Challenges for children who witness domestic violence
Advocates to End Domestic Violence
This column appears in the Nevada Appeal Tuesday health pages. It addresses topics related to the health of our community.
The Violence Policy Center recently released a report showing that Nevada ranks No. 2 in the number of women killed by men in a single victim/single offender incident. This report makes us wonder, how many children were involved in these incidents, and are they receiving the intervention and support they need to process and heal from what they’ve witnessed?
It is estimated that between 3.3 million and 10 million children witness some form of domestic violence each year. Men who witnessed domestic violence as children are twice as likely to be abusive toward their wives than men who did not witness abuse. Woman who witnessed abuse as children are much more likely to accept abusive behavior from a spouse than women who did not. Thirty to sixty percent of domestic violence abusers also abuse children living in the home. Children who experience domestic violence are 15 times more likely to become victims of sexual or physical assault than the national average.
The impact of witnessing domestic violence varies from child to child, but in our shelter, we often see children who are withdrawn, aggressive, hostile, anxious, and developmentally delayed. Many children have insomnia, wet the bed, and have frequent nightmares, all of which will affect their ability to make friends, concentrate in school, and develop confidence.
The road to healing usually starts with the child seeing that his/her mom is safe. Once a victim is out of immediate danger, it is critical to start mending their relationship with their children. Many of these survivors obviously love their children, but have been so focused on survival that they lack the knowledge and skills that they need to raise healthy, well-adjusted children. Advocates to End Domestic Violence offers services such as parenting classes and assistance with almost any parenting task that an abused person needs; whether it be enrolling their kids in a new school, helping them navigate the legal system, or taking a trip to the grocery store to show them how to get their children to behave in public. Survivors will slowly become more confident in their abilities as a parent.
Group and individual therapy sessions are usually necessary to help these children sort through and normalize their experiences so they don’t feel so isolated. Children may blame themselves, their non-abusive parent or the police and are often conflicted with feelings of anger and love for their abusive parent. Therapy plays a vital role in the emotional healing for children and their parent alike.
As scary as it may be to decide to stay at a shelter, it may be the best place for a survivor and their children to get the support and resources that they need to break the cycle of abuse.