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Domestic violence is perhaps the most rampant yet under recognized form of abuse in the society today. It encompasses physical abuse, psychological abuse, sexual abuse and abuse to pets and property. Physical abuse precludes beating, kicking and choking. Sexual abuse includes molestation, rape, exposure to sexually explicit material etc. psychological abuse entails threats, verbal abuse, derogatory comments and isolation. Domestic violence and society: Domestic violence has been reported in every society and in all cases women and children have been at the receiving end of the abuse.

In a survey conducted in the USA spanning 6000 families across socio-economic strata it was observed that of the men who abused their wives about 60 percent were equally likely to abuse their children. Other surveys have shown that women who are beaten by their husbands are twice as likely to abuse their children. Two-thirds of the abused children are brought up by battered women. Over three million children are exposed to sexual abuse by parents every year. In spite of over whelming evidence the society turns a blind eye to this grave problem.

Although there has been extensive research on the effects of domestic violence on children this documented evidence has failed to create the awareness required. Children are usually the worst affected in cases of domestic violence because most times they are incapable of expressing their trauma. Forms of domestic violence: Several psychologists have worked on the possible effects of violence at home on children. Many of them agree that the domestic violence is a Type-II trauma disorder wherein the abuse is prolonged over a period of time. The violence is inflicted frequently and over a prolonged period of time.

This is mostly in the form of beating women and destruction property which the child is a witness to. Other acts may involve threats, verbal abuse and intimidation over an extended period of time. All the above form of abuse generally imbibes psychological fear in children. In direct abuse the parent may kick, beat or hit the child with an object. Sometimes children also get hurt when they are caught between fighting parents and one of them throws an object at the other. Infants may be hurt if they are held by their mother when she is being beaten. In extreme cases the parent may sexually abuse the child.

Another form of domestic abuse less documented but wide-spread is neglect. Children are sometimes abused when they are isolated or intimidated as punishment. Sometimes abuse of an older child brings about great distress in the mind of younger children. This usually takes place in large families wherein the eldest child stands up against the abuser and is ‘punished’ for his behavior. The younger children feel a deep sense of fear and helplessness in such a scenario. Other forms of abuse like violence meted out to a pet or a favorite piece of property also affects the children witnessing the act.

In a nutshell the word exposure in all the above instances means seeing or hearing the actual abuse or dealing with the aftermath of the abuse. Effects of Domestic Violence on children: The Effects of domestic violence on children can vary depending on various factors such as age, gender, and emotional maturity, level of abuse at home, availability of external support, socio-economic advantages and religious leanings. The various factors are described in detail hereunder. Age: There is a tremendous amount of difference in the way children of different age-groups handle domestic violence.

The two important categories are young children (which include children who are toddlers to those who are in their pre-teen years) and teenagers. Young children: This group of children is unable to express themselves in the event of untoward circumstances in their homes. Younger children (e. g. , preschool and kindergarten) oftentimes, do not understand the meaning of the abuse they observe and tend to believe that they “must have done something wrong. ” Self-blame can precipitate feelings of guilt, worry, and anxiety.

It is important to consider that children, especially younger children, typically do not have the ability to adequately express their feelings verbally. Consequently, the manifestation of these emotions is often behavioral. Children may become withdrawn, non-verbal, and exhibit regressed behaviors such as clinging and whining. Eating and sleeping difficulty, concentration problems, generalized anxiety, and physical complaints (e. g. , headaches) are all common. Psychosomatic problems (aches and pains for no apparent reason) are common; these children’s eating and sleeping patterns tend to be disrupted.

Children who witness domestic violence can develop behavior problems, including aggression and violent outbursts. Teenagers: Unlike younger children, the pre-adolescent child typically has greater ability to externalize negative emotions (i. e. , to verbalize). In addition to symptoms commonly seen with childhood anxiety (e. g. , sleep problems, eating disturbance, nightmares), victims within this age group may show a loss of interest in social activities, low self-concept, withdrawal or avoidance of peer relations, rebelliousness and oppositional-defiant behavior in the school setting.

It is also common to observe temper tantrums, irritability, frequent fighting at school or between siblings, lashing out at objects, treating pets cruelly or abusively, threatening of peers or siblings with violence (e. g. : intimidation through threats), and attempts to gain attention through hitting, kicking, or choking peers and/or family members. Adolescents are at risk of academic failure, school drop-out, delinquency, and substance abuse. Some investigators have suggested that a history of family violence or abuse is the most significant difference between delinquent and non delinquent youth.

Many children in families where domestic violence has occurred appeared to be “parentified. ” They are forced to grow up faster than their peers, often taking on the responsibility of cooking, cleaning and caring for younger children. Many of these children are not allowed to have a real childhood. They don’t trust their fathers because of his role as an abuser and they may have been worried about what to expect when coming home. They learn at a young age to be prepared for anything. In 1995, the U. S.

Department of Justice reported that teenagers between the ages of 12 and 15 are victims of crime more than any other age group, and that adolescents of all ages are victims at twice the national average. Although some adolescents who witness community violence may be able to overcome the experience, many others are deeply scarred. For example, some report giving up hope, expecting that they may not live through adolescence or early adulthood. 33 Such chronically traumatized youths often appear deadened to feelings and pain, and show restricted emotional development over time.

Alternatively, such youths may attach themselves to peer groups and gangs as substitute family and incorporate violence as a method of dealing with disputes or frustration. Gender: Being male or female victim also affects the children in completely different ways. Incidentally, girls are more likely to exhibit withdrawal and unfortunately, run the risk of being “missed” as a child in need of support. Those boys who witness their fathers’ abuse of their mothers are more likely to inflict severe violence as adults.

Data suggest that girls who witness maternal abuse may tolerate abuse as adults more than girls who do not. Domestic violence exists in a “culture of silence” and denial, and of denial of the seriousness of the health consequences of abuse at every level of society. The fact that domestic violence against girls has long been considered a “private” affair has contributed to the serious gap in public health policy-making and the lack of appropriate programs. Other Factors: The effects of witnessing or experiencing violence at home vary tremendously from one child to another.

The attributes that give a child the greatest chance of surviving unscathed are “average or above-average intellectual development with good attention and interpersonal skills. Also feelings of self-esteem and self-efficacy, attractiveness to others in both personality and appearance, individual talents, religious affiliations, socioeconomic advantage, opportunities for good schooling and employment, and contact with people and environments that are positive for development. Short-term effects of domestic violence: In a nutshell the short term effects on children are:

• Blaming themselves for the violence • Experiencing sleeping difficulties, such as nightmares • Regression to an earlier stage of development, such as thumb sucking and bedwetting • Becoming increasingly anxious or fearful • Displaying aggressive or destructive behavior • Starting to withdraw from people and events • Becoming a victim or perpetrator of bullying • Starting to show cruelty to animals • Experiencing stress-related illnesses, such as headache or stomach pain • Displaying speech difficulties, such as stuttering • Misusing drugs and alcohol (in young adults).

Long-term Effects: While the primary and immediate focus for many people is the physical injury suffered by children, the emotional and psychological abuse inflicted by batterers likely has longer term impacts and may be more costly to treat in the long-run than physical injury. The long-term effects of child sexual abuse include depression and self-destructive behavior, anger and hostility, poor self-esteem, feelings of isolation and stigma, difficulty in trusting others (especially men), and martial and relationship problems, and a tendency toward revictimization.

Other effects identified include runaway behavior, hysterical seizures, compulsive rituals, drug and school problems. Children may develop behavioral or emotional difficulties after experiencing physical abuse in the context of domestic violence or after witnessing parental abuse. Responses in children may vary from aggression to withdrawal to somatic complaints. In addition, children may develop symptoms of depression, anxiety, or PTSD Depression remains the foremost problem, with 60% of battered children diagnosed with depression. In addition, such children are at greater risk for suicide attempts preceded by abuse.

Along with depression, domestic violence victims may also experience Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which is characterized by symptoms such as flashbacks, intrusive imagery, nightmares, anxiety, emotional numbing, insomnia, hyper-vigilance, and avoidance of traumatic triggers. Several empirical studies have explored the relationship between experiencing domestic violence and developing PTSD. Treatment of Affected children: Once children who have witnessed domestic violence are identified, professionals must assess the child, the family, the living situation, and the nature of the events the child witnessed.

Different recommendations may be appropriate depending upon the child’s age and stage of development, the nature and duration of the child’s symptoms and the impact on the child’s functioning, the child’s perceptions of and experiences with the violence, the child’s ability to speak about the violence, the safety of the child’s current environment, the presence of adults in the child’s life who can be emotional resources, and the influence of the child’s ethnicity and culture on defining the domestic violence and seeking help.

The most commonly used assessment technique with children who have witnessed domestic violence is a focused clinical interview that explores the children’s experiences with the violence, supplemented by data collection from various other sources, such as parents and teachers. Not every child will need individual therapeutic intervention. Some children are resilient, possessing a wide range of coping skills. Children who can acknowledge their traumatic experiences by talking about them may require different forms of intervention from those who cannot.

In addition, the presence of adult figures in children’s lives that can cushion the child’s experience of trauma and promote effective coping may reduce the need for formal mental health intervention. Importance of Preventing Domestic Abuse: Domestic violence needs to be dealt with a heavy hand both by the State and the various victim groups. Several countries have identified domestic violence as a brewing problem and have enacted laws to protect the victims.

Unfortunately these laws fail to accommodate adequate measures to bail out abused children. Hence identification of possible socio-economic groups with a high incidence of domestic violence and then ensuring the safety of those children is important. Children should also be educated about protecting themselves and resisting domestic violence. They must also be made aware of their rights and how they can use these rights to fend off abuse at home. A warm, non-judgmental, and loving atmosphere is required to keep children safe from domestic violence.

When appropriate, individual and/or group counseling should be considered at school if the family is amenable. Referrals for counseling (e. g. , family counseling) outside of the school can be made to the family as well. Children are the future and they must be nurtured well and away from violence in order that the world’s future is bright and peaceful. References: 1. Long term effects of domestic violence http://www. aardvarc. org/dv/effects. shtml 2. Domestic violence and children-

http://www. letswrap. com/dvinfo/kids. htm 3. Domestic violence http://www. rcpsych. ac. uk/mentalhealthinformation/mentalhealthandgrowingup/17domesticviolence. aspx 4. Violence against girls http://www. unfpa. org/intercenter/violence/intro. htm 5. Effect of domestic violence on children http://www. endabuse. org/programs/display. php3? DocID=150 6. Research on effects of domestic violence and children http://www. futureofchildren. org/information2827/information_show. htm? doc_id=70487

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