October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and this year, we are focusing on turning awareness into action.
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Children in abusive homes can experience the effects of abuse in multiple ways. They may be exposed indirectly to the abuser’s violent and coercive behaviors toward their parent by witnessing or overhearing the abuse, or by noticing bruises and injuries after an act of violence occurs. They themselves may experience verbal, physical, emotional, and/or sexual abuse.
Whether directly or indirectly exposed, children who are exposed to domestic violence experience the painful effects of abuse. Even if they themselves are not directly being hurt, they feel the pain and fear that comes from living with someone who is threatening and controlling. And since abuse and violence are learned behaviors, part of the impact on children can also involve them taking on the cultural beliefs that support domestic abuse. One study reveals that men who were exposed to physical abuse, sexual abuse, and adult domestic violence as children were almost 4 times more likely than other men to perpetrate domestic violence as adults.1
Abusers may involve children in a variety of ways, including:
Non-offending parents can help their children by being honest with them, and tell them that the abuse is not their fault. As parents seek support for themselves, they can also explore resources that will specifically support the children. Involving other caring adults can sometimes be helpful; whether they are living with the abuser or have left, these parents are usually working through many difficult issues all at once as they seek to establish and maintain safety for themselves and their children.
Some tips for responding to children who have experienced domestic violence:
1Whitfield, C.L., Anda, R.F., Dube, S.R., Felitti, V.J. (2003). “Violent Childhood Experiences and the risk of Intimate Partner Violence as Adults. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. 18. 166-185.