In mere seconds, a domestic violence situation can escalate dramatically, leaving the victim squarely in fight or flight mode struggling to stay alive. Words, punches and objects are thrown through the chaos, which can last minutes or hours. But what happens to the child hiding in the corner? What happens to the child listening in fear from the other room? Even if never physically injured, children exposed to domestic violence are seriously impacted and faced with life altering consequences.
Domestic violence may include psychological threats, emotional abuse, sexual abuse and/or physical violence within the home. Children exposed to domestic violence suffer emotional and psychological trauma from the impact of living in a household dominated by tension and fear. These children see their mother endure physical abuse, threats or sexual assault. These children see the aftermath of violence including their mother’s injuries and her traumatic response to the violence. These same children may even be injured themselves trying to intervene to protect a parent or become manipulated by the abuser to hurt their mother.
The recently released Violence Policy Center report shows Oklahoma rose to No. 4 in the nation for women killed by men from No. 6 last year. This is a heartbreaking but not surprising statistic from our state which ranks 37th nationally in child wellbeing.
The impact on children exposed to violence lasts years after the abuse occurred. Some of the common reactions children have include:
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Generalized anxiety
- Difficulty concentrating
- High activity levels
- Increased aggression
- Increased anxiety about being separated from a parent
- Intense worry about their safety or safety of a parent
- Poor school performance
- Lower scores on verbal, motor and social skills
- Long-term physical health problems
- Behavior problems into adolescence (juvenile delinquency, alcohol or substance abuse)
- Behavior problems into adulthood (depression, anxiety and PTSD)
One of the most devastating outcomes for children exposed to domestic violence is the learned cycle of abuse. Children who see violence in the home often learn destructive lessons about the use of violence and power and may even come to believe that violence is, in some way, linked to expressions of intimacy and affection.
The impact will be different for each child and depends on a variety of factors, such as:
- The length of time that child was exposed to domestic violence.
- The child’s age when the exposure began.
- If the child has also experienced child abuse in the home.
- Additional stressors like poverty, community violence, parental substance abuse or mental illness.
- The family’s access to healthcare, education and social supports.
Children exposed to domestic violence are at a much higher risk to become a direct victim of child abuse. In fact, the more severe the abuse of the mother, the more extreme the child abuse is likely to be.
Fortunately, children exposed to violence are never beyond help. One proven method of treatment is trauma-focused therapy with a trained professional. Children also need a safe, stable and nurturing relationship with a caring adult in a safe space, free of abuse in order to overcome the damage and heal.
If you are concerned about the safety of a child who is being exposed to family violence, please call the OKDHS Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-522-3511. Reports can be made anonymously.
If you are experiencing domestic violence and need help, contact the Family Crisis and Counseling Center 24-Hour Crisis Line at 1-844-311-7233.