In recognition of April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month, special events took place in the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community all month, including a workshop called “Identifying the Effects of Domestic Violence in Children and Young Adults.”
The workshop took place at the Two Waters Complex on April 19 and was presented by Doreen Nicholas from the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence. Its goal was to increase awareness for adults, give those who work with children and teens a refresher, and help identify some of the common traits associated with domestic violence and assault in the home.
Nicholas noted that domestic violence as a topic really wasn’t fully discussed or recognized publicly until the 1980s.
“It was many times looked at as a private matter [occurring] in homes, but it also tears families apart and takes hope away from the children,” said Nicholas.
She then asked the participants why they chose to attend the workshop. Many who filled the conference room worked with children through social service programs, schools and recreation programs. Some said they have seen a lot of trauma but were not able to specifically identify certain behaviors associated with domestic violence and/or child abuse, and others wanted to be more aware.
Child abuse is defined as physical, sexual or emotional abuse toward a child, physical or emotional neglect, and/or denial of medical care for a child. Child exposure to domestic violence is seeing, hearing, being told about or seeing the aftermath of abuse and coercive control used against a parent. Nicholas discussed how children’s imaginations fill in the blanks of what took place or what else could take place in the future, and how that can lead to emotional problems.
She also noted how families tend to stay together in the abusive relationship so that the home is a two-parent household. She explained how to recognize barriers and recognize community resources for the abused parent and/or family.
What do children experience when they witness domestic violence?
During violent incidents, children may referee by trying to rescue the abused parent from the abuser, take physical action by getting in between the adults, or try to distract the abuser and shift the harm to them to protect their younger siblings. This leads to a great deal of stress in their lives. Children under age 10 are very needy and “really dial into the attitude of both parents,” Nicholas said. And many children become truant at school because they are afraid to leave the side of their parent.
What lessons might a child learn from witnessing abuse?
Children learn that violence and threats can get you what you want, and that you can be the aggressor in life or be the victim. They learn that there are people who can love you and people who can hurt you. Many may think that violence and unhealthy relationships are normal in every household.
Nicholas emphasized that children and teens need to understand that they can come to trusted adults such as counselors and representatives at social service agencies for reassurance; they need to be able to see some hope and be able to realize that this kind of life is not normal.
What happens when a child or parent discloses the abuse?
Nicholas said to remember to appreciate the situation and how difficult it is for someone to confess what has been happening. “And never doubt them, never criticize or speak negative about the other parent because they are looking for a trusted individual,” she said.
“And when they want to speak about it again, remember how and where the first place was and the environment, and try to recreate it. Always let the youth know they have a choice; show that you can be a role model and show positive reinforcement.”
For more information on dealing with domestic violence, contact Community Health Educator Vurlene Notsinneh-Bowekaty at (480) 362-2706.
Helping Children Affected by Domestic Violence
• Provide children a non-violent space to come to
• Offer personal support
• Refer the family to support groups, education and counseling