Domestic abuse is a serious issue for women across the country and around the world. But it isn’t just the partners involved in these relationships who are hurt. There is a long term impact on children experiencing domestic abuse in their daily lives.
We spoke with Iris Borowsky, M.D., associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics, about how children who witness violence, particularly in their home or neighborhood, are impacted.
“Children see their parents and other adults as role models, and they are watching all the time,” said Borowsky. “Parents think that they can shield their child, and are often in denial of how exposed a child is in these types of situations.”
Children may not watch abuse happening, or hear the violent interactions. However, they will still be impacted by relationships with adults who are unable to fully be present to support a child. This can be emotionally damaging for a child.
Long term, children living among violence are prone to symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Though often related to returning soldiers or witnesses of mass disasters and major crimes, PTSD can develop in anyone who chronically witnesses violence in their environment.
When watching for signs of PTSD in children, it pays to be attentive, says Borowsky.
“Because the symptoms of witnessing violent are not specific, there needs to be a high degree of suspicion before getting involved,” said Borowsky. She asks her patients and their parents about violence exposure at home, in the neighborhood, or on television. This gives an opportunity to share concerns in a safe space.
Borowsky also encourages keeping an eye out for three major signals of PTSD:
- A foreshortened view of the future, or a child who doesn’t think they have long to live.
- Emotional numbing to the outside world, or a difficulty with spontaneous play.
- Flashbacks to the violence they’ve experienced.
If you, or someone you know, is involved in a violent or abusive relationship, there is help. Everyone should feel safe in their home and relationships.
Reach out. Crisis lines are available 24 hours a day. In Minnesota, call 1-866-223-1111. The National Domestic Abuse Hotline can be reached at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). You could also visit the Minnesota Domestic Abuse Project’s website for resources.