One of the reasons many women often give for why they stayed in an abuse relationship or did not speak up about one is that they were doing so for the sake of their children, not wanting to break up the child’s home or take them away from the other parent or guardian. There is no doubt that in some ways this is a noble sentiment and one that is easy to understand, especially in the case of Latin American families where the “family” is such an often seen as far more important than an individual and divorce is often frowned upon.
However the simple truth is that children who live in home where domestic violence occurs and have to witness that violence are usually far, far more damaged than those who were taken out of the situation. Even having witnessed just one or two instances of domestic violence can seriously affect a child though and how they feel about the situation is something that has to be taken into consideration.
How Violence Affects Children: Disturbing Statistics
Every year an estimated 3.3 million children are exposed to violence against their mothers or female caretakers by family members. (American Psychological Association, Violence and the Family: Report of the APA Presidential Task Force on Violence and the Family,1996)
80 to 90%of children who live in homes where there is domestic violence observe that violence (Pagelow, “Effects of Domestic Violence on Children,” Mediation Quarterly, 1990)
A survey of 6,000 US households found that 50 % of men who assaulted their wives also abused children in the home, both their biological children and step chilildren (Pagelow, “The Forgotten Victims: Children of Domestic Violence,” 1989)
In a 36-month study of 146 children ages 11-17 who lived in violent homes , all of the sons questioned who were over the age of 14 had attempted to physically intervene and protect their mothers from being attacked. 62% of them were injured trying to do so. (Roy, 1988)
80 percent of child deaths that occur in the family are attributable to fathers or father figures. (Bergman, Larsen and Mueller, “Changing Spectrum of Serious Child Abuse,” Pediatrics, 1986)
In families where the mother is subject to domestic abuse by the father, daughters in the families are six times more likely to be sexually abused than those who live in non-abusive families (Bowker, Arbitell and McFerron, 1988)
These are just some of the most shocking and damaging effects. A boy raised in a home where he observes his father figure abuse his mother is far more likely to grow up repeating that behavior. And a girl in the same situation is far more likely to become a victim of domestic violence herself later in life.
Most of the time children in violent homes are told, by both the abuser and the victim that they should not discuss the “family business” outside the home. The pressure of keeping this “secret” is stressful for children of all all ages and can affect their relationships with friends and other members of their families as well as their ability to complete their school work properly.
Once a child has been removed from a situation where they witnessed domestic violence they will need to be offered help and counseling along with their parents and they will need the support and understanding of all of their family to help them recover from the trauma they have experienced as well.