Families become victims

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- “Attempting to cause or causing bodily injury to a family or household member or placing a family or household member by threat of force in fear of imminent physical harm.” That’s how domestic abuse is defined according to ChildWelfare.gov.

Domestic violence is not limited to a spouse or a partner, its reach goes beyond a single victim. According to the web site, it may also include: Causing or attempting to cause physical or mental harm to a family or household member, placing a family or household member in fear of physical or mental harm causing or attempting to cause a family or household member to engage in involuntary sexual activity by force, threat of force, or duress, engaging in activity toward a family or household member that would cause a reasonable person to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed, or molested.

Shirley Crow, 21st Medical Group, domestic violence victim advocate at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, said these are uncomfortable topics that people often do not want to discuss. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, having grown from a single day’s events into a nationally recognized month-long endeavor to bring the problem into the open.

“It’s an issue that keeps growing,” Crow said. “But it is very hidden.”

Almost 1,000 victims were served in one day in Colorado during the National Census of Domestic Violence Services Sept. 14, 2016. About 70 percent of the services provided on that single day were for children’s support or advocacy.

“Children are greatly impacted when they live in a house with increased levels of violence,” she said.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau published an article titled “Child Witnesses to Domestic Violence.” In that article it notes that more attention is being paid to children who are not just victims of domestic violence, but who are witnesses.

According to the article, research supports the findings that even when children are not the direct target of violence at home, they can be harmed by witnessing it happening.

Crow said the impact upon children can manifest itself not just in older children who can recognize what is taking place, but in younger ones as well. Infants, she said, can bear the brunt of both physical and other types of abuse.

“It can affect infants in the womb, too, causing them stress,” said Crow. “That includes verbal abuse. It causes the infant to carry anxiety going forward.”

Kisa Corcoran, 21st MDG, domestic violence victim advocate, elaborated.

“An infant’s body reacts as if it happens to them, as far as changing their nervous system,” Corcoran said.

“It slows their development,” said Crow. “They crawl and walk at a later date and regular activity can be delayed.”

Physical abuse, like hitting, pushing or pulling hair, is what gets the most notice, Corcoran said. But there are other types that are commonly having a negative impact on households where there is domestic violence. Non-physical forms of abuse take the shape of threats of harm to the victims or their children, isolation and even injury to a pet.

“Physical abuse is what gets people in the most trouble, but verbal and emotional abuse take longer to heal,” she said. “Then there is sexual abuse, which people don’t want to talk about.”

Where children are concerned, besides witnessing the abuse, Crow said they can be targeted for emotional abuse. An abusive parent may try to make the victim look like a bad person or parent, for example.

“They try to build distrust by making the child lose respect,” Corcoran added. “They try to make them think ‘Mommy doesn’t care for us.’ It’s coercion.”

Some victims have to beg to get basic needs met, some are stalked and made to account for all the time in a day, people they met or places they went. Sometimes their phones are tracked or home security systems are used to monitor victims in their homes.

“And you see a lot of character assassination,” Crow said. “Especially in the military.”

Keeping an eye out for domestic violence is important in getting the proper help to victims, the advocates said.

“When someone feels like they are always walking on eggshells it’s a good sign they should look for support and help,” said Corcoran. “People should be able to feel respected and cared for in a positive relationship. They should feel relaxed and confident enough to be themselves.”

For more information Crow can be reached at (719) 556-8571

Colorado Coalition Against Domestic Violence: http://ccadv.org

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Child Welfare Information Gateway: https://www.childwelfare.gov