PTSD is often more traumatic and has a greater impact on functioning (Volpe, 1996). PTSD involves patterns of avoidance and hyperarousal, interpersonal and academic/occupational problems, and persistent re-experiencing of the event(s) (Volpe, 1996). PTSD emotional responses include shock, terror, guilt, horror, irritability, anxiety, hostility, and depression; cognitive responses include concentration impairment, confusion, self-blame, intrusive thoughts, low self-efficacy, fear of losing control, and fear of reoccurrence of the trauma; biological responses include sleep disturbance, nightmares, exaggerated startle responses, and psychosomatic symptoms and; behavioral responses include avoidance, social withdrawal, interpersonal stress, decreased intimacy and trust, and substance abuse (Volpe, 1996). Over half of children in domestic violence shelters exhibit PTSD symptoms; if left untreated, these children are at risk for delinquency, substance abuse, dropping out of school, and relationship difficulties of their own (Volpe, 1996).
The reaction to domestic violence varies from young childhood to adolescence. Young children typically think that the violence is their fault and may exhibit this feeling through withdrawal, becoming non-verbal or regressing verbally, regression in clinging, whining, toileting, and overall immaturity, eating and sleeping difficulty, concentration problems, generalized anxiety, and physical complaints (http://therapistfinder.net /Domestic-Violence/Domestic-Violence-Crisis-Hotlines.html). “Exposure to trauma, especially family violence, interferes with a child’s normal development of trust and later exploratory behaviors, which lead to the development of autonomy” (Volpe, 1996).
Pre-adolescent and adolescent children typically respond differently than younger children. Children at these ages have a greater ability to verbalize their negative emotions; in addition to many of the symptoms younger children show, children within this age group often loose interest in social activities, withdraw or avoid peer relations because of embarrassment of their home lives, develop rebellious and defiant attitudes, fight and lash out, abuse pets, and attempt to gain attention through hitting, kicking, or choking peers or family members (Volpe, 1996).
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