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Domestic Violence: When Home Is Where the Hurt Is

Domestic Violence:
When Home Is Where the Hurt Is

Why would a parent hurt a child?
What are the physical effects?
What are the emotional effects?
Where can you turn for help?

For most of us, it's good to come home at the end of a busy day. You put down your backpack, take off your shoes, and dash to the refrigerator for something to eat. You find a comfy chair, turn on the television, and relax. Safe at last, you say. No more hassles until tomorrow morning. Home sweet home.

But for many young people, home is not such a sweet place. They walk in the door not ready to relax, but ready to worry. They know that they are in danger of being hurt—physically or emotionally—by the very people who are supposed to love and take care of them.

In fact, almost a quarter of a million children and teens are physically abused every year. And many more cases are probably never reported. By some estimates, the true numbers are three times that high. Although most of the victims are younger children, about a quarter of reported cases of child abuse and neglect occur in young people between ages 12 and 18.

But violence doesn't have to be physical to be hurtful. Constant shouting, name calling, and humiliation are also forms of abuse. This is called emotional abuse. It's much harder to collect figures on the amount of emotional abuse young people suffer because it is not as obvious as physical abuse. But the pain and the damage to your self-esteem can be just as intense.

Sometimes there is violence at home that does not involve you directly, but it can still be very upsetting.

Sometimes abuse isn't about what does happen, but about what doesn't happen. In other words, if your parent isn't hurting you in some obvious way, but also doesn't take care of your most important emotional and physical needs, then you may be neglected. Neglect is considered a kind of abuse because you are missing out on some of the most essential ingredients for a healthy, happy life. If you are in this situation, it is important for you to find good support outside of your home. back to top

Why would a parent hurt a child?
Parenting is a hard job, and sometimes people underestimate just how hard it is. Family life may overwhelm a single parent, a mother who had a child very young, or a parent who is under a lot of pressure at work. Some parents never learned good parenting skills before they had children. Some may have problems with alcohol or drugs, or with depression. These aren't excuses—no parent should ever harm a child. But it's important to remember that if you are being abused, it's not your fault. You can get help, and the person abusing you should get help, too. back to top

What are the physical effects?
Girls and women are more likely than boys and men to be the victims of abuse. One reason for this is that girls are more likely than boys to believe that they deserve to be treated badly. They try to do everything right, but they still can't prevent domestic violence from happening. This may make a girl feel like a failure.

The result of physical abuse can be injuries ranging from mild to severe. You could recover quickly from a slap or a kick (even though the humiliation and anger may sting for a long time). Or you may need to visit the hospital emergency room, say if you need stitches for a cut or a sling for a sprain. In the worst cases, domestic violence can turn deadly. Murder is now the second-leading cause of death for girls between ages 15 and 19, and it is the leading cause of death in African-American girls of this age. Sadly, in most cases, the murderer is someone the girl knows.

Girls who are abused may also develop eating disorders or may abuse drugs, alcohol, or tobacco. They may have trouble sleeping, or get frequent stomachaches and headaches. back to top

What are the emotional effects?
Not surprisingly, girls and women who are the victims of physical and emotional abuse often develop serious emotional problems. Some of the most common ones are depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress. Girls who are abused are at greater risk of having sex too soon or having unsafe sex. They may have problems in school or may be caught lying or stealing. Their difficulties at home could also lead them to be destructive to themselves or other people, or even to attempt suicide.

Being abused when you are young can affect you for your entire life. Girls who have been abused may choose abusive boyfriends or husbands when they get older, or they may abuse their own children. As women, they may have trouble forming close and trusting personal relationships, and they may have problems with physical closeness and touching.

It's important to remember that even with the risk of all these problems, many girls who are abused go on to lead happy, healthy lives. If problems do occur, proper treatment by a mental health professional can help the person overcome a hurtful past to build a hopeful future. back to top

Where can you turn for help?
It can be extremely difficult to seek help if you are being abused at home. Even though you know that your parent's behavior is wrong, you probably have conflicting feelings about what to do about it. After all, you still love your parent—that's natural. And you don't want to make them more angry or upset. If your parent told you not to tell anyone about the abuse, you could feel guilty or disloyal for speaking the truth. You may even be afraid that your parent will have to go to jail or be taken away. You may prefer to be abused, rather than risk losing your parent or breaking up the family. You may also feel like the abuse is your fault.

It's natural to worry about all these things at once. But your first priority needs to be your own physical safety. You don't deserve to be hurt, and you do deserve to get proper medical care—or police protection, if you are in immediate danger.

If you are afraid that you may be hurt in the future, talk with a police officer or another trusted adult about the situation. You may feel embarrassed or alone, but don't let that stop you from seeking help.

Mental health crisis and abuse hotlines are also good places to call for advice and support. Check your phone book for the number of a hotline in your area, or visit the iEmily hotlines page. back to top

Last Modified Date: 2/13/2001
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