Innocence Lost

Domestic violence takes place in the home, but its effects spread throughout the entire community. We see some of its results in homeless shelters, emergency rooms, and unemployment lines. Others are less visible, including family instability, long-term health problems, and reduced productivity.

Domestic violence is not just a family matter; it affects our whole community. Tweet this!

Domestic violence is a public health problem.

In Tennessee, domestic violence laws apply to adults and minors related by blood, adoption, or marriage, as well as those currently or formerly in an intimate relationship. Violent acts include inflicting bodily harm, causing reasonable fear of bodily harm, and making “extremely offensive or provocative” physical contact.

Domestic violence is not just a family matter; it is closely tied to community factors, especially economic conditions. When unemployment goes up, so does domestic violence. The rate of violence in couples experiencing financial strain is over three times higher than the rate among other couples. More family violence, in turn, means more costs to the criminal justice and health care systems. In short, domestic violence is a public health problem of epidemic proportions.

Domestic violence has negative effects on children.

The effects of domestic violence on children are well documented. Although children are are less likely than women to be direct victims of domestic violence, they are often present when violence occurs. Witnessing family violence is a traumatic experience: seeing or hearing a family member being threatened or beaten can shatter a young child’s sense of safety and security, with long-term consequences for brain development and emotional well-being.

More than one in ten children in the U.S. are exposed to domestic violence.

National research shows that in about half of reported incidents, children are present. In about 80 percent of these cases, children directly see or hear the violence. Every year, between 10 and 15 million children witness domestic violence.

Children younger than six are at higher risk than older children for directly witnessing domestic violence. There is a general belief that infants and young children are less affected than older children, but research shows that exposure to domestic violence affects even very young children.

Witnessing domestic violence threatens children’s brain development, psychological adjustment, and physical health.

Stress and trauma can impair children’s brain development. Some studies find that adults who experienced significant early life stress have differences in brain structure compared to people who experienced low levels of early stress. Early stressful experiences, including exposure to violence, can disrupt an infant’s stress reactivity — the ability of her brain’s stress response system to turn on and off appropriately.

Moreover, domestic violence can affect a child even before she is born. Domestic violence often begins or grows more intense during pregnancy, and the resulting maternal stress can interfere with fetal brain development.

Increasing awareness and availability of services is crucial.

There are numerous services in Memphis and Shelby County to assist families affected by domestic violence. Unfortunately, victims face numerous challenges in obtaining assistance, such as identifying available services and navigating eligibility requirements.

Improving awareness and prevention efforts and increasing the accessibility of well-funded, evidence-based treatments are crucial for breaking the cycle of violence currently threatening the healthy development of our community’s young children.