The Forgotten Victims: Children Who Witness Violence at Home

September 14, 2010
The Forgotten Victims: Children Who Witness Violence at Home

By Leesa Plumblee, Shelter Counselor, Safe Harbor

“In a survey of 4,000 adults, witnessing marital violence as a child was the major risk factor predicting which adolescent girls would grow up to be domestic abuse victims.”  I obtained this statistic when I attended a training this year regarding the impact of family violence on adolescent witnesses by David Pelcovitz, PhD. This statistic explains the great importance of providing therapy for children who witness domestic violence in their homes. These are the children that I have the pleasure to work with each day in our Safe Harbor shelters.

Children who have been exposed to domestic violence may exhibit signs of low self-esteem, emotional or behavioral problems, feelings of guilt or responsibility, or be at high risk for drug/alcohol abuse.  These are just a few of the common characteristics of children who are exposed to family violence.  Children are victims too. Many times, children who have been exposed to violence carry these characteristics with them into adulthood, because they have never been taught healthy skills for dealing with their feelings or for resolving conflicts.

One particular story stands out in my mind.  Earlier this year, 14-year-old “Billy” came to one of our Safe Harbor shelters with his mother.  Billy had witnessed his mother being abused all of his life.  Billy had a hard time concentrating in school and had difficulty communicating with his mom from day-to-day.  One day, Billy and I were talking about his favorite things to do.  He said that watching TV was one of those things.  He said that Phineas and Ferb was his favorite show, because they can make inventions out of anything.  Billy said that he wanted to be an inventor when he grew up.  I then asked him what the first thing he would invent would be and his response was a “time machine”.  When asked why he would build a “time machine”, he said, “I would build a time machine so that I could go back to when I was four years old and fix everything in my life.”  Billy was yearning for change; he wanted a new life and a fresh start. 

This desire for change is common for all our clients and children who come to Safe Harbor.  The emotional scars of witnessing DV can affect these children throughout their lives.  Domestic Violence is often an intergenerational cycle of violence, and Safe Harbor can be a place where this cycle is broken.  Statistically, boys who witness domestic violence are 10 times as likely to abuse their partners as adults, and girls are at greater risk for remaining in abusive relationships as adults.  Sometimes, a mother might be hesitant to expose her children to life in a “shelter”.  But, for children who have been living in a violent home, Safe Harbor can bring a sense of security and stability that they may have never before experienced.  In the future, Safe Harbor hopes to be able to increase our direct therapy services for children into a comprehensive program, so that each child who has witnessed domestic abuse can receive the support they need to break the cycle of violence and to have a future filled with hope, with peace.

I am a survivor of domestic abuse.

“I didn’t know that I was being abused because...

I am a survivor of domestic abuse.

“I didn’t know that I was being abused because my definition of abuse looked different. My husband pushed me, but most of my suffering was verbal and psychological. I left my husband to protect our young daughter. Almost immediately I felt the weight of his oppression begin to lift. I could see a difference in my daughter as well. Then he broke into my home and assaulted me in-front of her.

I sought help and was led to Safe Harbor. My daughter and I are in counseling now. I am sorting out the mess that abuse has caused. I am finding my voice and seeking opportunities to grow and better my life as well as my daughter's. She will gauge her self-worth from my own self-worth. I must show her that she deserves the best, by expecting the best for myself.

Many years I suffered in silence. By telling my story and being honest with friends and family, I am taking control of my life again.”

- Beth



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