Domestic Violence Awareness Month: Children particularly vulnerable

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By Ashley Wilson | Rise Above Violence

Children are particularly vulnerable as both victims of, and witnesses to, domestic violence, sexual abuse and sexual assault. In order to break the cycle of violence, we must intervene and provide services. 

Rise Above Violence provides violence prevention education to youth in our community and when a child or youth is exposed to domestic violence our advocates provide supportive services to both the child and the supporting parent.

“Every1 Knows Some1,” and that someone might be a child or youth. 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. Each year, 3 million to 4 million children between the ages of 3 and 17 are at risk of witnessing domestic violence. 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, oftentimes, 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 oftentimes do not even talk about the violence among 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 abuser’s behavior. The children can become fearful and anxious. They may learn to align with the abuser for their own safety and a lot of times will 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 who 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.

According to The National Network to End Domestic Violence, approximately 26 percent of children under the age of 18 are exposed to domestic violence in their lifetime. A total of 8.5 million girls and 1.5 million boys are sexually abused before the age of 18. Children exposed to violence are more likely to attempt suicide, abuse drugs and alcohol, run away from home, become victims of trafficking and commit sexual assault crimes. And, 12.9 percent of male victims of stalking reported that the stalking happened prior to age 18.

Rise provides violence prevention education to around 800 students every year in our community including healthy relationship education, Internet safety and anti-bullying curriculums. We know that one way to help break the cycle is to arm our youth with knowledge about what healthy relationships look like because many of them may not have an example of one in their own lives. Awareness plus action equals social change.

Domestic Violence Awareness Month events

The iRISE adventure challenge is a month-long challenge. You can still sign up to motivate yourself to get more active or stay active through the month of October. Register today to learn how to win our amazing grand prize package and challenge yourself to get out and do 30 miles in 30 days.

Oct. 20 is our last Coffee Talk of the year and wear purple day. Coffee talk will be held at 9 a.m. at the Tennyson Building Event Center. We will share ideas and information as part of Domestic Violence Awareness Month as well have coffee and treats for a time to come together for change.

Rise is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that provides 24-hour support and advocacy services for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault or other forms of violence, serving around 400 victims each year. Rise also works to eliminate violence through education for youth and our community. All programs and services are free and confidential, including emergency prevention education and empowerment programs. 

Visit www.riseaboveviolence.org for more information, or call (970) 264-9075 to talk to an advocate today.