Domestic violence - children suffer too
"Didn't you know that love means
never to say that you're sorry
How could you hurt the one you love
Just like you don't care,
No no in such a way"
- Beres Hammond,
Love Means Never To Say Sorry
On March 8, the world celebrated International Women's Day and focus was placed on the number of women who are involved in abusive relationships.
However, the sad reality is that children, too, get caught in this vicious cycle, crippling their growth and leaving them with emotional scars.
They might not be the ones physically receiving the blows, but the repercussions of being witnesses to the battering their mother or father receives will affect them greatly.
Dr Elizabeth Ward, Violence Prevention Alliance chairman, weighed in on the issue with Family and Religion.
She pointed out that abuse includes all acts of physical, sexual, or psychological violence that may be committed by a family member or intimate partner.
Ward said that there is great evidence that demonstrates how violence affects the brain and how frequent, repeated exposure to violence and abuse affects development.
"This can lead to emotional and cognitive challenges, and children thus affected are more prone to impulsive behaviour, fights, and violence. Also, note that domestic/family/intimate partner abuse cuts across social classes, religions, ages. Many who have experienced abuse as children are often likely to resort to that behaviour themselves as adults," she said.
SIGNS OF ABUSE
She warned, though, that caregivers and other concerned parties should exercise caution when making a judgement call on whether a child is in an abusive situation or even being abused.
"Just because someone is poor or lives in a depressed community does not automatically mean they are more likely than someone who is more 'well-off' and lives in a more upscale community to be abused or an abuser," she noted.
Among the signs children who witness abuse will exhibit, Ward said, are aggressive displays of antisocial behaviour, depression or anxiety, underperformance at school due to difficulties at home, becoming withdrawn, and difficulty sleeping.
She noted that as children get older, they may experience further abuse outside of the home - in their community, at school etc, including corporal punishment and bullying by peers and others.
EXPOSURE TO VIOLENCE
"Exposure to, and experience of, violence can affect the normal development of a child's brain. This can cause a range of mental-health problems as well as affect the child's physical and psychological well-being. Prolonged exposure to stressors (physical and emotional) can have long-term effects such as mental or behavioural disorders including depression, learning difficulties, anxiety disorders, and mood disorders, or substance abuse later in life," she said, listing some of the repercussions that can arise from this kind of exposure.
All is not lost when it comes to breaking the cycle the child was exposed to in the family as Ward said that with multiple layers of support, things can turn around, although it is much easier when children are younger.
"Children want to be in a safe, predictable, structured environment where they feel valued. Children need to be cared for, with clear ground rules and expectations. Parents can read, participate in interactive parenting and family development classes, take or prescribe anger management classes/therapy for persons in the home," said Ward.
These activities, she pointed out, would improve children's self-esteem, providing high levels of stimulation, boundaries, and positive relationships.
"Access to such social interventions - social work visits, circle time, group discussions on family dynamics, child development, parent-child communication - is important for both child and other family members. Well-resourced service and support agencies should be available to the family without excessive waiting periods. Mentoring can also help support both children and family members," she said.