“the Effects on Children Who Witness Domestic Abuse”

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“The Effects on Children Who Witness Domestic Abuse”

Domestic violence is a devastating social problem. “Domestic violence is about one person getting and keeping power and control over another person in an intimate relationship. It is a pattern of behavior in which one intimate partner uses physical violence, coercion, threats, intimidation, isolation and emotional, sexual or economic abuse to control and change the behavior of the other partner (Despres,2009). Domestic violence is not just hitting or fighting or an occasional mean argument. It is a chronic abuse of power and a need for control. In every state there are laws that prohibit domestic violence but they vary from state to state. Domestic abuse is widespread and affects individuals, families, and society in general. Domestic violence knows no boundaries (age, gender, and race, ethnic or socioeconomic background). Children who witness domestic abuse may suffer lasting effects such as psychological, emotional, behavioral, social and physical problems. Some states consider children witnessing domestic abuse as a form of child abuse or neglect. 8.8 million Children in the U.S. witness domestic violence in the home each year (Kilpatrick & Saunders, 1997). Children can witness this abuse in several ways for example, merely hearing a violent event, being an eyewitness, trying to intervene, being used as a shield to fend off an attack or just experiencing the aftermath. Other ways children might witness abuse are being forced to watch or being used as a pawn to make the victim stay or come back and keeping the “family secret” hidden. Research shows that 80 to 90 percent of children living in homes where there is domestic violence are aware of the violence (Pagelow, 1990). These are all so damaging to a child’s sense of self. A child witnessing domestic abuse does not mean he or she will automatically suffer negative consequences. Factors that affect the outcome are age, gender, time subjected to the violence, self esteem and outside supports. Also whether a child is out going or inverted, has any positive role models and the child’s intelligence all contribute to a child’s level of resiliency. There is a continuum; some children show no effects; others are severely affected. Research shows that brain chemistry is altered when children are subjected to domestic violence at an early age. Also this trauma can adversely affect the developing brain’s function. Physiological changes take place in the parts of the brain involved in stress response and adaptation to threat. Dr. Bruce Perry says that the brain works in a hierarchal structure, the lower part of the brain regulating bodily functions and mediating action and primitive emotions. The higher part of the brain is responsible for more complex functions and cognitive learning. The higher parts assist lower parts unless damage has occurred. When trauma has occurred, the higher brain losses its ability to inhibit reactivity of the lower brain. This is why traumatized kids are prone to impulsivity and frustration. The brain is the primary organ of communication. Positive experiences in childhood will promote learning and effective communication skills and positive attachments. Negative childhood experiences lead to children feeling unconnected and unable to communicate their experiences. These alterations to the brain affect the child’s development. The typical experience of traumatized children will be that of fear, threat, frustration and chaos, and they will have a fight or flight reaction. The brain organizes and develops as a reflection of developmental experiences. A traumatic event turns on parts of the brain that help a child cope with stress. When turned on for prolonged periods of time, other parts of the brain that are for mediating those parts begin to change. The brain begins to adapt to the chaotic environment. As a result the child becomes hypervigiliant (constantly scanning their...
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