top of page

                                        Domestic Violence Information
Effects of Domestic Violence on the Family “Trauma” can be defined as an event that threatens one’s life, safety or wellbeing and results in feelings of fear, terror and/or helplessness. All family members, from infants to seniors, who live with adults inflicting and/or victimized by violence witness some aspect of violence. They see, hear, feel and sometimes experience this abuse of power directly and the experience is virtually always traumatic. If they do not see hitting, they see the bruises and the fearful reactions. If they do not hear fighting or raging, they hear the cold silence. If they do not feel the impact of a punch, they feel the conflicting needs to escape AND to protect their loved ones. They learn when to go-for-help and when to keep-your-mouth-shut. They are, at the very least, constantly distracted. One path to safety might be to focus on the needs and wants of a violent adult, at the expense of the child’s own mental and emotional development. For example, if an adult caregiver isolates the child, the child’s ability to form close peer relationships and to interact with the world are very limited. If a batterer undermines children’s relationships with their mom, the children lose a chance for a positive relationship with a nonviolent adult. Verbal abuse can cause children to believe they have no personal strengths or even adequacy. Healthy development is seriously compromised. Violence creates longing for relief from fear or terror. Cycles of abuse can result in traumatic bonding, in that “…the person who brings the soothing relief is the same one who perpetrated the abuse. The typical response…is to feel thankful for the kindness, to be eager to forgive, and to form a belief that the abuser actually cares deeply for him or her…” (Bancroft & Silverman, 2002). “…(T)he victim is likely to come gradually to confuse love and abuse just as the perpetrator does, though for different reasons; the fact that loving behavior so often closely follows or precedes incidents of mistreatment causes the two to become traumatically linked in the victim’s psychology” (Dutton & Painter, 1993). Children viewing the world from a violent home environment often see at least one adult as immature, unintelligent, manipulative, and pitiful. They watch adults behave in frightening, controlling, inconsistent ways. They learn to keep family secrets and to feel ashamed. They feel the power of emotional abuse, heartfelt apologies and, all too often, the terrifying return to violence. “Family dynamics in the presence of domestic violence are shaped by a complex weave of factors involving the relationship between the parents, the relationship of each parent to each child, and the relationship of the family to the outside world” (Bancroft & Silverman, 2002).The Effect on Children Findings of 29 articles indicated that children who witness domestic violence are at risk for maladaptive responses in one or more of the following areas of functioning: behavioral; emotional; social; cognitive; and/or physical (Kolbo, J., Blakley, E., & Engleman, D., 1996). Research describes that child victims and witnesses of family violence (as early as infancy) are at an increased risk for numerous negative outcomes, including emotional, cognitive and behavioral problems. Compared to children who do not live in abusive and violent homes, those who do are more frequently found to have poor peer relationships, deficient problem solving, impaired frustration tolerance, and low academic performance (Erickson & Egland, 1987; Egland, Sroufe, and Erickson, 1983). During adolescence and adulthood, these same individuals are at an increased risk for violent behavior, substance abuse and, for females, victimization by their partners (Mullen,, 1996; Barnett, 1997; Jaffe, Wolfe & Wilson, 1990; Henning, 1996). Advances in medical technology are now allowing neuroscientists to document visible physical changes in the brain resulting from traumatic stress. Both adults and children exposed to violence learn to live in a war zone; the ability to practice very basic life skills can be slightly or significantly impaired. For example, there is little time for play or companionship with a caregiver, when that caregiver is preoccupied with basic safety and survival. A violent atmosphere can be created with words, posture and gesture alone. Physical contact is not required for psychological damage to occur. “The witnessing of violence and crime, where children are ‘secondary victims’…has a high risk of causing psychological harm (Martinez & Richters, 1993; Osofsky & Scheeringa, 1997; Osofsky, Wewers, Hann & Fick, 1993) and has been covered extensively in the child trauma literature” (Pynoos & Nader, 1988 as cited in David Finkelhor, and Kathy Kendall-Tackett in D.Cicchetti & S.L. Toth). Ironically, people involved in violent relationships might also be very high achievers. Efforts to avoid conflict in their own lives, at all cost, can be successful for some length of time. They do not recognize the painful impact of their daily experiences until they begin to leave home, in some manner. “Getting out” might leave them feeling invincible. Others might be in a chronic state of self-defense, perceiving threat from every angle and responding to protect themselves. Symptoms of anxiety, depression and stressrelated illness are common. If they do not resolve trauma and learn about the dynamics of power and control in relationships, they are likely to soon find themselves in yet another violent home. To a child, their violent parent remains a primary link to the world, and their relationship includes many positive aspects. “The complexity of a batterer’s behavioral tactics and personal characteristics often leads to an equally complex outlook The Effect on Family Although many adults believe that they have protected their children from exposure to domestic violence, 80 to 90 percent of the children in those homes can give detailed descriptions of the violence experienced in their families (Doyne, S., Bowermaster, J. and Meloy, R., 1999). Data & Evaluation Network: Report on Domestic Violence 15 on him on the part of his children” (Bancroft & Silverman 2002). These are often the kids who get in trouble at school, in the neighborhood, in the community. Their unruly or violent behaviors are sometimes outrageous; it can be difficult to see past it and recognize the painful origins. Boys who are exposed to batterers are “…more than twice as likely as other boys to physically assault their mothers” (Carlson, 1990). None of this exists in isolation. All families deal with the common and extraordinary stress of living, which is overwhelming at times for the most informed and non-violent among us. So, families being affected by violence are also managing: unemployment, floods, promotions, relocations, learning problems, addictions, politics, report cards, intrusive in-laws, tax levies, mental and physical illness, empty-nestsyndrome and everything else that affects any family. Domestic violence is not cured by divorce, medication, job changes, arrest, incarceration or any other single factor. The family is a complex system including multi-faceted individuals; each list of priorities and every solution is unique. The cost of family violence, on individual, family and community levels combined, is exorbitant. The potential benefit of recognizing what we collectively know and promptly adjusting our community’s responses accordingly, is infinite.Gender Trends: Women make up three-fourths of the victims of homicide by an intimate partner. Thirty-three percent of all women murdered (based only on solved cases) are murdered by an intimate partner. Women make up about 85 percent of the victims of non-lethal domestic violence. In all, women are victims of intimate partner violence at a rate about 5 times that of males. The majority (73 percent) of family violence victims were female. Females were 84 percent of spouse abuse victims and 86 percent of victims of abuse at the hands of a boyfriend or girlfriend. While about threefourths of the victims of family violence were female, about three-fourths of the persons who committed family violence were male (Family Violence Statistics, Bureau of Justice Statistics, US Department of Justice, June 2005).

bottom of page