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Front Page » December 3, 2002 » Local News » Domestic violence scars youth witnessing abuse
Published 4,697 days ago

Domestic violence scars youth witnessing abuse

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Staff writer

For Carbon County residents who live with domestic violence, it is important to recognize that children, even though not directly harmed, are victims to the pain and suffering the family endures. Sometimes, it is important to remove the child from the troubled area. Therefore, it is important to keep a bag packed with several of the child"s personal belongings, including items which may be used to comfort the youngster. If there is a need to flee the home suddenly, youngsters will feel safer if familiar items accompany them.

Domestic violence takes a devasting toll on not only the victim, but also the children who witness or hear abuse happening.

Even though the children may not be physically abused, the emotional scars remain long after an incident occurs and the youngsters witness an act of violence against a family member they love.

The Coalition of Domestic Violence reports that in homes where spousal abuse occurs, children are abused at a rate 1,500 percent higher than the national average.

Children in homes where there is domestic violence are often the unintended victims.

The youth face dual threats which include the threat of witnessing traumatic events and the threat of physical assault.

In an incident of violence, children may be injured and traumatized by fear for their mother and their own helplessness in protecting her.

The youngsters may also blame themselves for not preventing the abuse or even accept the guilt for causing the violence.

In addition, children living in domestic violence situations may be abused or neglected themselves.

In a survey conducted by Dan Jones and Associates in 1997, 14 percent of women in Utah reported that they experience domestic violence on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.

The survey also found that one in five women indicate that their children witness or hear verbal abuse, while one in 14 report their children witness or hear physical abuse.

In the state of Utah, committing domestic violence in the presence of a child is illegal.

This means that the abuser is aware that the child is present and the abuse continues so that the child either witnesses or hears the violence happening.

According to family violence experts, even babies as young as six months are distressed by violent conflicts between parents.

Children who merely witness violence are harmed in several different ways which include:

•Cannot get enough positive attention from a parent who lives in fear.

•Cannot relax and feel secure because they know something is wrong.

•May feel guilty because they cannot protect the abused parent.

•Learn that violence is an acceptable way to resolve conflicts.

•Learn that to love someone is to accept abuse from them.

•Can easily become victims themselves, either by an out-of-control abuser or a harassed, frustrated victim.

•Can develop behavioral problems, eating disorders and sleep disorders.

•May slip back into more childish behaviors such as thumb-sucking, nail-biting and bed-wetting.

•Often have problems with depression, anxiety, fear and guilt that they may carry into their adult life.

•May have mixed feelings that they still love the abuser.

Children residing in homes where domestic violence occurs may also be indirectly injured.

The youngsters may be hurt when household items are thrown or weapons are used during a violent episode.

Infants may also be injured if being held by their parent when the abuser strikes.

Domestic violence is a major factor that contributes to the problem of teenage runaways and homeless street youth.

In fact, some of the country"s missing children are actually being hidden byabused parents to protect the youth from the violent spouses.

Conversely, abusers sometimes kidnap children to punish their partners for leaving them or in order to force the individuals to come back.

Violence experts also believe that children who are raised in abusive homes have a higher risk of alcohol and/or drug abuse and juvenile delinquency.

According to the National Institute of Justice, being abused or neglected as a child increased the likelihood of arrest as a juvenile by 53 percent, as an adult by 38 percent and for a violent crime by 38 percent.

If a child has been a victim of abuse or just merely witnessed abuse happening to a family member, the child may ask for help in a manner that adults sometimes miss.

Although help may not be directly implied, children will often demonstrate certain warning signs that may alert adults that an abuse situation has occurred. Some of these signs include the following.

•Infants. Sleep disturbances such as sleeping so much that the child has to be awakened to eat, or not sleeping restfully most of the time, feeding disturbance, continual fussing and crying, inability to be comforted and easily startled.

•Toddlers and pre-schoolers. Chronic stomach aches and headaches, nausea, night terrors, difficulty going to bed, inability to be comforted, general sadness, not knowing how to play and meanness.

•Elementary age. School problems such as difficulty concentrating, school phobia, problems with peers, inability to share, frequent injuries and reckless behavior, constant talking about fears, difficulty leaving a parent or having a parent leave, younger behaviors such as bed-wetting and thumb sucking, aggressive or intimidating behaviors and cruelty to animals or smaller children.

•Junior high and high school age children. Destruction of property, truancy, aggressive or violent behavior, running away, substance abuse, suicide talk, threats, nightmares, stashing a weapon and depression.

•Any age. Physical complaints such as headaches, stomach aches, sleep problems, eating problems, constant sadness or nervousness and withdrawal and isolation.

If a child displays any of these signs, a parent should be concerned and talk with the child to determine what the cause of the problem is.

As a parent, adults have the responsibility of protecting their children.

If a parent is in a violent relationship, it is important to have a safety plan.

Part of the plan should include discussion with the children residing in the home. Parents should:

•Instruct the children to stay out of the fights because the youngsters may get seriously injured.

•Agree on a safe place to go if there is a serious fight.

A safe place may be a friend"s home or neighbor"s house.

•Teach them to call for help. Have them practice picking up the phone to call for emergency assistance.

•Make sure they know their own address and phone number.

•If the child is at home and feels unsafe, help them determine where they can go to feel safe.

•Encourage children to speak with other adults for support, such as teachers, relatives and neighbors.

•Listen to the child. Do not talk too much or explain away the violence.

•Create and maintain family routines, rules and non-violent discipline.

•Take time out when the child is being really annoying.

Instead of lashing out with violent words or physical contact, adults should count to 10 or walk out of the room.

•Make time for the child"s favorite relaxing activity such as reading a book or listening to music.

If family members who deal with violence can get out of the home and seek help, do so as soon as possible.

There is assistance available in Carbon County for families who suffer from domestic violence.

The Colleen Quigley Women"s Center provides victims with support as well as shelter from violent situations.

Even if fleeing the home is not an option, the center can provide support to those who live with violence.

Regardless of the situation, the center welcomes any resident who is in need of help.

Even though younger family members may not be directly harmed by domestic violence, if a parent suffers, so does the child.

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