Due to the coronavirus, people are keeping their distance and staying home. For a child, that means they are “trapped” in their unhealthy family system where they see and hear more than they may ever had in their abusive home. It also puts them at a greater risk for abuse themselves.
The fourth installment of NAM’s 5-part series about family violence during the pandemic, Sheryl Johnson, Director of the Family Violence Center at NAM, examines how children living in an abusive home are suffering from increased exposure to abuse and the threat of them being mistreated.
Are children living in an unhealthy home usually aware of the abuse their parent is going through?
“In almost every case we see in our office, the victims tell us that their children are not aware of what has been taking place. They tell us it takes place behind closed doors, happens when the child is not home, or they simply are unaware,” said Johnson. “However, if you were to ask the children in these homes, they are almost always aware that something is going on, but they often don’t know what it is or how to explain it. During times such as these, with everyone home all the time, that changes this dynamic in major ways.”
How does it change for the child?
“First and foremost, if in the past the violence took place behind closed doors or when children are away, that was a premediated act” explained Johnson. “A parent made a conscious decision to figure out when was a good time or not. With the household being disrupted, and everyone home, chances are that the batterer will be less concerned about when these things occur. This leaves the children open to hearing more confrontations or witnessing more violence than they did previously.”
Is that the only change that occurs?
“Another dynamic that can possibly change is the children becoming victims of the physical abuse as well,” stated Johnson. “Even if the child has never been hurt in the past it can occur now. With the near constant contact that many families are experiencing; a child can now be in the direct path of the violence.”
Would that be another pattern of how the violence in the house is escalating?
“Yes, and under the current quarantine, many children are not seeing their doctors for regular check-ups or minor needs,” Johnson said. “Children are not spending time with their babysitters, daycare workers, or teachers. All of these individuals see and care for our children regularly and can identify when something is wrong or different; and they are required to report it for CPS intervention.”
Children staying home from school and not seeing friends or family members has removed several of their safety nets, is that correct?
“All of these individuals are vital to the emotional welfare and health of our children,” said Johnson. “Society helps play a role in protecting children, but only when there is some level of access.”
If you, or someone you know, is suffering from domestic violence, call NAM’s Family Violence Center 24-hour hotline for help. Call (281) 885-4673 or toll-free at (888) 750-4673.
The Family Violence Center is dedicated to breaking the cycle of violence by assisting victims of domestic and sexual violence through crisis intervention, long-term support services, and through community violence and awareness prevention education.