Children living with domestic violence suffer emotional and psychological trauma from the impact of living in a household that is dominated by tension and fear. These children will see their mother threatened, demeaned, or physically or sexually assaulted. They will overhear conflict and violence and see the aftermath of the violence such as their mother's injuries and her traumatic response to the violence. Children may also be used and manipulated by the abuser to hurt their mother.
A report undertaken by the Queensland Domestic Violence Taskforce 1988 stated that 88 percent of children present in violent homes had witnessed the violence perpetrated against their mother. In research undertaken by the Australian Institute of Criminology 15 percent of young people surveyed had experienced domestic violence and 32 percent of young people knew someone who had experienced domestic violence (National Research on Young People's Attitudes and Experiences of Domestic Violence 2000). Children witnessing the violence inflicted on their mothers often evidence behavioural, somatic, or emotional problems similar to those experienced by physically abused children (Jaffe, Wolfe, and Wilson 1990).
Apart from the emotional, physical, social, and behavioural damage abuse creates for children, statistics show that domestic violence can also become a learned behaviour. This means that children may grow up to think it is okay to use violence to get what they want and as adults that it is okay for there to be violence in their relationships. Often the behavioural and emotional impacts of domestic and family violence will improve when children and their mothers are safe, the violence is no longer occurring and they receive support and specialist counselling.
Early intervention - breaking the cycle
Impacts of domestic violence on children and young people include:
poor concentration, aggression, hyperactivity, disturbed sleep, withdrawal, low self-esteem, physical symptoms, depression, anxiety, take on a caretaker role, parent-child conflict, shame, eating disorders, low academic achievement, leaving home early, risk taking behaviours, alcohol and substance abuse, suicide, DV in their own relationships.
Much of our work at the refuge targets early intervention and prevention of domestic violence. Our programs aim to educate both women and children about the impacts of domestic violence on women, children, behaviours, and future consequences, especially for the children. By concentrating on this education as well as responsive programs, we aim to break the cycle of domestic violence and prevent future recurrence of abuse for these women and their children. Research authorities such as the Australian Institute of Criminology state that "early intervention and prevention programs play an important role in crime prevention because not only is abuse a criminal activity, children that are abused are at greater risk of engaging in antisocial and criminal behaviour later in life" (2000).