The topic of domestic violence and children is quite a vast one. Where there are children involved in an abusive relationship, even when the parents think or hope that the children are not directly affected by what is going on between the parents, that is a falicy.
Children are often described as the ‘forgotten victims’of Domestic Abuse. Children are affected not only by directly witnessing abuse, but also by living in an environment where usually their mother – usually the main caregiver – is being repeatedly victimised.
Children in a home where the mother is being abused are also at greater risk of being abused themselves, or being used to control their mother. Due to his own lack of self-worth the abusive partner feels the need to control all those to whom he considers himself superior. In a family, this includes the children.
Hence domestic violence affects children in multiple ways:
- children can suffer from witnessing abuse
- children can be harmed as a result of trying to break up a fight or ward off an attack by the abuse
- children can pick up on the fear, anxiety and trauma of the person being abused and can also pick up on the aggressive vibes from the perpetrator of violence
- children living in a home with domestic violence are at a far greater risk of suffering child abuse directly (the NSPCC recently reported that in one third of the child abuse cases they were made aware of, domestic violence in the home was a factor
- children can be used to manipulate one partner against the other, both while still living together and once the victim of abuse has left
- children are frequently used to threaten the victim to ensure they stay or submit to further abuse (threats such as the abuser will harm or kill the children, report the mother to Social Services, or gain custody of the children are all very common)
Children living with domestic violence do not have a happy home in which they can feel secure and loved, even when their non-abusive parent wants to provide them with security and strong boundaries, this is usually hampered by the abusive parent.
To be better able to help children living with domestic violence, we need to be able to better understand the effect which witnessing abuse has on them, understand how the children are being used by the abuser, consider the risk of actual harm to the child themselves and finally look at ways of helping the children, whether we remain in an abusive relationship or not.