by Tony Vasquez, October 2015
Having worked in a home visiting based program in and around my community I have had to make many abuse calls and have seen many disturbing things. But seeing Domestic Violence in the home firsthand is one of the most troubling and disturbing issues that I have addressed.
Domestic violence is a major public health issue that affects everyone. It has far reaching implications in many domains of those affected especially children. It affects all parts of a family system and individuals. Domestic violence can be subtle such as controlling money, name calling, and isolating just to name a few. It also has a more dangerous and obvious side which many people associate with physical abuse and behaviors than the aforementioned subtle abusive behaviors.
Domestic Violence is often a pattern of abusive behaviors including a wide range of physical, sexual, and psychological mistreatment used by one person to gain power and control over another individual in an intimate relationship. It’s always an unfair advantage. Domestic violence crosses many cultural, socio-economic and generational lines. And it’s not only in an intimate relationship; it can also involve an entire family system.
Working With Children in Households with Domestic Violence As a Social Worker
One of the more upsetting facts is that those caught in the cross fire in domestic violence happen to be children in the home. Children’s exposure to violence can occur in various ways, including the actual witnessing of violence, hearing violence occurring but not directly observing the violence, or living in a household where violence occurs.
From studies we know that children in a household where domestic violence occurs may suffer from anxiety, depression, poor school performance and aggression. The majority of aggressive behaviors include hitting, fighting, and antisocial behavior. Consequently, this type of behavior leads to problems among peers. Other issues, that frequently affect children living in families where domestic violence takes place is poverty, substance abuse, poor nutrition, and lack of adequate medical care. I’ve also found that children living in a home where domestic violence is happening often have trouble focusing and doing well in school. Many times there are academic and behavior issues.
Many of the children that I have worked with, who have observed or were victims of domestic violence, have experienced problems with peers and many times become violent. There are also a prevalence of emotional and mental health issues that manifested itself with aggressive behavior and issues in the legal system, and suspensions from school. I’ve also noticed that long term exposure to domestic violence has caused poor self -esteem, depression, and low self- worth in adolescents and teenagers.
Working with Female Victims of Domestic Violence As a Social Worker
Women are most often the victims of domestic violence and are more likely to suffer injury than are men. Oftentimes wife abuse and child abuse occur together. In some instances of domestic violence, however, I have seen the effect on a mother’s caregiving capacities either through injury, mental distress and restricted mobility. Exposure to violence within the home not only poses a potential risk of physical harm to a women and child, it violates their immediate environment as a safe haven.
It’s unfortunate but a reality that many women stay in abusive relationships. I have seen many women stay in dysfunctional relationships because one partner oftentimes becomes financially dependent on their partner. They usually depend on their violent counterparts for money, transportation, and housing.
Many times the domestic violence incidents go unreported. This exposure to domestic violence has severe negative effects on one’s mental health. Many of the women that I have worked with seek treatment for anxiety, substance abuse and depression. The majority have a very limited support network. It’s also worth noting that many of these women also had medical issues that were pushed lower on their priority list as they experience domestic violence, and many have had a long history of violent relationships in the past.
For those who have not been in a domestic violence relationship or grew up in a family affected by it, it’s easy to say “why don’t they just leave?” remember that women are not only emotionally attached they are also psychologically attached to their partner regardless of how violent the nature of their relationship is. This bond makes it very hard for those women to just leave. There is the uncertainty of where they will go, how will they get to places, how will they afford anything?
How Social Workers Can Help Victims of Domestic Violence
For a person exposed to domestic violence, one of the most important factors leading to the elimination or reduction in abuse is the ability to recognize the signs. Professionals working in therapeutic fields like social work need to advocate for the development of community support programs to assist victims and families who are faced with domestic violence. The community must take an active role in working towards the implementation of policies and programs that will be available to work with victims of domestic violence and the children who are exposed. Social workers can work with communities and their stakeholders to help build awareness of the scope of the problem through developing programs to educate people on the risk factors and effects of domestic violence.
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