Childhood is where all humans learn the basics of adult behavior.” – B.J. Summers

As domestic violence awareness month comes to a close, I hope that you realize that domestic abuse affects every member of the family and over 3 million of them are children.  Children who witness domestic violence live in constant fear and are unable to establish nurturing bonds. What do I mean by the word witness? Witnessing involves seeing or hearing or observing or being aware (www.domesticviolenceround-table.org).

 The U.S. Department of Health and Human Sciences (https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/factsheets/domestic_violence/impact.cfm) divides the impact of domestic violence on children into three categories:

  • Behavioral, social, and emotional problems, such as exhibiting aggressive behavior, or becoming anxious or depressed.
  • Cognitive and attitudinal problems, such as a higher likelihood that these children will have difficulties in school, lower test scores, be fearful and withdraw, and exhibit low self esteem.
  • Long-term problems such as the tendency of these children to later display higher levels of depression and trauma symptoms. They also generally have higher risk factors for many causes of death in the U.S. Unfortunately also, males are more likely to engage in violence as adults, and women are more likely to become victims.

These statistics take on a more personal meaning when observed in the story of a life. An example is illuminated by Rebecca Allard, author of a recently-released memoir, Reckless, which chronicles her addiction to danger, including falling in love with a convicted felon from Harlem, and the journey she took to reclaim her heart, mind, and soul (www.rebeccaallard.net). When I recently had an opportunity to speak with Rebecca, she described how her childhood experiences created an awareness that the world was a dangerous place and anything worth having or achieving only came from danger. Her mother was distracted and emotionally removed from her, while her father understood her feelings. The problem was that her father was mentally ill and created a constant threat of violence in her home.  As she sees it now, her need to be understood became entwined with danger, because that was her reality. Patrick Carnes' book, The Betrayal Bond, further explains this phenomenon.

There are many websites on the internet that list statistics about domestic violence. This one is an example: www.futureswithoutviolence.org. Throughout all of them there are some riveting numbers like these: One in four women will be beaten or abused by someone in their lifetime. Three women die each day as a result of domestic violence, and about 75% of victims who have lost their lives to domestic violence have been killed in the process of leaving or after leaving. Rebecca’s husband nearly killed her but she didn’t leave. When I asked her why, she said that after he attacked her she understood that he could and would kill her.  She was certain that if she had left him he would have waited until the perfect moment and murdered her. What a hellish environment that is to live in! Rebecca and her husband didn't have children, but many women in similar circumstances do.

Statistics about domestic violence and stories, like hers, about its effects ought to create in all of us a firm resolve to protect children and provide for them, in accordance with their stages of development, these eight basic needs (www.acadv.org/children.html.):

  • Trust & Respect
  • Emotional Security
  • Physical Security
  • Appropriate Discipline
  • Time
  • Encouragement & Support
  • Affection
  • Care for yourself 

Do your part. Pay attention. Spread the word.

About the Author

Catherine McCall

Catherine McCall is a Clinical Fellow of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and the author of Never Tell: A True Story of Overcoming a Terrifying Childhood.

You are reading

Overcoming Child Abuse

How to Survive the New Order

A primer for sexual abuse survivors.

Feeling Victimized by Presidential Campaign Updates?

What to do if memories of your childhood sexual abuse are being triggered

Where Have All the Lifeguards Gone?

Resources to help child abuse survivors stay afloat this summer