October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Monday, October 15, 2012

By Ruth Matsey

As we attempt to provide awareness about domestic violence and abuse, we are acutely conscious of the fact that children frequently live in these homes where abuse occurs. 15.5 million children in the United States live in families in which partner violence occurred at least once in the past year, and seven million children live in families in which severe partner violence occurred. (Journal of Interpersonal Violence. 18(2): 166-185.)

Children who witness family violence are affected in ways similar to children who are physically abused. These children are affected by the abuse in a myriad of ways. The child’s reactions can vary depending on the child's gender, age, and the duration of the violence. Some children are remarkably resilient.

Children exposed to family violence are more likely to develop social, emotional, psychological and/or behavioral problems than those who are not. Recent research indicates that children who witness domestic violence show more anxiety, low self esteem, depression, anger and temperament problems than children who do not witness violence in the home. The trauma they experience can show up in emotional, behavioral, social and physical disturbances that effect their development and can continue into adulthood. (http://www.acadv.org/children.html)

No member of the family escapes the violence of abusive relationships. When families are under stress they create children who are also under stress. We cannot continue to separate child abuse and intimate partner abuse. They so frequently go hand in hand. Some children, especially infants and toddlers in their mother’s arms, are attacked when the abuser attempts to hurt the mother. Other times the abuser abuses the child as well as the mother.

At Phoenix House, our transitional home for women and their children who are fleeing domestic abuse, we have noticed a lot of behavior difficulties with the children of the victims. The children act out their frustrations and anger. They are finally in a safe place where advocates are able to help them deal with their problems.

A wealth of excellent information can be found by Googling Jeffrey Edleson and children and domestic violence. Dr. Edleson has conducted research for many years at the University of Minnesota. He is presently Dean and Professor at the School of Social Welfare at UC Berkeley.

Ruth Matsey is the President of the Starke County Coalition Against Domestic Abuse and Starke County Prevent Child Abuse.

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