The impacts and consequences of domestic violence are far reaching, both for victims and perpetrators. For the victim, in particular, domestic violence can create a variety of both physical and mental health issues. It can also interfere with their careers by decreasing their ability to concentrate and/or perform essential job functions, as well as cause prolonged absence, in extreme cases. Children who witness domestic violence, whether once or regularly, can be impacted for years to come.
Physical Health Impacts
Many victims of domestic violence suffer injuries ranging from minor cuts and bruises to broken bones and severe head trauma. Nationwide, it is estimated that these physical effects cost $5.8 billion, annually, in healthcare. This includes emergency room visits, surgeries, hospital stays, subsequent physical rehabilitation, and follow-up appointments.
At this point in the course, it is probably unsurprising that violence within intimate partner relationships is one of the leading causes of injury among women, nationwide. Long after the abuse has ended, many victims, both male and female, experience long-term, or in some cases, chronic health issues, including frequent headaches, back pain, recurring episodes of fainting, seizures, and/or gastrointestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome. Additionally, some cardiac issues such as chronic chest pain have been associated with abuse.
These issues can be the result of recurrent injuries, or stress, or a combination of both throughout the duration of the abusive relationship. Many victims, for example, often report being choked and receiving multiple blows to the head, both of which can lead to serious long-term neurological impairments. Acute stress, too, can wreak havoc on one’s physical health.
By far, however, gynecological problems are the most common health issue faced by women who are victims of domestic violence in the form of sexual abuse. Many women suffer from vaginal tears or bleeding, subsequent pain during intercourse, chronic pelvic pain, and/or frequent urinary tract infections. While the majority of these issues are the result of forced intercourse, other abusive acts, such as refusing to wear condoms or the destroying of birth control methods can lead to other sexual health issues such as sexually transmitted diseases, some of which can be chronic, HIV, and/or unintended pregnancy. Physical abuse experienced while pregnant can also have detrimental effects on both the mother and the baby, and can sometimes cause miscarriage.
Mental Health Impacts
Domestic violence can have a lasting impact on the overall mental health of its victims. Many victims, as a result of the abuse they endured, suffer from depression and/or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Victims of abuse are also more likely to display suicidal tendencies. Women who suffered abuse at the hands of an intimate partner are twice as likely to develop and suffer from depression, and also much more likely to suffer from PTSD than women who were not abused.
PTSD is the result of trauma experienced during the abusive relationship(s), and manifests in the form of flashbacks, panic attacks, and trouble sleeping. Other mental health disorders that are common among those population are insomnia, eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, anxiety, and social dysfunction. It is also much more likely that a victim of domestic violence will develop addiction to drugs and/or alcohol, as a means by which to cope with the trauma they’ve experienced. These substances usually create an escape for victims, sometimes while still suffering abuse at the hands of their partner.
Often, domestic violence is not confined to the household of those involved, and may follow victims to their place(s) of work. Those who have suffered physical abuse may come to work with visible signs, such as cuts and bruises, or they may be habitually late or frequently absent. In extreme cases, their absence could be quite lengthy. Victims may also have decreased ability to concentrate and/or perform essential job functions, resulting in decreased productivity.
These examples could be caused either by physical injury or mental impairment, such as depression, or both. One survey found that nearly half of all victims of domestic violence reported an increased difficulty concentrating while at work. Furthermore, the perpetrators may also disrupt one’s work with frequent phone calls made to the victim during work hours, either to harass, threaten, or “check up” on their victim. Perpetrators engaged in stalking their victim often do not cease simply because or while a victim is at work, and this can, undeniably, be a concern for both victims, their employers, and their coworkers.
The Impacts of Domestic Violence on Children
Whether the abuse occurs regularly at the hands of one parent toward another parent, or just once between other family members, children who bear witness to domestic violence typically suffer greatly from such destructive behavior. Sometimes, their suffering is not long-lasting, as it typically is for victims, themselves, but other times, those who’ve witnessed domestic violence as adolescents often struggle into adulthood.
Bearing witness to domestic violence includes hearing or seeing the actual act(s), or being present for the aftermath, which often means being around someone who is uncontrollably upset and/or physically injured (sometimes gravely), and/or someone who is seething with anger and has, perhaps, broken items or punched holes in the walls of the family home.
In the United States, it is estimated that 3 million children witness domestic violence every year. Many of these children experience fear, confusion, anger, embarrassment, and rage. Some develop behavioral issues of their own, including engaging in violent behaviors at home or at school. Others, still, respond by withdrawing, altogether, or seeking perfection in all aspects of life, as though that will curb any potential abuse. Bed-wetting and frequent nightmares are also more common for children who have witnessed domestic violence, compared to those who have not. Many children suffer developmentally or academically, or both. Some run away from home.
Growing up in violent homes can make it very difficult for children to trust adults, as the examples they’ve primarily witnessed have been destructive. As a result, they may have issues controlling their own anger, and/or lack effective problem-solving skills.
These issues can plague them well into adulthood. Also, as these children grow and develop, they are more likely to develop addictions to drugs and/or alcohol, as well as commit crimes – particularly violent crimes, than children who did not grow up in violent homes. They are also more likely to develop and experience mental health issues such as anger, anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.