Children, Domestic Violence and Women

Written by Gita Jayakumar for the 16 Days of Activism against Violence against Women.

"Children do not constitute anyone's property: they are neither the property of their parents nor even of society. They belong only to their own future freedom." -- Mikhail Bakunin

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Children who are exposed to domestic violence are more likely to experience a wide range of issues when compared to their peers. Domestic abuse can range from threats and verbal abuse to outright physical violence that can leave the target with physical and psychological injuries. Children who grow up in homes seeing domestic violence unfold before them are invariably at greater risk to live with issues such as anxiety, depression, fighting, bullying and cheating.


Children can witness domestic violence in a number of ways: they may just happen to be in the same room where the violence is happening, or could be a passive onlooker or may even get involved. Sometimes, they may wind up intervening in an effort to make the violence stop. Sometimes, they may just happen to be inside the house and remain away from the scene of all the violence - but can hear the abuse or see physical injuries following the violence.

If the violence continues when the child is sleeping, the subconscious absorbs it all and gets encapsulated in their body. Sometimes, they may be forced to take part in the violence overtly. Children who witness domestic violence are being emotionally abused themselves – whether they know it or not. They can go through a “big T trauma” – which is the perception and sensation that they themselves have suffered the trauma, even if they have been mere onlookers.

Older children may wind up holding themselves responsible for the abuse. They may feel guilty that they cannot protect her, or may feel that they are the cause of the strife. In the process, they could wind up struggling under the burden of anxiety, insomnia, nightmares, hyperactivity, aggression, worry and insecurity about their own safety and or the safety of the parent. They could go into depression, substance abuse, form a wrong opinion that one of the ways to express love is violence. Eating disorders, hurting themselves, by inflicting wounds on themselves, low self esteem, not being able to maintain social contacts, aggression, becoming troublesome at home or at school, isolating themselves, lower academic achievements, bed-wetting, nervous ticks, nausea, fear of abandonment, mood swings, attention seeking, somatic complaints, vomiting, eating disorders. In some cases, if the woman decides to split with the spouse, the child may decide to live with the father, as he/she has seen that the father is stronger and it's a matter of survival for him, which would be very painful to the mother. They are starved for attention and affection.      

Such kinds of violence on the lives of children are often neglected in ensuring good health for children in such homes. Their future depends on their present and their past – and to make sure that they create secure lives for themselves, these children need a sustainable foundation on which to build their future. Children learn patterns of behaviour from their parents and may learn that violence is an effective way to resolve problems. Often the impact of violence in a family can improve if there is no more violence happening and the child receives love, care, support and counseling.


"There is no trust more sacred than the one the world holds with children. There is no duty more important than ensuring that their rights are respected, that their welfare is protected, that their lives are free from fear and want and that they can grow up in peace." -- Kofi Annan
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