Domestic violence is defined as emotional, psychological and/ or physical abuse of an individual in a family setting, taking place in a present or previous close relationship. Whereas the vast majority of research focuses on women who most often become victims of domestic violence, kids and men can suffer from aggressive behaviors of their families as well. Importantly, the experience or witnessing domestic violence has long-lasting effects on kids, their psycho-social wellbeing, social activity and relationship models for their entire lives.
The concept of domestic violence is broader than the extreme forms of physical abusive behaviors. It is important to acknowledge the fact that psychological and emotional abuse or even witnessing their mothers being abused may have adverse effects on a child’s development. Seeing their parents abusing each other is distressing for a child and might have long-lasting effects on their development and health. The specifics of abuse and victims’ reactions makes it hard to evaluate the prevalence of domestic abuse. According to some estimates, domestic violence comprises 25 per cent of all reported violent crimes (Carrell, & Hoekstra, 2009). Taking into account the fact that a significant amount of domestic violence remains unreported, it can be stated that the problem of domestic violence deserves serious consideration. Thus, some victims choose forgetting the abuse as their coping strategy. In other cases, victims may also blame themselves for the abusive situations or they may feel ashamed or embarrassed for their family circumstances. Therefore, victims can fail to recognize their experience of abuse and lack understanding of cause-and-effect relations between the events taking place in their lives. Thus, individuals who have experienced domestic violence in their childhood, are often aggressive towards their peers and behave badly in class, demanding attention from teachers and other students. The early experience of domestic violence often becomes the reason behind an individual being involved in bullying or cyberbullying, in the role of a victim or an aggressor. Generally, not only physical abuse, but also its emotional and psychological forms as well as witnessing violence in the family even without being involved in it may impact a child’s characteristics.
The consequences of childhood trauma are long-lasting and may have impact not only on a child’s psychological wellbeing, but even brain development. A recent research of the relations between brain development and a childhood experience of domestic violence has shown that young victims of domestic abuse can have permanent changes in their brain and neural system development (Kay & Brewer,2008, p. 25). One of the most important findings is that the exposure to domestic violence on kids age birth to 2 years can interfere the development of the central nervous system, as a result making a child more impulsive and more violent. Women who have been exposed or witnessed domestic violence before the age of 16 later reported a lower sense of attachment to others and problems with establishing positive relations in their own families. Furthermore, childhood exposure to domestic violence is often associated with depression, low self-esteem and other trauma-related symptoms in men and women. The evidence received from numerous studies have revealed a significant link between experience of verbal or physical violence and interpersonal problems, excessively nurturant or dominating behaviors in the future. In addition, witnessing marital violence in parents is the biggest predictor of domestic violence in adolescence or adulthood. Therefore, the experience of domestic violence may have irreversible consequences on a person’s development and entire life.
Forgetting and ignoring the instances of domestic violence is one of the most widely spread but ineffective coping strategies chosen by kids and their parents. Most mothers who were victims of domestic violence do not even realize that their kids witnessed it and realized it. During and long after the violence take place in their families, people don’t initiate any discussions which might increase their awareness of the situation and feelings of others involved in the domestic violence instances. Discussing the domestic violence situations with their kids, mothers can explain them that the violent and aggressive behavior is inacceptable, lessening the kids’ traumas at the same time (McGee, 2003, p. 97). Even though adults often deny it, children are always aware of the atmosphere in their homes and children have to choose certain coping strategies to go through the crisis caused by domestic violence involving them or one of their parents. Escaping and protecting themselves and other family members, children try to make themselves feel safe in their homes. Having an opportunity to discuss the unhealthy relationship and express their feelings is important for preventing the extreme cases, such as escaping from home or even committing a suicide. The importance of professional or parental psychological help for kids trying to cope with their experiences of domestic violence should not be underestimated.
The results of recent studies have revealed that the experience or witnessing domestic violence not only in its extreme physical forms, but also milder forms of psychological and emotional abuse, have long-lasting and often permanent effects on kids’ brain and central neural system development and psychosocial wellbeing. Appropriate coping strategies and social support are important to help kids to go through their experience of domestic victimization and stop the violence circle.
Carrell, S. & Hoekstra, M. (2009). Externalities in the classroom: How children exposed to domestic violence affect everyone’s kids. University of Pittsburgh, Department of Economics.
Kay, A. & Brewer, J. (2008). Designing treatment for children exposed to domestic violence. ProQuest LLC: New York, NY.
McGee, C. (2003). Childhood experiences of domestic violence. Athenaeum Press: great Britain.