Over 15 million children in the U.S. live in families where domestic violence occurred at least once in the last year according to Futures Without Violence.
Research shows that witnessing abuse could have lasting effects on these children as they grow up.
One in 15 children are exposed to domestic violence each year according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
“There are a lot of children who are witnessing domestic violence in their homes,” said Tara Bjornson, the Assistant Director of the Domestic Violence Crisis Center. “They’re witnessing one partner being abusive to another whether that’s yelling, hitting, financial abuse.”
These children could end up in a cycle of domestic violence and abuse.
“Will it mean that they’re going to be an abuser or a victim? Not necessarily,” Bjornson explained. “It kind of depends on a lot of external factors.”
When children witness domestic violence they may become more aggressive, they may sleep more, and they may have lower self-esteem.
“It can manifest in many different ways from hypersexualized behaviors, behavioral misconduct, legal infractions later on,” said Benjamin Parker, a Child and Family Therapist at the Northern Plains Children’s Advocacy Center.
It can also affect their ability to build and maintain relationships in the future.
“If they are a victim of abuse or witness abuse, that relationship gets skewed by learning shame, fear, and guilt,” said Christal Halseth, the Executive Director of the Northern Plains Children’s Advocacy Center. “And that carries on into their adult relationships.”
The Northern Plains Children’s Advocacy Center specializes in helping children who have been abused and their families.
Children are treated using trauma-based therapy programs.
“Targets building up their skill level to be able to cope with the distressing thoughts that they may be having about the events that have occurred,” said Parker. “It helps them to rewrite the story of their trauma to focus on the growth that they’ve made and how they’re improving their lives and that they do have a bright path forward.”
Parker says that he enjoys his job and feels honored to help kids get through difficult times.
He also says that while trauma has a lot of negative impacts, there is good that can come out of it.
“I think it’s important to also recognize there’s a lot of resiliency factors so kids who have a supportive parent, or supportive family around them,” said Parker. “Kids who have come through difficult things before and seen how they can grow from it.”