Children Who Witness Violence

  • (Brian F. Martin)  "Most people don't know what childhood domestic violence is.  It's when you grow up in a home where there is violence between parents or toward a parent, perhaps by a significant other.

    Some experts call it "child witness to violence," a name that fails to capture the damage it inflicts.  Experts have struggled with what to call it when children witness violence at home.  It's not the same as child abuse, physical abuse, domestic violence, sexual abuse or emotional abuse, though some of the children experience those, too.

    CDV is among about 10 adversities researchers say we can experience in childhood homes...If you have one, you usually have more than one....This is the one they don't talk about, or fully understand. 

    CDV encodes a series of negative beliefs in the child's self concept.  Who we believe we are is decided before we ever have a chance to choose.  Then the brain finds evidence of what it believes is true.  (Growing up, Martin saw his mother's boyfriend beat her.  It took him years to get over the idea that he, a little boy then, should have stopped it.  He felt like a "very weak coward" for not stopping the assaults on his mother.  As he grew up, he said his mind found evidence to support it.  Feelings of guilt and shame kill willpower, he noted. 

    Among the ways CDV strikes: 

    • Health.  The leading 10 causes of death are linked to these homes.  It ages your DNA.  Those people are 6 times more likely to kill themselves, 50 times more prone to addiction, and 74 times more apt to be violent.  While most won't be violent, their lives don't go the way they want, either.

    • Emotional.  It's very hard to find happiness if you believe terrible things about yourself.

    • Relationships.  The best predictor of whether you will be in a violent relationship is whether you grew up in one.  No one addresses that.  It's like trying to reduce the incidence of lung cancer without addressing smoking. 
Silence is a problem, along with judgment from those who did not experience it, who say to just get over it. 
  1. The first step is knowing what it is called.
  2. Then, seek to understand it.
  3. Then, you need to share it with someone who you know cares about you. 
It is amazing what these 3 steps can do.   (Brian F. Martin, CEO and founder of the Childhood Domestic Violence Association, author of the book "The 10 Lies You Learn Growing Up with Domestic Violence and the Truths to Set You Free")
(Betsy Groves) "Witnessing domestic violence teaches children no place is safe, no one can protect them, and adults are vulnerable.  Those children say their fear leads to aggression

Children are not equally affected by seeing domestic violence, but it's a particularly toxic form of trauma for them; witnessing it may psychologically traumatize a child as much as being the direct victim."  (Betsy Groves, founder of the Child Witness to Violence Project at Boston Medical Center)

(UNICEF)  Children who live with and are aware of violence in the home face many challenges and risks that can last throughout their lives including greater risk of being abused, increasing harm to the child's physical, emotional and social development, and a good chance it will kick off generational violence."

All children need a safe home environment and to know that "there are adults who will listen to them, believe them and shelter them."  They also need routines, support services, and to learn domestic violence is wrong.  An important aspect of that is learning nonviolent conflict resolution techniques.  (UNICEF report)

(Roger Lockridge)  One man says a childhood spent witnessing domestic violence has given him a sense of what not to do as a father.  "There are times still when I lack self-confidence, though I am an accomplished writer and recently bought my own home.  I think that stems from my experience as a kid.  I did not want my wife and children, if I was going to be blessed to have any, to experience this.  It shapes how I conduct myself as a husband and as a father. 

"Everything I have seen my parents go through, I try to do the exact opposite.  Both my parents were alcoholics; I've never tasted alcohol.  My dad bounced between jobs and when he was unemployed, Mom had to carry the load.  My wife doesn't have to work.  If she wants to get a job, she can, but she doesn't have to.  I hope when my son is an adult, he will tell others how great a dad he had."  CDV never completely stopped affecting him. 

Years later, after his dad finished rehab and stopped drinking, he re-established bonds with his children, a year before he died. Lockridge said that not all of his siblings had the same experience or memories of a violent family life that he did.  "My younger brother has no negative memories of my dad and my baby sister has no memories of him at all," because of their age when the family split.  Older half-siblings were grown before his parent got together.  (Roger Lockridge, a childhood domestic violence (CDV) survivor, now 34, and a father of a 3-year old son)

(source:  "Living in the Shadow," Witnessing domestic violence can have lasting impact on the young, even if they aren't abused, by Lois M. Collins, Deseret News, April 17, 2016) 

Statistics
  • 15 million American children live in the shadow of domestic violence today; and an estimated 40 million adults lived with domestic violence as children.  (Brian F. Martin, CEO and founder of the Childhood Domestic Violence Association, 2016) 
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