By Cheryl Bowdridge
Special to The PREVIEW
Domestic violence does not only take its toll on the victim. The effect that we see in children who grow up witnessing domestic violence is of great concern.
Three to 4 million children between the ages of 3 and 17 are at risk of witnessing domestic violence each year. Witnessing domestic violence can mean anything from seeing the actual violent act, hearing the fight from another room or even observing the horrible aftermath of a domestic violence altercation.
Whether or not a child is part of the physical abuse, they are emotionally affected. Children who witness domestic violence may show signs of anxiety, low self-esteem, depression, anger and, often times, temperament issues; the flip side is that on the outside, these children may seem well put together. They sometimes make good grades, are good students and even overachievers; however, on the inside, they are a wreck. Their home lives are chaotic and crazy. They are expected to keep the family secret and often times do not even talk about the violence in the family. They also often feel it is their responsibility to protect the victim and their siblings.
Children become aware of the tension in the home. For example, they may see the fear of the victim when the abuser’s car pulls into the driveway. Children in many cases will blame themselves, siblings or even the victim for triggering the abusers behavior. The children can become fearful and anxious. They may learn to align with the abuser for their own safety and can even become angry or lose respect for the victim.
The long-term effect of domestic violence on children is also something that researchers are aware of. Boys who grow up with a father that abuses their mother are more likely to use violence as a way to resolve conflict in their own lives. Girls who grow up watching their mothers be abused are more likely to believe that this is a normal relationship, therefore, allowing themselves to become victims. Children who were raised around violence are at a higher risk of drug/alcohol abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder and are more likely to be involved in criminal activity as adults.
Archuleta County Victims Assistance Program is a nonprofit organization that helps about 400 victims per year. That includes children.
We have several programs to help children who witness domestic violence not become the next generation of victims or abusers.
Expressions, our child play group, is perfect for children ages 5-9 to learn healthy ways to express emotions using fun games and art. We also have WISE Boys, a weekly interactive meeting just for boys ages 10-12 to learn about positive male role models, especially modeling healthy boundaries within friendships and future dating relationships. For teens, we have WISE Teens, also a weekly group for youth affected by violence in school, in their homes, or in their dating relationships.
To learn more about all the programs for adults and children, call 264-9075. All calls are confidential, with an advocate available 24 hours a day to answer your questions.