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Childhood Witnesses to Domestic Violence

young girl with arm covering her eyes

Brian Martin, who is a board member at the Childhood Domestic Violence Association, came across a disturbing finding about how infrequently people searched for the term “childhood or “child” while searching for the term “domestic violence.” While the term “domestic violence (DV)” was searched more than ever over the last decade, “childhood” along with DV was searched infrequently. He questioned why this is happening when a person growing up with domestic violence is the best predictor of whether someone will repeat the pattern of abuse. UNICEF calls childhood domestic violence “one of the more pervasive human rights issues of our time,” yet it is not adequately recognized. 

Why is it important to recognize if you or a loved one or a friend grew up with DV?  You need to “unlearn the lies” and understand what really happened and that it was wrong. When people “encode negative beliefs” in their brains, they are more likely to suffer from poor mental health. Statistics indicate that witnessing DV and abuse can lead to 6 times higher suicide rates, 50 times higher rates of drug or alcohol abuse, and 4 times more likely to commit violent crime. 

In her studies of the effects of children’s exposure to DV and childhood abuse, Cindy Sousa (2011) has reported that preventing childhood abuse and exposure to domestic violence could lessen the risk of antisocial behavior during adolescence. I have seen in my own private practice that children are often referred to me for “anger issues” or “anxiety,” but upon collecting important social history information, they have frequently been either abused themselves or witnessed DV, whether verbal or physical. In helping children and their families understand that what happened or is happening is not acceptable, we can help them to understand and cope with their feelings and to “unlearn” that violence is acceptable.