Children are often the overlooked and forgotten victims of domestic abuse. Powerless in a situation where one partner is abusing another, they feel frightened and vulnerable with no voice. Shocking findings of a recent study show that children are present during 85% to 90% of all domestic abuse incidents. And it’s not just physical violence that affects children: psychological and emotional abuse can leave wounds that often take a lifetime to heal.
Children get caught in the crossfire. It’s easy for adult victims of domestic abuse to think they are protecting their children, and that they don’t know about the violence, but this is seldom the case, because even very young children are extremely sensitive to their surroundings. They pick up on the emotions and moods of others and the atmosphere inside the home.
In some cases, children literally come between the abusive partner and their victim. Around 50% of children who are present during an incident of domestic violence end up being injured themselves. Sometimes the violent partner hurts a child to manipulate their spouse, or holds a child hostage. Sometimes children get hurt because they are just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The scars sustained by children who witness domestic violence have far reaching consequences, affecting them long into their adult lives. They suffer a damaging blow to their self-esteem, often blaming themselves for failing to keep their family safe. Others may learn unhealthy ways of relating to people from an early age. They may grow up to be abusive and antisocial themselves, or end up in a relationship where they become the abused party.
The relationship between the adults in a household gives children their first taste of what an intimate relationship is all about. This inevitably forms the basis of their own beliefs about what constitutes normal behaviour between two people.
Witnessing domestic violence robs children of their childhood. It places an enormous weight upon their shoulders – one that is too heavy for even most adults to bear. They are the unseen and unheard victims of domestic abuse.