Effects of Domestic Violence on Children

Elizabeth Huffstutter, Psy.D.

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Domestic violence is any action by a person that causes physical harm to one or more members of his or her family unit.

According to statistics from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, on average 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner within their lifetime. One in three women and one in four men have been victims of some form of physical violence by an intimate partner. One in five women and one in seven men have been victims of severe physical violence by a partner.

More than 20,000 phone calls are placed to domestic violence hotlines nationwide in a typical day. Intimate partner incidents account for 15% of all violent crime. About 1 in 15 children are exposed to intimate partner violence each year and 90% of these children are eyewitnesses to this violence.

Arkansas serves about 453 victims in domestic violence shelters and programs daily. Over half of domestic violence homicides of women in Arkansas are committed with guns. Arkansas has the 5th highest rate of rape in the United States.

Domestic violence has a serious impact on children’s emotional, psychological and physical well being. Children may experience a number of short term effects including anxiety, sleep trouble, agitation, aggression, separation anxiety and intense worry. Prolonged exposure can lead to long term effects including physical health problems, behavior issues, and emotional difficulties in adulthood.

Children may experience self-blame, helplessness, grief, ambivalence, fear, dread, terror, worry, sadness, helplessness, shame and anger. The impact of a child’s reaction is effected by multiple variables including the length of the exposure, age of initial exposure, and if the child is also being abused. Additional stressors, such as poverty, community violence, parental substance abuse and mental illness also have a significant impact on children who are exposed to violence. A child having a positive social support network and positive coping skills can greatly decrease effects overall.

Beyond the emotional, physical and psychological damage created, domestic violence can become a learned behavior. A child growing up in this environment may think these types of behavior are okay to use to get what they want.

Children who live in households with domestic violence are at a greater risk for maladjustment than are children who do not live with such violence. Anywhere between 45-70% of children exposed to violence are also victims of physical abuse.

Often behavior and emotional issues of domestic violence and family violence will improve when a child and their caregiver is safe, the violence is no longer occurring and they receive support and specialist counseling.

What can you do if you or someone you know if involved in a violent situation? There are resources available for those in need. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7. For assistance in Arkansas you can contact the Arkansas Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Below is a list of contact information for various organizations that can assist those with need.

Resources for Families:

Arkansas Coalition Against Domestic Violence

1401 W. Capitol Avenue, Suite 170

Little Rock, AR 72201

Hotline: 1(800) 269-4688

Office: (501) 907-5612 Fax: (501) 907-5744

Website: www.domesticpeace.com

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence: www.ncadv.org

The National Domestic Violence Hotline: www.thehotline.org 1 (800) 799-SAFE (7233)

Dr. Huffstutter is an ArPA member and clinical psychologist for Miracle Kids Success Academy, specializing in assessment of children.

References:

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

National Child Traumatic Stress Network

Fantuzzo, J.W., and Mohr, W.K. (1999). Prevalence and effects of child exposure to domestic violence. The Future of Children: Domestic Violence and Children, 9 (3), 21-32.

Kitzmann, K.M., Gaylord, N.K., Holt, A.R., and Kenny, E.D. (2003). Child witnesses to domestic violence: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 71 (2), 339-352.

Overlien, C. (2010). Children exposed to domestic violence: Conclusions from the literature and challenges ahead. Journal of Social Work 10 (1), 80-97.

VandenBos, G.R. (2007). APA dictionary of psychology (1st ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.