Effect of Domestic Violence on Children and Young People
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Published: Mon, 12 Feb 2018
The Nature of Domestic Violence
Domestic violence has been defined as:
a continuum of behaviour ranging from verbal abuse, physical, and sexual assault, to rape and even homicide. The vast majority of such violence, and the most severe and chronic incidents, are perpetrated by men against women and their children.
(Department of Health [DoH] 2000)
In most cases the violence is against women by their partners or spouse and affects children belonging to one or both of them. Children can become victims of domestic violence – either through being directly targeted or witnessing scenes of domestic violence between parents and their partners. At least 750,000 children a year witness violence within the home, and nearly three quarters of children on child protection registers live in households where domestic violence occurs. (Dept. of Health, 2003).
Abuse and violence may be physical, emotional, psychological, financial or sexual, and may be constant or spasmodic. Yet domestic violence is experienced by individuals from every class, race, religion and culture the world over (British Medical Association [BMA] 1999).
While severe cases of domestic violence can often lead to women being hospitalised, others remain undetectable to the public eye, leaving women who live in constant fear of their partner or spouse, trying to avoid degradation. A study by Mayhew found that psychological and emotional abuse might be constant whilst the physical violence is intermittent (Mayhew et al 1996). For the child or young person this becomes a way of life – one without stability or security and this can lead to behavioural problems and even crime.
The focus of this dissertation is on the impact of domestic violence on the lives of children and young people. Research took place in the Hammersmith and Fulham area of London. The main body of research is secondary, from journals, books, and internet sources. The primary research is in the form of 2 sets of questionnaires handed out to 40people. The first questionnaire uses a design based on a survey done by Doctors from the University of Arizona, which has already proven tube successful and reliable. The questionnaire consists of four questions:
- Have you ever been in a relationship with someone who has hit you, kicked you, slapped you, punched you, or threatened to hurt you?
- When you were pregnant did anyone ever physically hurt you?
- Are you in a relationship with someone who yells at you, calls you names, or puts you down? (Wahl et al 2004: 25).
The questionnaire was carried out on a random sample of the public. 20were handed to people outside Fulham Broadway tube station during rush-hour. People were only given the form if they said they had children, and were asked to fill it in on their way home from work or when they got back, and were given an sae. This method was chosen for reasons of personal safety – as opposed to going round door to door.
If the respondent answered yes to all questions then they were said to have suffered a prolonged period of domestic violence. In order to investigate the effects of domestic violence on adolescents questionnaire was devised for teenagers (see Appendix 1) and 20 were handed out at a youth centre in Hammersmith to be filled out anonymously. The forms were then collected at the end of the day.
The second section of primary research was designed to be more specific. It was decided to approach an association specifically setup for women who have suffered domestic violence, which is actively involved in policy work in the UK. The chairwoman was approached and asked whether she could arrange for a sample – preferably those with family in a black community – who would consider completing questionnaire for a research study on domestic violence and its effects on young people and children. The chairwoman gave the researcher four names and email addresses of people who were willing to be contacted. However, the respondents and the association were to remain anonymous for reasons of confidentiality and security. The respondents used pseudonyms for their responses.
As the sample was small, yet relevant, it was decided to use a more lengthy questionnaire, and interview the four subjects in more depth about their experience. Aside from the emotional effects, questions were designed to explore how domestic violence can be detrimental to learning and health. (see Appendix 2).
Organisations and Government Policy
There are many voluntary organisations such as Shelter, which provide counselling and places of refuge for women and children suffering domestic violence. Beneath are listed other services in the Hammersmith and Fulham area:
Refuge provides a Freephone 24-hour National Domestic Violence Helpline
Community efforts, such as the ‘Peace Week.’
The protection from Harassment Act 1997
Prosecutions from the Criminal Justice Act 1998 where the victim need not appear in court, but her statement used instead.
Developing police strategy for collecting evidence at the scene (Home Office 2000).
What happens to children in cases of Domestic Violence?
The aftermath of domestic problems can be as damaging as the incidents or episodes themselves. Children can be present during an arrest of apparent, witness a parent breaking restraining orders and their reactions to court decisions. In these situations children can be used as pawns or in worst cases even be taken as hostages. (Devote and Smith, 2002 ). In a qualitative study on the effects of domestic violence on children, McGee’s (2000) study, along with other research, revealed that:
Children do not have to experience physical abuse to experience long-term negative effects of living where extreme controlling behaviour and abuse are the norm.
In order to protect themselves, children may take the father’s side in an argument, and may themselves be abusive to their mother (Kelly 1996).
Children regularly experience a sense of total powerlessness, wishing they could assist their mother, which may produce harm to their long-term emotional wellbeing.
This may later cause revenge fantasies, but at the time often leads them to have an overpowering need to stay in the room. (Shipway 2004: 116).
It is not unusual for the child or young person to blame themselves for what is happening to their mother, particularly as the partner may have used their behaviour as a reason for losing his temper. (Ibid).
Young people sometimes fear social services will remove them from the home if it is known violence and abuse exists.
Gaudi (2001:27) provided evidence confirming that two-thirds of the residents in refuges are children. However, this does not account for the hundreds who are afraid to report violence. The threat of leaving their family home, however unstable, is often not well received by children, and many would rather put up with domestic violence than remove themselves from it.
Domestic Violence in the Black community
Domestic violence in the black community has been recognised as being less likely to be reported mainly because women and young people do not wish to threaten the stability of their position within their community. Women from African Caribbean communities are less likely to report their experiences and therefore they experience prolonged abuse over a long, or sometimes indeterminate, time frame. One of the critical debates concerning domestic violence is the idea of ‘getting used’ to a way of being treated and thus for it to become the norm within family life.
An article written by a survivor of domestic violence said of her early years in Jamaica: ‘in my experience it was commonplace to hear of or even witness women/men being beaten by their spouses or partners in public view.’ (Unknown author.http://www.2as1.net/articles/article.asp?id=49.). She comments of violence in the UK, saying that ‘particularly within the Black community, the fighting may not overspill onto the streets but it does occur, behind closed doors.’
Black communities in London are well established and people living within them rely on the social structure of their area. The idea of leaving the area to live in a refuge where they might not understand English speaking people so well is an intimidating prospect for many. Thus, some women who do not speak English might delay seeking help, finding the language a barrier between them and British speaking organisations. Interpreters can be used, but involving a third partying a woman’s private life can be an off-putting idea. Furthermore, religious or cultural beliefs might forbid divorce, and religious community leaders mostly being men, only some speak out about domestic violence.
In the case of migrant women and children who suffer domestic abuse there often is the threat of not being able to stay in the UK if they separate from their partner. An even greater threat is that the partner might abduct the children and take them abroad. (GreenwichMulti-Agency Domestic Violence Forum. 2003).
One of the most powerful psychological effects of domestic violence, physical or verbal, is the victim’s distorted perspective of their abuser. Often women will make excuses for the person who attacks them blaming it on themselves or on drink or drugs or other stresses within their relationship. This comes with an inability to prioritise their personal safety and wellbeing, and that of their children, believing that the emotional attachment between the family members might be enough to overcome the presence of violence.
Consequently, the effects of the mother’s decision to remain within the abusive relationship means that the child remains continually at risk from psychological and physical hurt. The effects of exposure to violence in the home are extensive and not always immediately evident. For the individual exposure to domestic violence can precipitate personality disorders, addictive disorders, substance abuse, and even physical disorders. And as studies have shown, many violent individuals have themselves been victims of domestic violence and abuse, unable to break out of the cycle. Children and adolescents with violent parent(s) are without the presence of a mentor on which to model their behaviour. This can lead to further social problems such as an inability to integrate with peers. A young person who has experienced the insecurity of a violent home life might seek security in other forms – such as substance abuse, and gangs and gang violence.
The Home Office survey 2004 reported on a questionnaire used by the2001 British Crime Survey. It asked a nationally representative sample of 22,463 women and men aged between 16 and 59 whether they had been subject to domestic violence during their lifetime and during the preceding year. For relevance to this dissertation the following graphs were selected from the survey:
Source: Home Office Survey 2004: 12.
The survey surmised that since the age of 16 45% of women and 26%of men were subject to domestic violence at least once in their lifetime. (Home Office 2004: 8). Of these 18.6% were subject to force, meaning pushing, shoving, or physical harm.
The British Crime Survey estimated that 13% of women and 9% of men had been subject to domestic violence in the 12 months prior to interview. (p.8). Furthermore, 12.9 million incidents of domestic violence acts had occurred against women in that year.
Violence against children
- In 90% of cases of domestic violence children are in the same room or the next room.(Hughes 1998)
- In 40% – 60% of cases of domestic violence child abuse is also occurring ( Stark & Flit craft 1998)
- The NCH study found 75% of mothers said their children had witnessed domestic violence, 33% had seen their mothers beaten up, 10%had witnessed sexual violence (NCH, 1994).
Immediate effects of Domestic Violence on Children and Young People
A report by the Department of Health concluded that:
For many women and their families the effects of domestic violence will be catastrophic, the damage to their physical and psychological wellbeing may be deeply damaging, and on occasions fatal.
(Department of Health [DoH] 2000: 12)
Victimisation by a parent of a child or young person can lead to the individual becoming so controlled and inhibited that they are unable to make even the simplest decision or act without permission, responding with complete obedience to every order given and every rule imposed. Abuse can encumber every part of their life, leading in cases to suicide seeming like the only escape. Some people express their self-disgust and powerlessness through alcohol or drug abuse, or self-mutilation, exhibiting signs of severe depression and complete dependency on the abuser.(Shipway 2004: 1).
Because of the variety of forms which domestic violence can take its difficult for research to cover all areas. For example, there can be negative effects from being an observer. Research by Fantuzzo and Mohr noted this and thus instead of using the term ‘victim’ used ‘exposure.’ This was used in the context of the experience of watching or hearing domestic violence; being directly involved; calling police; and the experience of the aftermath of scenes which might include seeing injuries or bruising on a parent and observing maternal depression. (Fantuzzo and Mohr 1999: 22).
Work by Hester et al found that children’s responses differ among members of the same family who are witnessing or experiencing the same abuse. They also said that it is hard to discern the impacts of living with domestic violence on children, because some of the consequent behaviours also occur in children experiencing other forms of abuse and neglect. (Hester et al. 2000:44)
The following is a list of negative effects taken from Shipway 2004: 117):
- Blaming themselves
In addition Hester et al. (2000:44) found that whilst some children have poor social skills others attain a high level of social skills development with an ability to negotiate difficult situations. Child’s ability to cope with abuse should never be underestimated; neither should the child’s attachment to the abusive parent which, for some, may continue to be strong. (Ibid).
Children’s responses to witnessing domestic violence will depend on age, race, class, sex, stage of development, and the support of others.(Women’s Aid). Children may feel angry at their mother or father for not protecting them, as well as blaming them for causing the violence. Others may be so concerned about their mother’s distress that they keep private their own grief (Saunders, 1995. From Women’s Aid).
Long Term effects
Research by Fantuzzo and Mohr concluded that children who live in violent households are at greater risk of being maladjusted. (Fantuzzoand Mohr 1999: 22.) Some of these problems include:
In very young children through to adolescent age, behaviour is often modelled on people who the individual spends significant time with. Piaget in his 1972 publication noted that children’s play behaviour involves modelling on those around them, and eventually to reproducing that behaviour at any given time or place .
As children grow up the parent figure becomes a role-model and if an abusive relationship exists then this trust is taken away.
In study conducted by American researchers on aggression and violence in adolescent boys, 15 interviewees were asked questions which sought to identify areas for improvement concerning intervention and prevention. Participants disclosed that their aggressive responses to provocation were frequently modelled on responses that they had seen exhibited bothers, particularly those observed among immediate and extended family members. For example, a respondent called Dan said the following about his father:
He gets mad too quickly…. He’ll get aggravated and he’ll just explode and
that’s when the fights start…. We’ll argue and then I’ll get mad and tell
him some stuff and then he’ll get mad and just start yelling and then like
one of us will go after the other, and then we’re fighting so my mother
will try to break it up or call the police. (Ballot et al 2002: 221).
Not all interviewees connected their behaviour with their families, however, there were many family interactions which involved aggression and domestic violence. It is perhaps the impact of what children witness that remains with them and encourages them to learn negative behavioural responses more quickly. As Brian explained, “When I was younger, I didn’t have a very organized family at all, so I looked towards the people on the streets. That’s when it gets you in trouble.”
The abused child’s unstable, often dangerous, home environment is likely to limit the child’s development of social skills, self-confidence, and experience of positive interactions (Herrenkohl etal., 1995). Taken from Cooper 1999: 10). Children who grow up in a violent, unpredictable family have a `world view’ in which potential threat is constantly present. The child’s ability to play and integrate with others is severely impaired as they are, if you like, watching their back in case of attack.
Play is an important medium of self-expression for the young child, especially during the preschool years when language is still developing. It is the way in which children explore the world around them and learn to recognise and understand objects and people. Because play is sensitive to environmental conditions, the child’s physical and social environment will either support or limit his or her play opportunities. Unfortunately, when a child is exposed to a chronically violent, abusive, or neglectful home environment, his or her opportunities for play development and play experiences are severely disrupted. (Cooper 1999:10).
The physically abused or neglected child is more likely to show delayed language, cognitive, and motor development, and as a consequence, delayed play skills (Ibid). Cooper suggests that the preschool child will internalise the experience of domestic violence, and may view himself or herself as the cause. As a result, the preschool child may act in destructive ways, such as deliberately destroying other children’s games or toys, in order to attract negative attention. (Ibid).
A 1989 study by Fagot et al found physically abused preschool children’s free play with peers to be more disruptive, aggressive, and antisocial than the play of other, non-abused children. (Ibid). Fantuzzo found that aggressive play behaviour, and a lack of empathy with fellow children, is likely to further isolate and prevent the abused child from learning appropriate social skills (Davis &Fantuzzo, 1989: 227-248).
Children living in a dysfunctional family unit where violence occurs will often experience a lack of structure and organisation to their daily lives. The study by Ballot et al found that the boys ‘felt safe ‘in the institution as they had a chance to lead ‘orderly, less chaotic lives than the ones they experienced in their homes and on the streets.’ (Ballot et al 2002: 17).
Every child will cope with exposure to domestic violence in their own unique way. Indeed, many children might at first not appear to have been adversely affected. It is only later, or in certain situations that their inner emotional state might be revealed.
Indeed, although there is a varying number of possible negative health and social outcomes for children who have lived in an abusive home, not all children manifest these characteristics in their later life. The young mind can be resilient and adaptable:
It is important to remember that some children remain perfectly well-adjusted despite living with abuse and that a majority survive within on clinical or ‘normal’ levels of functioning. (Millender and Morley1994:4)
Results from Primary Research
Of the 20 questionnaires handed out to a random sample of respondents, who were asked only to fill out and return the form if they had children. 8 were returned. The results are set out below:
1. Have you ever been in a relationship with someone who has hit you, kicked you, slapped you, punched you, or threatened to hurt you?
3. When you were pregnant did anyone ever physically hurt you?
4. Are you in a relationship with someone who yells at you, calls you names, or puts you down?
7 out of 8 women said they had been in a relationship where they were threatened or hurt
3 out of 8 women said they were currently in a violent relationship
6 women who said they had been abused while pregnant, which implies that their children could have been born into a domestically violent household.
6 out of 8 women said they were in an emotionally abusive relationship
These statistics for the Fulham area are quite high. Nearly half of respondents said they had experienced prolonged domestic abuse. It would be useful to conduct a further study on another random sample to see if the two sets of results would correlate. Because under half the sample returned the questionnaires it cannot be said to be representative sample of the Fulham area.
Nonetheless the findings do give a surprising insight into the lives of black women in London, showing that abuse, in any form, is a regular occurrence in some people’s lives. Furthermore, because these respondents had children it’s likely that their children have witnessed domestic violence. Future research might look into establishing a comparison study on 20 women who do not have children in an attempt to see whether more cases of abuse occur within relationships where children are present.
Questionnaire on teenagers
Of the 20 forms which were filled in 9 respondents said they had been involved in or witnessed cases of domestic violence in their lifetime.
1. Have you ever been involved in or witnessed scenes of domestic violence in your family?
Was this age 1-5/6-14/15-present?
Or all of the above?
2. Were these scenes between your parents/partners?
Did they ever directly involve you?
Yes: 4 No: 5
3. Were you ever physically hurt during these episodes?
Yes: 3 No: 6
4. Were you verbally abused during these episodes?
Yes: 9 No: 0
5. How did your experience affect your daily life:
1. Made you shy……..2
2. Made you sad…….9
3. Made you angry……5
4. Made you aggressive towards others……3
6. Do you believe your experience to have been detrimental to your ability to enjoy and participate in school?
2 out of 9 respondents said they had witnessed or experienced domestic abuse throughout their lives. Just under half of respondents said that they were directly involved in scenes of domestic violence and all respondents said they were verbally abused. The highest percentage(100%) said they had felt sad, while just under half felt aggressive towards other people.
The four cases of domestic violence all revealed the problem of domestic violence to be one associated with isolation and taking place within the privacy of the home. All respondents admitted that they believed domestic violence to have negatively affected their children. Particularly poignant were the accounts of children becoming withdrawn, another aggressive, and another blaming her mother. All these findings are consistent with the secondary research presented in the first section of this dissertation.
The interviews provided a surprisingly good response. Some people might be reluctant to admit to the presence of violence in their domestic life, especially if it involves their children, in fear of admitting that they are (directly, or indirectly) causing their child to be unhappy. However, all four respondents answered openly and honestly about their experiences.
This dissertation has looked into a cross section of the population in the Hammersmith and Fulham area of London. Teenagers and women who were known to have experienced abuse were asked questions about their experiences and both reported feelings of sadness and aggression. Random sample of women with children also revealed that nearly half of the population had experienced a domestic violence act of some kind in their lives.
The findings were consistent with the secondary research, such as the study by Piaget 1972, and Cooper 1999, both of which found that young children had difficulty in play activities and social integration, both at pre-school and primary level. The study by Ballonet al on aggressive teenagers also correlated with the responses from the questionnaires handed out at the youth centre.
It is not possible to say that there are more domestic violence cases in black communities or that they are caused by demographic and stress factors. A study by Richardson et al on the prevalence of domestic violence against women looked for a correlation between demographic factors and domestic violence. They concluded that black women were least likely to have ever experienced domestic violence compared to their white female counterparts.(Richardson et al 2002:274).
The interview with the British mother found that the violence she had experienced was mostly verbal and did not involve physical force directed at her. Out of the four women she was the only one still tube with her husband with whom she had fought with. This is not consistent with the secondary research presented at the beginning which suggested that more black women stayed with their spouses in fear of what might happen if they left.
Future research might explore the marital status of black women in the Hammersmith and Fulham area and the stability of the family unit. Interviews with more than one member of a family might also be useful in order to gain a different perspective on the same incidents.
To conclude, domestic violence appears to have a negative impact on children and young people. Initial responses might be guilt, fear, sleeplessness and a desire to protect their mother. In pre-schoolchildren the learning ability and playfulness is often damaged by the experience of domestic violence. In children of all ages research has shown that behaviour is modelled on what they see around them, and this can lead to anti-social behaviour to peers and strangers. Longer-term effects include an inability to trust other people, withdrawing from social situations, depression, and in worse cases aggression on the streets, and drug and alcohol abuse.
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