October is “Domestic Violence Awareness Month” (DVAM). This is a time to honor victims while increasing public awareness of domestic violence (DV) and its impact on the family. Domestic Violence is a global problem that will continue to have a tremendous impact on generations to come. The devastating effects of DV on women are well documented; 4 out of 5 women experience domestic violence. However, we are just now grasping the full impact upon the children. The children are the biggest victims; they carry the scars well into their future.
It is necessary to understand that domestic violence encompasses far more than just physical assaults such as punching or slapping. DV includes anything done to exert power and control over another individual including: physically blocking an individual’s exit from a room, spitting on them or at them, calling them abusive names, controlling their relationships, finances, and even their clothing. Controlling partners demand their way and will attempt to get what they want any way they can think of. Making veiled threats, standing over an individual in an intimidating manner, getting into their face, punching walls and throwing things are also forms of domestic violence.
There are serious repercussions for children who grow up in a home where they have witnessed or experienced domestic violence. Living with DV, has a profound effect on children. Children are significantly impacted by simply overhearing the physical or emotional abuse. Research shows children exposed, directly or indirectly to DV are more likely to experience behavioral, emotional, educational and social problems. Some of the children’s reactions include, aggression, antisocial behaviors, depression and anxiety. Other research shows increased levels of anger, hostility, disobedience, fear, suicidal thoughts, withdrawal, poor relationships and low self-esteem. Additional findings show that children who grow up in abusive homes are 15% more likely to be victims of child abuse. Sadly, without a change in the domestic violence cycle, many of these children will follow along in the same paths as the parents. These children have a greater prospect of ended up being abusive or being abused. This is one of the greatest risks for children raised in an abusive household.
To an outsider, it may not be understood why anyone would stay in an abusive situation. The abused adult may believe that by staying married, they are be able to provide good schooling, clothes and even enrichment opportunities for their child. Even if their child does not continue the abuse, the damage that is occurring daily to the child’s self-esteem is tremendous. The heart-breaking truth is their daughter is likely to have a future with a pattern of abusive males likely to insult and hurt her. Their son is at risk to grow up and repeat a pattern that he knows is wrong and he hates. The victim of DV will need to weigh their decision of remaining by considering their child’s future. There are some children who will beat the odds- but is that a risk you are willing to take regarding your child’s future?
For those parents willing to consider leaving domestic violence situation, they must also consider the fact that the greatest risk may occur when the victim finally stands up to the other parent and chooses to leave.
Considering a divorce is also scary because it may mean the possibility of less income, more work and, most of all it means having, to leave the children with an abusive parent. The parent may be thinking that they do not want their child to have the legacy of coming from a “broken home,” though the bigger problem is the fact that they are living in an “abusive home.” Keeping an eye on their children and their future as they weigh out the decision to stay or not to stay in an abusive environment is extremely difficult. Home should be a place that is both physically and emotionally safe for the children and the abused parent. In protecting themselves, they must also protect their children. Research certainly makes the decision to leave for the sake of the children even more complicated and certainly more frightening.
If you are in a domestic violence situation, seek professional help to determine the best choice for you and your children. Save their future by breaking the cycle of abuse. The situation is far too important for their future and the future of additional generations. Don’t wait until it is too late-explore the best option for you and your children sooner than later.
Susan Boyan LMFT