How does family violence affect children, both as witnesses and as victims?

A new public information campaign is needed to raise awareness of domestic abuse, a major new report will say this week. According to its authors, publicity modelled on past public health campaigns would raise the profile of the issue and make perpetrators think twice before abusing partners.

“What we are talking about is thinking about messages in the way health have done around smoking and alcohol and other things,” said Eleanor Schooling, Ofsted national director for social care.“I realise that domestic abuse is of a different order and so the way that message is put across is going to have to be worked through and would be complex because you would have to target difference audience in different ways.”

Schooling, a specialist working on family violence studies, has stated that around one in five children have witnessed or are witnessing domestic violence. In a class of 30 children, that is six children that are being affected. Schooling also said that the problem is long term, and issues surrounding domestic violence need to be found and eliminated. Currently, studies are being conducted to discover ways that reduce the perpetrator from committing acts of violence. This is important because in most cases, the family find it very difficult to escape due to finances or living circumstances. Research has shown that women are often expected to ask the abuser to leave the home, but the reality is that for most victims of family violence, this only increases the danger they face.

Yet research tells us that children should be protected from family violence.

Effects of Family Violencefamily violence, domestic violence, divorce, effects of violence on children

A child can be exposed to family violence through multiple ways. These forms include:

  • Hearing violence occurring in another part of the house
  • Accidentally or intentionally being the subject of violence
  • Stepping between the offender and victim
  • Seeing injuries, and being required to clean up the mess.
  • Helping a parent seek medical treatment
  • Being sworn to secrecy
  • Being present when services like the ambulance or police arrive

Family violence not only affects the children, but the relationship between the parents and children. The adult victim may no longer parent with warmth and may seem distant from the child. The perpetrator may increase discipline, make threats against the child or manipulate the child into being “on their side”. Saying things such as “If you hide Mummy’s phone I won’t hurt her anymore” and “Do the dishes or I’ll hit you” are only examples.

The victim of abuse may also change parenting tactics in order to prevent anger and violence within the family. They may no longer be able to provide to the children what they need due to the violence or stress being displayed in the family home. A victim parent may also experience depression or anxiety and find it harder to care for the children properly. Not only do children experience the direct violence from the perpetrator, but they also experience the side effects of abuse on the victim parent.

Effects violence – and the side effects of trauma and stress on the family – can affect children of all ages. Studies have shown that when violence is evident within the family, children often suffer from behavioural issues, depression, and anxiety. Children who experience family violence suffer emotionally and sometimes physically. Younger children may not understand why family violence is occurring, and this unpredictability makes them feel unsafe and insecure. Older children tend to worry for their parent and younger children, often feeling helpless as they feel unable to stop the abuse.

family violence, domestic violence, divorce, effects of violence on childrenYounger children may develop anxiety as the abuse continues and this can result in poor performance at school. Older children may blame themselves for the abuse, as they believe they may have said something to anger the parent. Some children may do well in school as they only wish to please the teacher in fear of retaliation. The way a children reacts depends on the form of abuse and the personality of the child.

Long term effects of abuse can be incredibly detrimental to both the parent and children. As children grow up, they may believe that abuse is normal in an intimate relationship. Children may fear the abusive parent to such a degree that they may side with the abuser. An abuser can play on this fact by putting down the other parent in front of the children and ordering them to listen. Sometimes, a child may be taught that treating someone with disrespect is simply how you treat others. Family violence can often be the cause for juvenile delinquency and can lead to violence later in life and the misuse of drugs.

A child learns how to react to domestic violence based on how the victim reacts. If the victim cannot speak up to say that violence is not okay, then the children may grow up learning that violence is simply a way of life. Teaching children that violence is not okay is important for their future relationships., and is just one important reason why family violence should not be tolerated.

Family violence is a tough and difficult topic to discuss. If you need any legal advice or are seeking help for domestic violence, contact Groom & Lavers today. Our friendly and experienced family lawyers will help you to obtain a protection order against your abuser, and to separate from the relationship.