Domestic violence can be a traumatic and devastating experience for anyone. Women in particular, who is often the victim in this situation, suffer greatly. Levendosky and Graham-Bermann indicate that victims of domestic violence suffer from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and increased incidents of anxiety. However, what about the children of these victims? What are these experiences like for them and what happens to them when they get older? The research conducted on the children of domestic violence has produced negative results. It is reported that these children face many struggles, not only during their childhood but affects their adult experiences as well. Consequently, the effects of domestic violence on children creates social and emotional problems, increased likelihood of suffering from child abuse, and increased probability of becoming abusive or victims of domestic violence in their adult lives.
Compared to those in nonviolent homes, “children who witness domestic violence have significantly higher levels of behavioral and emotional problems”, (Hubbard, 2009). Walfe, Crooks, Lee, Mcintyre-Smith, and Jaffe found that as many as 65% of children of domestic violence have emotional and behavioral problems. These problems include “decreased social confidence, lower self-esteem, increased behavior problems, and psychopathology”, (Levendosky & Graham-Bermann, 2001). The research suggests that these behavioral problems are stemmed from the abused parent’s, “psychological functioning and its own direct effects on children”, (Levendosky & Graham-Bermann, 2001). Children who witness the abuse of a mother often worry about the victimized parent and receive additional stressors from this. The child may feel as if they have caused the abuse or have done something wrong. This makes the child feel discomfort and anxiety that can negatively affect the child’s emotional well-being. These feelings of hopelessness may develop other behavioral side effects including, “increased fear…depression and aggression”, (Levendosky & Graham-Bermann, 2001). As a result, the child of domestic violence may have problems functioning socially, whether at school or interacting with others. With outburst, behaviors, emotional instabilities, and unable to receive parental support, children of domestic violence will seek other outlets to cope with their feelings. Boys, “may also begin to drink excessively, damage property, and behave violently towards younger siblings”, (“domesticviolence.org”, 2012). Girls too exhibit behavioral problems. Specifically, older adolescent females may “run away from home, abuse drugs and alcohol, and become sexual indiscriminate”, (“domesticviolence.org”, 2012). Consequently, these children are negatively affected by domestic violence in the home.
Other ways in which children are negatively affected by domestic violence is their likely hood of being abused. “Of 116 children suspected of being abused or neglected, 45% of mothers indicted domestic violence [in the home]”, (Hubbard, 2009). Other statistics indicate that, 28% of mothers abused their children while in a violent relationship; 6% threatened abuse and 5% abused their children when “irritated or angered by their abusive partner”, (Hubbard, 2009). Not only do these children witness domestic violence, they are often abused or neglected themselves. This is seen from both the mother and their violent partner. Violent partners may in turn become abusive to the child. The child from a violent home may suffer from verbal, emotional, and physical abuse. In some instance these children suffer from sexual abuse or incest. This may occur for a number of reasons. Hubbard indicates in his study that, “23% of the male batterers also were perpetrators of child abuse as well”. Some abused mothers admitted that, “their abuser threatened or attacked the children as a way to control and hurt the mother”, (Hubbard, 2009). Consequently, there is a significant relationship between domestic violence and child abuse. Studies suggest these children also suffer from neglect. Most children are left to fend for themselves, ignored, or do not receive parental support and guidance. Domesticviolence.org claim children are abandoned by their parent to give attention and support to the abuser. Giving time and attention to the abuser is a way a victim may discourage the abuser from being violent. Researchers also support the idea that a depressed mother may become emotionally withdrawn from the child and ignore the child’s wants and needs. These claims appear to be detrimental for the child’s development when living in a violent home.
Children who witness domestic violence are at risk to become abusive or victims of domestic violence. When a child grows up in a violent household, violence and aggression is part of their daily life. In turn the child may use violence when faced with challenges in order to cope with their feelings. Although girls have this probability as well, it is mostly seen in boys as they reach manhood. Domesticviolence.org states that violence is a learned behavior; consequently, “there is a real danger that children will learn aggression and that it will become part of their pattern of behavior”, (2012). Children who come from a nonviolent home are likely to find other avenues to express themselves as well as a stable support system. While many of these children learn how to talk out their problems and cope with their feelings, children of domestic violence do not. The ability to cope and handle stress was not instilled in their child development during the crucial learning period of their life. With no other outlet to handle their emotions, violence is their only stress relief. As a result, “children may take the learned abuser or victim role as an adult”, (“domesticviolence.org”, 2012). While boys are likely to become violent as men, girls are likely to become victims of domestic violence as women. “Girl’s whose mothers enact only the victim role will generally model this role themselves; [and] without intervention will become victims of violence:. During their adolescent years, girls will display violent behavior such as being aggressive with their peers, at school, and with siblings. Despite these findings, girls who are raised in violent homes may also be violent towards their domestic partner as well.
Children who have witnessed domestic violence, or come from a domestic violent home, suffer many adversities. This effects their childhood and also social and emotional development. In addition to increased anger and outburst, children are susceptible to become violent towards their partner or being victimized by their partner in their adult life. Furthermore, these children are likely to suffering from child abuse in the home. Although the child abuse may vary from neglect to emotional, verbal, physical, or sexual abuse, the negative effects of this can last a lifetime. Suffering from domestic violence is a detrimental experience for not only the parent but the child as well. As such, adults should recognize the warning signs and be unafraid to ask questions. Indicated during the research, these children will have emotional outburst, abuse drugs and alcohol, or display violent behavior. A teen, these children are likely to run away from home and females will display sexual promiscuity. There are many hotlines available in the local area that may help women and their children through domestic abuse. Domesticviolence.org offers a toll free number accessible anywhere in the United States. If you know anyone or think you may suspect someone is suffering from domestic violence, call 1-800-799-7233 to receive information and services.
- The effects of domestic violence on children. (2012, Feb 13). Retrieved from: www.domesticviolence.org
- Hubbard, R. (2009). The effects of domestic violence on children. In M. Ahmed (Ed.),Domestic Violence Cross Cultural Perspective North Texas: MCC for Human Service.
3. Levendosky, A., & Graham-Bermann, S. (2001). Parenting in battered women: The effects of domestic violence on women and their children. Journal of Family Violence, 16(2), 171-192.
4. Walfe, D., Crooks, C., Lee, V., MacIntyre-Smith, A., & Jaffe, P. (2003). The effects of children’s exposure to domestic violence. Clinical child and family psychology, 6(3),