The hidden victims
The following article is part three of a five-week series focusing on raising awareness about domestic violence. October is Domestic Violence Awareness month and we hope to educate our community on this very serious issue. 1 in 3 women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. Locally, the Hays-Caldwell Women’s Center has been serving victims of domestic and dating violence, sexual assault and child abuse since 1978. Last year, HCWC served 1,877 victims of abuse (face-to-face) from Hays and Caldwell Counties. 1,024 of those were victims of domestic violence.
Domestic violence is often viewed as an adult issue and the facts that support this belief are overwhelming. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence estimates that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been victims of physical violence by an intimate partner during their life. Those statistics cannot be ignored, but often there are unseen victims who have also experienced the dangers of living in a home with intimate partner violence. Attached to the 1 in 3 women, or 1 in 4 men, are little ones. Children are at risk of getting caught in the middle of physical violence, and developing chronic issues if they do not receive help processing what they have witnessed.
Children do not have the means to access resources in the same way that adults do. They rely on their parent or guardian to provide safety, basic resources, and stability. A home with domestic violence is anything but safe and stable. Children might not speak out against the abusive adult for fear of making things worse, because they love both adults, and do not want to pick sides.
For many children, witnessing intimate partner violence is a traumatic experience. It is often said that children are resilient, cannot be broken, and will get over it. This thinking is harmful to young victims of domestic violence. Some immediate impacts of domestic violence on children are, anxiety, sleeplessness, nightmares, trouble concentrating, increased aggression, worry for the safety of a parent, and high activity levels. Long-term effects can include physical health problems, behavioral problems in adolescence, and emotional challenges in adulthood such as depression, anxiety and PTSD.
Not only do children experience internal issues, but their external world is usually disrupted because of violence in the home. They might have to change schools, move to different towns, live in shelters or see a revolving door of adults in their lives. This creates instability and challenges their healing process.
At HCWC, we recognize the importance of offering services to secondary victims. Secondary victims are individuals who might not have had the abuse directed at them, but are witnesses to what happened. The impacts of secondary trauma are real, and can have lasting effects if not dealt with. Our agency offers counseling services to children that live in homes where domestic violence is occurring or has occurred. We work with the protective parent by first offering them services, then getting their child signed up for counseling.
Counseling for children does not look like them sitting on a couch and sharing all their secrets. It involves play therapy, sand tray, art, and other creative outlets for children to express their world the best way they know how, through play! HCWC provides professional counselors who are trained to effectively serve children who have experienced trauma because of domestic violence.
The facts are glum, but there is hope. Adults can help children in their healing process by speaking up for them, and most importantly getting them the help they need. If you or someone you know is interested in learning how HCWC is working to end violence in our community and help children heal please reach out to us at www.hcwc.orgor call our confidential hotline at 512-396-HELP (4357).
Ashley Mendoza is a transportation advocate for the Hays Caldwell Womens Center