News Release Archive

When children witness violence in the home, the effects can last
forever and have many repercussions.

Dr. Susan Wilson is a clinical psychologist with the Family Court
Clinic at the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry in Toronto. She said
exposure to violence in the home has both short and long-term
impacts on children. 

In the short-term they perceive incidents as crisis events. If
they are taken out of the home and put in a shelter, that
represents a crisis for some children because they are separated
from their home, friends, toys and, potentially, their school.

Children understand events differently than adults. Dr. Wilson
said this makes it important to take the time to understand how
children have perceived the situation. 

Sometimes children have "normalized" the violence in the home. If
it has gone on repeatedly, and if interventions by the police or
other agencies have not resulted in any changes, children may
come to accept violence as a normal and natural way of responding
to anger or conflict. 

Dr. Wilson said witnessing the abuse of women can affect boys and
girls differently. She said the boys who see violent acts are
going to be 17 times more likely to show significant levels of
behavioral problems than those who don't. She said girls who see
violence are 10 times more likely to show noticeable levels of
behavioral problems than girls who don't see violence. 

"That doesn't mean girls are not equally affected, it just means
they are affected in a different way."

She said boys are more likely to "act out" their reaction through
violent or aggressive behavior, but they will also internalize
some feelings and may show signs of anxiety and depression. Dr.
Wilson said that, in part, these reactions can be best understood
based on what they have seen in the home. 

She said "barterers" use a variety of methods to assert power and
control over their partners. She added that abusers provide
models of aggressive and physically violent behavior. A barterer
can also model internalized behavior such as dependence on his
partner by telling her that he can't live if she leaves him or if
she doesn't return to him.

Dr. Wilson pointed out that girls tend to show their distress
more through internalizing their feelings, appearing anxious or
depressed. Girls may show lower self-esteem and may distort what
is appropriate in terms of relationships. They may experience
particular difficulties in their teen years when they start their
own relationships. Children not only see violence in the home but
in many cases they are victims of it.

Dr. Wilson said that 30 to 40 per cent of men who batter their
partners will also physically abuse their children. The American
psychologist Honore Hughes referred to this as a "double whammy."

Children may put the blame of the turmoil in the house on
themselves. She said, "It's very common for children to think of
themselves as the cause of the violence."

She said some children think it's their responsibility to prevent
more violence from occurring or to stop the violence once it has
started. It's often in these situations of intervening that
children are hurt themselves.

Furthermore, 15 to 30 per cent of adolescents who have been
wrongly treated will go on to be involved in some kind of
delinquent acts compared with "non-maltreated" adolescents.
Maltreated adolescents are more likely to start offending at an
earlier age and are more likely to be charged with more serious
offences such as assault, rather than such things as theft.


EDITOR'S NOTE: Dr. Susan Wilson is a keynote speaker at the
Prevention of Child Abuse Conference, Thursday Oct. 3 and Friday,
Oct. 4, at the Mount Saint Vincent University Mother House,
Halifax. She will also present a workshop on helping children who
have witnessed violence in their homes.

This article was written by John Whidden of Communications Nova
Scotia for the Family Violence Prevention Initiative.  

Contact: John McKee  902-424-3998

trp                     Sept. 30, 1996 - 1:40 p.m.