Domestic violence hurts kids too

  • Published
  • By James Coffidis
  • 97th Medical Group
Children as young as preschool age are noted to be sympathetic towards a battered parent. Children can also experience a range of other emotions including fear, anger, and confusion about what is occurring in their home between their parents.

An estimated 15.5 million children are exposed to domestic violence in their homes each year. Just witnessing violence is enough to produce a wide variety of mental health and emotional problems. Children exposed to domestic violence can show symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, such as bed-wetting or nightmares, and are at greater risk than their peers of having allergies, asthma, gastrointestinal problems, headaches and flu.

They may also display poor social skills, low self-esteem, and even poor grades. It's hard to rest up for school when you are cowering in bed listening to the adults in the next room yelling and screaming and hitting. Babies in violent homes can suffer developmental delays and attachment disorders. Separation anxiety, regression and a variety of health problems are not uncommon later in life.

In addition, experts estimate 30 to 70 percent of children in abusive homes are also abused.  When children reach the age where they can easily access drugs and alcohol, they may turn to substances to numb the pain they live with daily. Problems children experience depends on their gender, how old they are when they witness the violence, how long it continues, and how severe it is.

Effects can start early. More than 300,000 pregnant women are abused each year, and a study by John Hopkins implicates this as a factor in low birth-weight babies, increasing the risk for neonatal and infant deaths.

Depression is not uncommon, and teens may turn to early marriage as an escape route. Unfortunately, some end up repeating the patterns they saw growing up, either as an aggressor or as a victim. Teen-dating violence starts at the average age of 15. Males who witness their father abusing their mother are much more likely to become abusers themselves than male children from homes free of violence. Another study looked at young women between the ages of 15-19 who had been murdered, 30 percent had been killed by their boyfriends or husbands.

In addition, some youth turn to truancy, running away, gang involvement, or criminal behavior, acting out in society the violence they see in their homes. A huge number of incarcerated adult males were raised as either victims of, or witnesses to, abuse in their homes.

Fortunately victims and their children don't have to suffer in silence as they once did. Over the past few decades, domestic violence shelters and agencies have sprung up throughout the nation, offering a variety of services.

Here at Altus AFB, the Family Advocacy Program provides treatment options for victims and abusers. Licensed clinical social workers can offer counseling, groups, support and encouragement. For assistance, or to report family maltreatment, call 481-5376.

To speak to the Domestic Abuse Victim Advocate, call ACMI House, 482-3800. Of course, if you are in an emergency situation, call 911.