The Effects Of Domestic Abuse Can Have On Children

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Domestic violence is the physical, emotional, sexual, financial or mental abuse of one person by another within close, intimate or family relationship

This morning I was at a “Stop Violence Against Women “ conference  in Kilkenny . It was very well attended by many local organisations including “Amber Women’s Refuge”, The Kilkenny Rape Crisis Centre, several Family Resource Centres, The Men’s Development Network + White Ribbon Campaign,

The domestic violence statistics are shocking and sadly it’s still a massive issue in our society. We still live in a patriarchal society where women are the main victims of abuse and sexual exploitation.

How many children witness the abuse of their mothers?

Studies show In Ireland , 1: 4 women will experience domestic violence at some time in their lives.. 1:2 women who are killed annually are murdered by their partner. The vast majority of those women have children between the ages of 3-17 and they too are at risk of exposure to domestic violence each year. There were approximately 3000 Irish children in some kind of safe accommodation during 2014. 1:8 women presenting at the National Maternity Hospital have bruises on their bodies many to the belly area. Non - national women are also at high risk of domestic abuse but less likely to report it. Statistics say that 95% of domestic violence cases involve women victims of male partners. We know that the figures are probably higher because of reluctance to report incidents. The children of these women often witness the domestic violence.


On one day in 2014 there were 475 women seeking help and most had children. In 2014 nearly 500 requests for refuge could not be met because of lack of facilities……and there were nearly 50,000 help-line calls……. These are real and shocking figures.

Witnessing can mean SEEING actual incidents of physical/and or sexual abuse. It can mean HEARING threats or fighting noises from another room. Children may also OBSERVE the aftermath of physical abuse such as blood, bruises, tears, torn clothing, and broken items. Finally children may be AWARE of the tension in the home such as their mother’s fearfulness when the abuser’s car pulls into the driveway.
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What are the feelings of children who are exposed to battering?

Children who are exposed to battering become fearful and anxious. They are always on guard, watching and waiting for the next event to occur. They never know what will trigger the abuse, and therefore, they never feel safe. They are always worried for themselves, their mother, and their siblings. They may feel worthless and powerless.
Children who grow up with abuse are expected to keep the family secret, sometimes not even talking to each other about the abuse. Children from abusive homes can look fine to the outside world, but inside they are in terrible pain. Their families are chaotic and crazy. They may blame themselves for the abuse thinking if they had not done or said a particular thing, the abuse would not have occurred. They may also become angry at their siblings or their mother for triggering the abuse. They may feel rage, embarrassment, and humiliation.

Children of abuse feel isolated and vulnerable. They are starved for attention, affection and approval. Because mom is struggling to survive, she is often not present for her children. Because Dad is so consumed with controlling everyone, he also is not present for his children. These children become physically, emotionally and psychologically abandoned.

What behaviours do children who witness domestic violence exhibit?
The emotional responses of children who witness domestic abuse may include fear, guilt, shame, sleep disturbances, sadness, depression, and anger (at both the abuser for the violence and at the mother for being unable to prevent the violence).

Physical responses may include stomach-aches and/or headaches, bedwetting, and loss of ability to concentrate. Some children may also experience physical or sexual abuse or neglect. Others may be injured while trying to intervene on behalf of their mother or a sibling.

The behavioural responses of children who witness domestic violence may include acting out, withdrawal, or anxiousness to please. The children may exhibit signs of anxiety and have a short attention span which may result in poor school performance and attendance. They may experience developmental delays in speech, motor or cognitive skills. They may also use violence to express themselves displaying increased aggression with peers or mother. They can become self-injuring.

What are the long-term effects on children who witness domestic violence?

Whether or not children are physically abused, they often suffer emotional and psychological trauma from living in homes where their fathers abuse their mothers. Children whose mothers are abused are denied the kind of home life that fosters healthy development. Children who grow up observing their mothers being abused, especially by their fathers, grow up with a role model of intimate relationships in which one person uses intimidation and violence over the other person to get their way. Because children have a natural tendency to identify with strength, they may ally themselves with the abuser and lose respect for their seemingly helpless mother. Abusers typically play into this by putting the mother down in front of her children and telling them that their mother is “crazy” or “stupid” and that they do not have to listen to her. Seeing their mothers treated with enormous disrespect, teaches children that they can disrespect women the way their fathers do.

Most experts believe that children who are raised in abusive homes learn that violence is an effective way to resolve conflicts and problems. They may replicate the violence they witnessed as children in their teen and adult relationships and parenting experiences. Boys who witness their mothers’ abuse are more likely to batter their female partners as adults than boys raised in nonviolent homes. For girls, adolescence may result in the belief that threats and violence are the norm in relationships.

Children from violent homes have higher risks of alcohol/drug abuse, post- traumatic stress disorder, and juvenile delinquency. Witnessing domestic violence is the single best predictor of juvenile delinquency and adult criminality. It is also the number one reason children run away.

Conferences such as this one today in Kilkenny are important but sadly 90% of the delegates were as usual, women. The White Ribbon campaign is a men’s initiative for men to combat domestic violence (See www.whiteribbon.ie). There are now 16 days of campaigning on this issue. If you know anyone who you know is experiencing domestic abuse or you suspect is suffering from this, please encourage them to break the cycle and get help for themselves and their children. One’s home needs to be a sanctuary of peace and calm not a battleground if normal healthy relationships are to thrive and parents are to be positive role models for their children.

If you or anyone you know are/have experienced domestic abuse in it's many forms, do contact Women's Aid Tel: 1800 341 900 and seek help.

1 comment:

  1. As a man, I experienced many years of abuse from my estranged wife, and was treated badly by the gardai and social services. Now her abusive attention is focused on our son, and she can abuse with impunity

    ReplyDelete