We live in times where life is increasingly stressful and trying. One of the many side-effects of this is an escalation of domestic violence. Another tragic part of this cycle is the mental health problems associated with experiencing or witnessing abuse in the home. While these issues scar people of all ages, emotional trauma significantly impacts younger members of the family.
It is a sad fact that Western Australia has the most instances of family domestic violence in the nation. Of the 2.2 million adult victims of physical or sexual violence in Australia, approximately 64 per cent took place in Western Australia. The majority of victims are female and are predominantly in their 20s or 30s. However, one in ten victims is under 19 years of age. On average, one woman a week dies at the hands of her partner in Western Australia.
Mental Health Impact
It is an undisputed fact that domestic abuse takes a heavy toll on the victim’s physical well-being. Research also shows us that the mental health of the victim, the abuser, and children who witness domestic violence also suffers.
When considering the cycle of abuse, remorse, and abuse, it is easy to understand the mental and emotional strain victims experience. During the period that frequently elapses between violent outbursts, victims report a constant state of anxiety and fear. They know the other shoe will drop but cannot predict when the next violent episode will occur. This type of fear frequently leads to PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) as well as anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts or attempts. The correlation between domestic abuse and mental health issues is so strong that experts estimate up to 60 per cent of women who have mental health problems also experienced domestic violence.
Impact on Children
Children are frequently the victims of violence and emotional abuse in their homes. Understandably, this leaves significant scarring on the psyche of a child. Children who are not the target of domestic abuse but witness it also suffer substantial mental trauma. Children who come from homes where domestic violence takes place have greater odds of entering into an abusive relationship when they become adults.
Additionally, there are other distressing short and long-term impacts of domestic abuse for children.
Short-Term Effects Separated by Age Groups
- Preschool Children – Children who experience or witness domestic violence during the preschool years often show regressive behaviours like thumb-sucking, bed wetting, and frequent crying. Additionally, very young children display signs of terror such as hiding, stuttering, or excessive separation anxiety.
- School Age Children – There are several typical manifestations of trauma in this age group. Physical problems like headaches and stomachaches brought on by mental distress are common. Likewise, these children may act out, sometimes bullying others. Some children who witness or experience abuse withdraw from interactions.
- Teens – Both male and female teens with backgrounds involving domestic violence tend to engage in risk-taking behaviours, exhibit low self-esteem, and fight with others. Males are more likely to get into trouble with the law, and females are more likely to experience depression and suicidal thoughts.
There are several lasting effects of growing up with domestic abuse that follow children into adulthood. These include:
- Suicidal thoughts or attempts
- Poor self-esteem
- Males from abusive backgrounds are ten times more likely to abuse a partner
- Females from abusive backgrounds are six times more likely to be abused
The link between mental health problems and abusing family members has been the topic of debate for decades. Often the idea that the abuser could not control themselves aligned with the notion that the victim should share the blame. However, recent research shows a strong link between abusive behaviour and mental issues surrounding self-esteem, substance abuse, and deviant learned patterns of behaviour.
While these points are not a way of dismissing violent behaviour, it is critical to understand the minds and the motives of abusers. Within the criminal justice system, a path to wellness and rehabilitation must exist to facilitate re-entry into society. By understanding the mental condition of violent abusers, treatment can be successful and integration possible.
*Help is Available*
It is of critical importance that victims of domestic abuse understand they can reach out for help. Isolation and a belief that no one cares about the violence they endure lead many victims to stay with their abusers.
To address the growing crisis, the Western Australian government implemented Path to Safety Western Australia’s Strategy to Reduce Family and Domestic Violence 2020 – 2030. The decade-long programme creates a way for the government and communities to respond to this issue of domestic abuse as well as reducing its occurrence.
For non-emergency situations, victims should consult the guide for 24- hour helplines that can provide support and information regarding resources to help victims and perpetrators.
In emergencies, victims of violence or abuse should contact the Western Australia police by calling 000. Additionally, help can be found by calling 131 444. In the majority of regional areas, these calls automatically go to the nearest police station.
Here at Lawson Legal, our staff of caring professionals works within the justice system to assist the entire family involved with domestic violence. We aim to attain justice as well as assistance so families can be whole.
If you or someone you care about is experiencing domestic violence or mental health crisis leading to legal troubles, please do not hesitate to contact our office. We will put our years of experience to work for you.