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Silent Observers: How Children Internalize Witnessing Domestic Violence in Their Homes

Manley, MikiaChicago Policy Review (Online); Chicago (Oct 23, 2014).

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Play and artwork may reveal that children are deeply impacted by witnessing domestic violence at home and are confused by their emotional reactions.

October marks Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a time meant to shed light on a pervasive problem plaguing men and women across the world. While both sexes are at risk for experiencing this particular violence, women make up roughly 85 percent of victims.

Domestic violence has long been a topic of concern for researchers and for good reason. In the United States, one in four women experience domestic violence, and one-third of female homicide victims are killed by an intimate partner, resulting in three female deaths as a result of domestic violence every day. But often, female partners are not the only victims of abuse. Children are also victimized, either through direct abuse or through witnessing the abuse of their mothers. Recently, researchers in the UK sought to better understand the emotional impact of domestic violence on children and the implications that has on how clinicians can better help children to manage their emotions.

In "Understanding the emotional impact of domestic violence on young children," Victoria Thornton observed eight children (between ages five and nine) and their mothers, all of whom had been victims of domestic violence. Through structured play and art, Thornton found that children from homes with domestic violence showed a strong desire to connect with adults along with emotional distress and negative expectations of family relationships. All of these children were also incredibly aware of the abuse going on in their homes.

Perhaps what is even more interesting is the study's finding that these children tended to be more self-reliant and independent; often they would take responsibility for the abuse of their mothers, and, through story-telling activities, Thornton found that the children aspired to make...