Domestic violence: What about the children?

By Tara Rosencrance

Domestic Violence Advocate

Women’s Resource Center

The children of today live in a world of technology; most have cell phones, computers, video games, Facebook pages and televisions. We as a society often worry about their exposure to constant media and portrayals of violence. They see violence in video games, hear about it in music and watch it in cartoons and movies. The violence that our children are exposed to has been the topic of many conversations and much research over the last 10 years or more. We are concerned, concerned for what our children may become, afraid they may see violence as “normal” and “OK,” and we should be, but what about the millions of children who live in violent homes?

What do you think of when you hear the words Domestic Violence? Do you envision a man hitting a woman, leaving her bruised, possibly with a broken jaw, black eye, or broken bones? These are often the images we see in popular media portrayals of domestic violence. Truth be told, this is only a small part of domestic violence, and although one of the harder parts, most survivors of domestic violence will tell you it is not the hardest part to overcome. You see, domestic violence begins long before the “first punch is thrown.” A survivor of domestic violence once said to me, “I would rather he give me a black eye than say the things he says, because the black eye goes away, those words, they stay with me forever.” The best depiction I ever saw of domestic violence was a picture of a man yelling at a woman who was cowering away from him and from his open mouth came an arm whose hand was wrapped around her neck choking her. Long before physical violence begins in an abusive relationship, the victim has already suffered tremendously from numerous verbal assaults, emotional abuse, financial abuse and often sexual abuse. Domestic violence has been defined in many ways by many different people. I define domestic violence as a pattern of behaviors used by one person in a relationship to control and intimidate the other party in the relationship. These behaviors take on a variety of forms, things such as name-calling, insults, putting the person down, minimizing their accomplishments, taking away their access to money, isolating them from others, inappropriate or forced sexual behaviors, jealousy, blaming, breaking things, manipulation and finally physical abuse.

Domestic violence violates our expectations about safety, family and protection. In the United States alone millions of children are living in homes where domestic violence occurs, most often on a daily basis. Children are not just “witnesses” to this violence. They are engaged in problem solving, protecting, thinking, feeling, learning and worrying about what will happen next. The children in these homes often try to referee the fighting among the adults, try to protect the adult victim, distract the abuser, run and hide, take charge of keeping other children in the home safe, try to fight the abusive adult and make calls for help. These children are not passive in the violence; they are actively engaged in the turmoil surrounding them. The adult abuser often uses the children in the home as another way to control the adult victim; by directly physically or sexually abusing the children, neglecting their basic needs, blaming the child for the abuse and even teaching and encouraging the children to abuse the adult victim. The experience of a child who witnesses an incident of physical violence is traumatic. Their response can be either short or long term and can include a variety of reactions and behaviors. These children often feel unsafe, fearful, have low self-esteem and are withdrawn.

Most victims/survivors of domestic violence will tell you that they experienced fear, stress and felt powerless to end the abuse. Children living in these situations experience the same feelings. Children often feel as if the abuse is somehow their fault, that they can or should be able to stop it, or that the abuse is “normal” behavior. There are many services available to families who are experiencing domestic violence.

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