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Impact of abuse on Children

In 2016, the RCMP described the impact of children who witness violence at home, in part based on Juristat’s report Family Violence in Canada: A Statistic Report (2014). The country’s national police force outlined the impact of witnessing violence on children:

“Family Violence research indicates that even when children are not direct targets of violence in the home, they can be harmed by witnessing its occurrence. Children who live in situations of family violence can suffer immediate and permanent physical harm, even death. They can also experience short and long-term emotional, behavioural and developmental problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder.

“In some cases of physical and sexual abuse, the victims have considerable problems with behaviour, negative peer involvement, depression, anxiety, violence to others, developmental delays, irregular school attendance and inappropriate sexual behaviour.

“It is known that witnessing family violence is as harmful as experiencing it directly. Often parents believe that they have shielded their children from intimate partner violence, but research indicates that children see or hear many of the incidents. Children who witness family violence suffer the same consequences as those who are directly abused. In other words, a child who witnesses intimate partner violence is experiencing a form of child abuse.”

The effects of child abuse and family violence show up in many ways, the report says. The following are some of the signs – especially when they appear in clusters or represent a change in behaviour:

  • Self-blame, feelings of guilt and shame, clinging, extreme shyness, extreme and repetitive nightmares, loneliness, long bouts of sadness, social withdrawal, separation anxiety, fear of strangers, fear of others of same gender as abuser, general fearfulness, anxiety and phobias;
  • Feelings of being out of control, intrusive thoughts, feelings of stigmatization, insecure attachment to parents and caregivers, loss of faith, truancy, running away, fighting with peers, criminal offending, early use of drugs and alcohol, substance abuse;
  • Developmental delay, headaches, stomach aches, bed wetting and soiling, eating disorders, self-mutilation or burning, thoughts of suicide, dissociation, inappropriate sexual behaviour;
  • Very low self-esteem, difficulty trusting others, difficulty in problem-solving, relationship problems, high levels of anger and aggression, violent when angry, a victim or perpetrator of violence in dating.

(Sources: Royal Canadian Mounted Police, The Effects of Family Violence on Children—Where Does It Hurt? © 2012 HER MAJESTY THE QUEEN IN RIGHT OF CANADA as represented by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police; Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Juristat, Family violence in Canada: A statistical profile, 2014, January 2016, Published by authority of the Minister responsible for Statistics Canada © Minister of Industry, 2016)