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Ines FERNANDES
August 16, 2021
Effects of Domestic Violence

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Effects of Domestic Violence

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Just as domestic violence (DV) takes on several forms, ranging from physical, emotional, mental, sexual to financial abuse, so can its effects affect many different areas of victims’ lives and vary from person to person. We all must acknowledge that the effects of intimate partner violence (IPV) are beyond skin deep. Abuse scars victims not just physically but psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually. It also extends, affecting witnesses of abuse, such as victims’ children, friends, and relatives. In fact, mothers reported feeling that the physical abuse they had endured “seriously or extremely” affected their lives “as wives” (78%), “as mothers” (60%), and “in the workplace” (68%) [1].

We all have the potential to be a current or future witness of domestic violence, so, if we want to see DV eradicated, we need to learn about all the effects of DV. Being able to notice early signs of abuse and effectively help victims leave their perpetrator before it’s too late.

Physical Effects of DV

The physical effects of domestic violence usually involve:

  • bruises across victims’ bodies, sometimes on or around the eyes
  • red or purple marks around the neck
  • sprained or broken wrists
  • chronic fatigue
  • shortness of breath
  • muscular tension
  • involuntary shaking
  • disruption to eating, sleeping, and sexual patterns and function
  • menstrual cycle or fertility issues in women.

Emotional and Spiritual Effects of DV

Victims and survivors of domestic abuse usually experience:

  • feelings of hopelessness and unworthiness
  • apprehension about the future
  • an inability to trust others
  • doubt in spiritual faith
  • lack of motivation.

Psychological Effects of DV: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Depression

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a serious anxiety issue that may develop as a result of exposure to life-threatening or injury-inflicting events in which victims feel helplessness. PTSD is characterized by

  • re-experiencing of events of trauma in the form of memories or flashbacks, along with psychological and physiological distress (arousal) when exposed to stimuli that relate to the trauma; (b) avoidance of stimuli that are trauma relevant or periods of emotional detachment; and (c) physiological arousal characterized by such problems as hyper-vigilance, sleep disorders, or inappropriate anger” [1]. It should be noted that PTSD usually shows little improvement without treatment [1].
  • PTSD and depression are the most commonly identified psychological disorders associated with domestic violence. Whereas the PTSD rates among general samples of women range from 1% to 12%, the rates of PTSD among battered women vary from 31% to 84%, with an estimated average prevalence of 64% [2].
  • The estimated average prevalence rate of major depression among battered women equals 48% [2]. Importantly, depression among some survivors has been found to persist over time, even if they do not go through re-victimization [3].

Effects of DV on Pregnancy and Parenting

A study of 200 women in London [4] found that both a history of DV and depressive symptoms were significantly associated with obstetric complications. The study's authors argue that victims or survivors’ depressive symptoms, which are a consequence of DV, may lead to behaviors that jeopardize their health and pregnancy (i.e. smoking and drinking, poor diet and intermittent antenatal care) [4].

Moreover, women who experience DV are more likely to begin their antenatal care late or describe their pregnancy as unwanted or unplanned [5], which may result in inadequate care during pregnancy that may lead to complications and admission to hospital.

Turning to DV’s effects on parenting practices, a study of 50 mothers and children in Hawaii found that mothers who had been survivors of DV for 2 years were more quick or impulsive in their actions toward their children and experienced greater levels of parenting stress, which could be the consequence of their PTSD and depression symptoms [1]. In this study, mothers’ PTSD did not seem to affect their children’s chances of developing the disorder, however.

Let’s pause for a moment and clarify that survivors are not bad parents. This subsection is meant to raise awareness that the best parenting skills in the world cannot disguise the fact that it is extremely challenging to raise a child who has gone through or witnessed DV while dealing with the physical, emotional, financial, social implications of being or having been a victim oneself, potentially alone or with little help and resources.

Lack of social support plays a significant role in survivors’ psychological health, and, due to the control on social relationships that abusers usually carry out, survivors may feel that they have little social support. For this reason, it’s extremely important to provide survivors and their kids with enough financial resources, support networks, and care programs that can allow them to recover from DV [4].

Effects of DV on children

Domestic violence in adult relationships puts children at a higher risk for abuse [1], meaning they may go through the effects of direct DV mentioned above.

In cases where children are not direct victims of abuse, their presence may not affect the abuser’s behavior [1], with the implication that these kids may experience the psychological consequences of DV just as much as their parent, who is the direct victim of abuse. Indeed, a study that investigated the rates of PTSD among a sample of 25 children and 25 mothers who had been survivors for 2 years found that 40% of children and 50% of mothers in their sample experienced PTSD [1].

PTSD in children is related to anger and withdrawal, which can lead to problems with attention and concentration in the classroom, with negative consequences on children’s educational outcomes.

In this study, maternal symptoms of PTSD were associated with kids’ tendency to withdraw, which the study’s authors believe means that children’s major defense mechanism against their survivor-mothers’ depression, anger, and withdrawal as well as their personal feelings of a lack of safety is to profoundly withdraw (dissociate) from the world and people around them.

Given the (false) popular belief that only or mostly direct victims of abuse suffer its negative consequences, mothers with PTSD in this study tended to genuinely underestimate their children’s distress. Specifically, whereas 92% of mothers with PTSD in the study had sought psychiatric treatment for themselves, 91% of them had not sought psychiatric help for their children.

Such lack of knowledge of how to deal with child PTSD reveals the need for independent psychological diagnoses and treatment of mothers and children affected by DV on the part of physicians and an increase in awareness of the psychological effects of DV on all implicated parties on everyone else’s part. Now you’ve made it to the end, pass your awareness along to someone you know needs to learn about the unseen effects of DV!

RESOURCES

[1] Chemtob, C. M., & Carlson, J. G. (2004). Psychological Effects of Domestic Violence on Children and Their Mothers. International Journal of Stress Management, 11(3), 209.

[2] Golding JM. Intimate partner violence as a risk factor for mental disorders: A meta-analysis. Journal of Family Violence. 1999;14:99–132.

[3] Campbell JC, Soeken KL. Women’s responses to battering over time: An analysis of change. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. 1999b;14:21–40.

[4] Bacchus, L., Mezey, G., & Bewley, S. (2004). Domestic violence: prevalence in pregnant women and associations with physical and psychological health. European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology, 113(1), 6-11.

[5] Taggart L, Mattson S. Delay in prenatal care as a result of battering in pregnancy: cross-cultural implications. Health Care Wom Int 1996;17:25–34.

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