Before engaging our minds in the topic 'impact of domestic violence on children', we must have
a clear and precise understanding of the term "domestic violence" itself. What does domestic
violence, in its ordinary sense, mean? The first step in overcoming the problem of domestic
abuse and its ill effects, is understanding what is meant by domestic violence. "Domestic
violence", or "intimate partner violence", broadly, can be said to be a pattern of behavior in any
relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner.
there is a power gap between the victim and the offender, i.e., the victim is usually dependent on
the offender. This power gap is what the offender uses to his advantage, while inflicting harm on
the victim. Abuse can take the form of physical abuse, sexual harassment, emotional abuse,
economic abuse or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence the other person in a
relationship. Such behaviors lead to frighten, intimidate, terrorize, manipulate, hurt, humiliate,
blame, injure, or wound the victim(s). Domestic violence cuts across people of all socioeconomic
backgrounds and education levels.
Regardless of age, gender, faith, ethnicity or sexual
orientation, anyone can be a victim of domestic violence in the present day. The general
stereotype among people that women are the largest group of victims of domestic violence, is indeed true and indisputable. However, men, children, the elderly and others living inside a
domestic setup, can also fall prey to domestic abuse at home.
While physical abuse involving causing hurt by hitting, kicking, burning, grabbing, pinching,
shoving, slapping, hair-pulling, biting, denying medical care or forcing alcohol/drug is the most
common form of domestic violence, other forms of abuse like that of emotional abuse,
psychological abuse, sexual harassment, or financial abuse might also constitute domestic
violence. Emotional abuse can involve name calling or verbal abuse, belittling one's abilities or
accomplishments, undermining one's sense of self worth and confidence through constant
criticism, or preventing one from seeing friends and family.
Withholding access to money, not
letting one attend school/employment, or making one financially dependent by totally controlling
one's financial resources fall under the category of financial abuse. Sexual abuse can take the
form of forcing one to have sexual intercourse without consent, demanding sex when one is sick
or tired, asking one to dress in a sexual way, hurting one with sharp objects while having sex, or
making one involve in having sexual intercourse with outsiders.
According to the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study led by the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention, exposure to domestic violence is one of the several adverse childhood
experiences contributing to poor quality of life, premature death, and risk factors for many of the
most common causes of death in the United States. In relationships or families where there
exists domestic violence, about three-quarters of the abusive incidents are witnessed by children.
Half of the children in such families have themselves been badly beaten in the heat of the
violence. The question which thus arises, is how are children affected by these acts of abuse?
How do these young minds react to such violence at home? As a fact of the matter, children, regardless of their age are affected by domestic violence and abuse. Even the unborn in the
womb can get largely affected by such violence.
Ordinarily, it is very upsetting for a child to witness one of his parents getting abused or attacked
by the other. Younger children or toddlers may start becoming very anxious. They may find it
difficult to sleep, start wetting their beds, have temper tantrums and behave much younger than
their age. They may also find it difficult to separate from their abused parents when they start
school. Older boys react differently to violence at home. They tend to express their distress and
frustration more outwardly compared to smaller children. They may suddenly become very
aggressive and disobedient to their parents and teachers.
Some of them might also engage in
risky behaviours such as having unprotected sex or administering drugs and alcohol. Drugs and
alcohol are common ways of trying to forget unpleasant or disturbing experiences from the
memory. They may have low self-esteem and have trouble making friends. They are also more
likely to indulge in fights with classmates or bully younger children at school. Girls, however,
much on the contrary, try to suppress their feeling of gut and distress deep within. They may tend
to withdraw from other people's company which leads to depression.
Girls witnessing domestic
abuse at home in their childhood are more likely to choose abusive partners for themselves in the
future. This is probably because a girl experiencing violence from the male partner of her mother
over a long period of time at home, might perceive a male partner to always play a dominant role
in relationships, where physical and emotional torture might seem to be very normal. When she
grows up to choose a partner for herself, such violence and abuse might not seem to be anything
wrong to her.
Thus, children of any age or sex develop symptoms of what is known as 'Post-
traumatic Stress Disorder'. Such children dealing with domestic violence and abuse at home
often perform badly at academics(or any other commitments that they may have). Their
frightening experiences at home make it difficult, or sometimes impossible to concentrate in
lectures at school. Resultantly, they end up performing poorly in their exams. Many times when
a child is worried about his or her abused parent at home, he or she might refuse to attend school
Each child responds very differently to violence and trauma faced at home. While some are more
resilient, some are quite sensitive. Factors like age and maturity of the child, gender of the child,
form and degree of violence witnessed, etc, play a big role in determining how the child would
respond to such violence. Although children can probably never forget what they see or
experience during the abuse, they can learn healthy ways to deal with their emotions and
memories as they mature. The sooner a child gets help, the better are his or her chances to grow
up to be a mentally and physically healthy adult. Thus we, as adults, must be aware of ways to
help such children recover, who have been witnessing domestic violence on a regular basis.
Children experiencing domestic violence need to feel safe in the company of their parents. The
presence of a loving adult is the single most important ingredient in helping a traumatized child
heal and build resiliency. The parent needs to spend as much time as possible regularly with the
child. Talking to the child about the importance of healthy relationships, letting him or her know
that it's not his or her fault would help him or her feel safer.
Making the child learn from his past
experiences and teaching him what actually are healthy relationships, would make him or her
know what is 'healthy' when he or she would be starting a relationship of his or her own. The
child should also be clearly made to know that just as no one has the right to touch his or her
body making him or her feel uncomfortable, he or she should also not touch someone else's body
without that person's consent, and if they're told to stop they should do so right away.
not only make them aware that they should not be touched without prior consent, but it would
also put them in the shoes of the perpetrator and make them realize themselves as to what is
immoral or indecent and ought not to be done.
The children should be provided with a safe environment which doesn't include any form of
violence or abuse. Such a controlled environment can be created both at home and school, where
the child needs to be kept under the watchful eyes of an adult. Any form of physically or verbally
aggressive behavioural habits such as hitting, name calling, yelling, swearing, etc should be
The child can be encouraged to develop good habits like creating scheduled
routines for different daily activities such as playing, studying, meditating, etc. He or she can
also be taught to inculcate good manners like sharing personal belongings with siblings and
friends, greeting people on meeting them, waking up early and going to bed on time, treating the
servants at home with respect, etc. These would go a long way in helping to discipline the child.
In addition to parental support, a child witnessing domestic violence can be taken to
professionals such as a school counselor, a therapist, a child care health consultant, etc. It is the
responsibility of a school counselor to report domestic violence or abuse as soon as they suspect
A child usually spends more time at school than he or she spends at home. When he or she
gets that extra emotional and mental support at school along with what he or she already receives
at home, it is immensely beneficial for him or her to recover from his or her past experiences.
Various types of counseling like play therapy, peer support groups, anger management classes,
and safety programs teach kids how to extract themselves from dangerous situations.
often use a technique called the Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), that is a type of talk
therapy or counseling that may work best for children who have experienced violence or abuse.
It is especially helpful for children who have anxiety or other mental health problems as a result
of the trauma. During CBT, a therapist works with the child to turn all negative thoughts into
more positive ones.
The therapist can also help the child learn healthy ways to cope with stress.
Apart from these mental health professionals, many shelters and domestic violence organizations
also have support groups for kids. These groups can help children by letting them know they are
not alone and helping them process their experiences in a non-judgmental place.
The non-profit group 'Center for Judicial Excellence', which monitors family courts, found that
more than 650 children were killed by a parent in a "divorce, separation, custody, visitation,
child support situation" from 2008 through 2018.6 Domestic violence crosses all cultural, socio-
economic, racial and ethnic boundaries.
It must be addressed as a public health concern and not
trivialized as a private or individual problem. Although awareness about the rate of domestic
violence in our society is increasing of late, the public health ramifications have only recently been recognized in the medical community.
The majority of the medical literature to date has
focused on the effect of domestic violence on the primary victim. It also needs to be brought into
light as to what effect witnessing domestic violence has on secondary victims, such as children
who live in homes where partner abuse occurs. What a child experiences at a young and adolescent age stays with him throughout his life.
Not only does exposure to violence at a young age harm the emotional, psychological and physical development of a child, it is also seen that as adults, children who have witnessed violence and abuse are more likely to become involved in a violent and abusive relationship themselves. This is probably because children tend to learn what they see their parents do.
A boy seeing his father treat his mother with cruelty learns to be violent on women. A girl seeing her mother getting abused by her father gets to learn that violence is expected in a relationship and is something that she just needs to put up with. However, this is not the case at all times. Many children don't repeat the same mistake as their parents and do realize that there is no place for violence and abuse in relationships as they grow up.
Children do best in a safe, calm, quiet and loving environment, whether that is with one parent or
two. Even if they are kept away from the actual scene of violence, they can sense the fear and
tension from the sounds they hear or just by having the feeling that violence is happening in their
absence. A child facing such violence at home, can have it very difficult to share his experience
outside. Even when he realizes that the situation is wrong and needs to be reported, shame can
hold him back from speaking out.
Having a trusting relationship outside the home can increase
the chances that someone affected by domestic violence and abuse will manage to freely talk
about his or her experience. Sharing the secret with someone outside the family is the first step in
breaking out of the cycle of violence and abuse. Professionals such as doctors, nurses, health
visitors, teachers and social workers are trained to keep watch for signs of domestic violence and
abuse. Victims of domestic violence can always reach out to them and they will work with other
professionals to keep their children safe.
In all cases of reported domestic violence, not only is it important to rescue the primary victim of
the violence, but it is also equally important to keep our children safe. Given their physical and
mental infirmity, children and the elderly are even more vulnerable to violence and abuse at
home than women.
Domestic violence and abuse is a crime and nothing should hold us back
from involving the police and seeking legal protection. We ought to always remember that a
strong relationship with a caring, non-violent parent is one of the most important factors in
helping children grow in a positive way despite their experiences. Through our love and support,
as adults, we can make the difference between fear and security, and can provide a foundation
for a healthy future for our children.
- What is Domestic Violence?� Government.nl
- What is Domestic Abuse? � the United Nations
- Alarming Effects of Children's Exposure to Domestic Violence(2019)�
Blake Griffin Edwards
- Domestic violence and abuse � the impact on children and adolescents
- Effects of domestic violence on children� Office on Women's Health
- The startling toll on children who witness domestic violence is just now
being understood� Jayne O'donnell And Mabinty Quarshie | Usa Today
- Witnessing Domestic Violence: The Effect on Children � Medicine and
- Children and Domestic Violence: How Does Domestic Violence Affect
Children? � Futures Without Violence & The National Child Traumatic Stress