Domestic violence is an occurrence that unfortunately not only affects the abused and the abuser, but sometimes the children of such people as well. Approximately ten to twenty percent of children are exposed to domestic violence per year (Carrell & Hoekstra 2009). Webster’s Dictionary defines domestic violence as “the inflicting of physical injury by one family or household member on another.” (2014). As domestic violence usually occurs within a joint household, children exposed to it have little escape. This being said, domestic violence can affect children in a big way. This essay will summarize the history of domestic violence as well as its affects on children. It will also summarize domestic violence today, how it affects children, and it’s representation in today’s society while incorporating the opinions of professionals in the field. The aim of this essay is to prove that domestic violence has both short and long term negative effects on children that are exposed to it using both required readings and scholarly journals. As domestic violence awareness increases, the impact that it leaves on children that experience it becomes more evident. It is important to become aware of the affect it has in order to begin to reduce and even prevent the adverse affects domestic violence has on children.
Throughout history, domestic violence has been an issue that we have only recently began to take serious action against especially between intimate partners. In 1848, Elizabeth Stanton who is an advocate for women’s rights wrote the Seneca Falls convention’s Declaration of Sentiments. During the 1960’s a new feminist movement was acted upon when women were given access to birth control to limit the size of their families and pursue work outside of the home. With the movement seen as a positive move for women, concerns turned to women being abused within the family. Violence against wives is a right men exercised with impunity for centuries (Hart 1991). Physical violence against women was deemed a husbands right for the “well being” of women and their duties as a housewife. Domestic violence has strongly affected women in the past and was not until the movement in the 1960’s where battered women spoke out on the abuse and sought assistance. Severity of violence commonly increased during time of separation from the batterer who believes that he owns her. Between 50% and 70% of the men who victimize their wives also abuse their children (Hart 1991). Considering men being the primary economic caregiver for the family, battered women and children often compelled back into the relationship because of financial need. Women who found a way out of the abuse typically found themselves in poverty. In 1996, Statistics Canada recorded 901 cases of spousal assault. Approximately 80% of victims were women who were harassed after leaving the home by ex-spouses or intimate partners (StatsCan 1998). Stats Canada discusses incidents of spousal violence that had been reported to the police:
In 1996, almost 22,000 incidents of assault on spouses were recorded; 89% involved female victims while 11% involved male victims. Almost three-quarters of women (72%) were victimized by a current spouse. The majority of male victims of spousal violence (68%) were also victimized by a current spouse. In addition, 28% of women and 32% of men were victimized by an estranged or former spouse.
In recent times, we study the evolution of domestic violence over centuries and how the abuse can affect the family as a whole.
Family violence was a social condition long before it was recognized as a social problem (Barnett, Miller & Perrin 1997). Much like children who have been physically abused, those who are exposed to domestic violence are at risk for a range of psychosocial problems throughout their life supporting the fact that violence anywhere in the family may disrupt child development (Kitzmann 2012). For myself, I come from a family of divorce on both sides and can remember my parents screaming at each other on a daily basis from such a young age. This affected my life in a sense of fear when I myself am being yelled at or am in the presence of another argument. Children show a range or reactions when witnessing violence between 2 parents, most commonly becoming aggressive themselves. Although children who are exposed to the violence may suffer psychologically, emotionally, behaviourally , socially and academically, not all will show clinical levels of maladjustment but may still experience mild put backs (Kitzmann 2012), such as showing inappropriate attitude and feeling responsibility behind their parents’ conflicts. Just as commonly in Canada does domestic violence affect families world wide. Less developed countries face higher rate of abuse due to lack of awareness and support. Cross cultural research demonstrates that victimization is preventable rather than “human nature” (Eyler & Cohen 1999). Society views violence as rare and more surprisingly violence against women as non existent in low-violence cultures where gender roles are practiced equally. Parental income vs. domestic violence factor into other socio-demographics such as household income and education levels which have little impart on reported spousal violence (StatsCan 2009). Many battered women struggle to report abuse out of fear for her safety. A big factor in violence is the outcome of how violence and parenting relate and how victims are emotionally unable to parent after the abuse. When trauma is experienced for both the parent and children, it becomes difficult to play a stable, consistent role in the child’s life later resulting in the negative impacts that children develop from childhood experiences.
Since the mid 1980’s, the effects of exposure to domestic violence on children and teens has been an intense research effort (Wolfe 2003). Ongoing research suggests that children exposed to domestic violence suffer from different behavioural as well as emotional stumps. The exposure leads to an increased risk of depression and anxiety during early adulthood when developing new relationships. Domestic violence in the home directly affects children’s wellbeing due to a parents sense of frustration with their inability to protect their children and provide them with a safe environment. It is not uncommon for the parent to become over protective after over coming such circumstances, resulting in hardly letting the child out of sight due to fear of reoccurring violent attacks in public areas. The child becomes hesitant to turn to his or her parents after being in the presence of violence. This relates to the victim not being emotionally available and is critical to the child’s ability to cope. Traumatic events in a child’s life may vary results according to age and gender. Research suggests that boys as children demonstrate more externalizing behaviour while girls internalize their thoughts and feelings (Evans 2008). In contrast, adolescent boys tend to show more sadness while girls exhilarate feelings of anger. Most studies find that exposure to domestic violence has a negative impact on children interpersonally, emotionally, and behaviourally but have failed to find significant effects that carry throughout the affected one’s life. In not all domestic violence situations does it effect children in the same way. The environment, and the child’s own personality may either help their ability to cope or increase the risk of harm(Carter, Weithorn & Behrman 1999). Children are always at risk for psychosocial problems even when they are not the target of physical aggression similar to children who have been physically abused themselves suggesting that violence anywhere in the family disrupts development (Kitzmann 2012). Studies conducted conclude that younger children in the presence of violence are more at risk due to their lack of understanding and coping mechanisms. Research by experts give us a better insight to how the family deals with the situation in a theoretical outlook while studies are conducted inside a battered home and the after effects of victimization.
Expert opinions state that while children are exposed to the most severe forms of domestic violence, they themselves are more likely to become violent adults or delinquents. Although they are more likely to become so, 95 percent do not become delinquent or develop drug or alcohol addictions and 90% do not act out violently as adults (Weinstein 2002). Dr. Eyler and Dr. Cohen from the American Medical Association state that family violence usually stems from the abuse of domination and victimization of a physically less powerful person by a physically more powerful person (1999). Majority of these less powerful people are known as women and children, who lack the physical ability to protect themselves in a violent situation. Researcher Katherine Kitzmann conducted a study of 118 child witnesses to domestic violence which resulted in 63% of these child witnesses faring more poorly than a child who had no been exposed to inter-parental violence with problems included difficulties in socialization with peers and academic suffrage (2012). It can be said that majority of children in the presence of violence within the home suffer socially and emotionally on a range of effects at some point in their lifetime.
Considering the negative impacts that children have experienced due to exposure of violence