April shines spotlight on issue of child abuse

PARKERSBURG – Local domestic violence victim advocates say even if a child is not being physically abused, witnessing domestic violence is damaging and can set the tone for future relationships as that child grows into an adult.

The month of April has been National Child Abuse Prevention Month.

Emily Larkins, executive director of the Family Crisis and Intervention Center of Region V, said sometimes children in a household where there is domestic violence are abused as well.

“Sometimes there might not be physical abuse of the children, but they are still exposed to that violence. They hear and see the abuse between the adults in the home, so they are witnessing it and that does have an effect them,” Larkins said.

According to an American Psychological Association’s President Task Force report, “a child’s exposure to the father abusing the mother is the strongest risk factor for transmitting violent behavior from one generation to the next. Male children who witness the abuse of mothers by fathers are more likely to become men who batter in adulthood than those male children from homes free of violence.”

Larkins said children may be injured when they try to intervene, to protect the adult victim.

“A lot of times when they are older, they may try to protect the parent who is the victim. They will try to step in between them,” Larkins said. “When they step in, that’s when they are also abused.

“Of course each situation is different, but sometimes the violence is directed at the child. They may abuse the adult victim and also take it out on the children,” she said.

Last year 29 individuals died in West Virginia as the result of domestic violence.

“That number included two children and an unborn child,” Larkins said.

The FCIC continues to see the number of clients it serves go up.

For fiscal year 2011-2012, the agency had 3,195 contacts, which is up from 2,939 from the previous year. A contact is service to a domestic violence victim.

“Statistics say it takes five to seven times of leaving, for a victim to leave and not return. It used to be seven to nine times,” Larkins said. “I think education has made a difference and I’d like to think it’s also because of the resources, hopefully resources and victims knowing the resources are out there has made some difference.

“We may work with a victim more than once, they may choose to return due to financial concerns, because of the children, family pressure or other reasons. They may leave again and come back. They may call the hotline, come to the shelter, our legal advocate may help them with a protection order. They may need help getting baby items,” she said.

Larkins said for many of the victims, they may be willing to take the abuse themselves, but when the abuse goes from the victim to a child, that’s the last straw.

“They tell us they feel they can protect themselves, I can take it, but when it affects my child, that’s it,” Larkins said.

Larkins said some people don’t realize that watching the abuse/violence within the home is a form of abuse in itself.

“They may not realize that emotional, verbal abuse is also abuse, it makes a long-lasting impression on children because that can affect their future relationships, what they perceive as normal and acceptable. Abuse is not the norm, and it’s against the law. As children are in this cycle, and they witness it, it is impacting them for the future relationships,” she said.

Domestic violence is a cycle, and Larkins said the center provides speakers to talk to youth about healthy relationships and what red flags to look for that might indicate concern about a boyfriend or girlfriend and potential abusive behavior.

“The things our students are saying is alarming. It’s important they know what the red flags are in a dating relationship and what is not OK. I think that’s why we need to educate and we need to be proactive,” Larkins said.

The FCIC sheltered 173 individuals last year, up from 164 the year before. The agency offers speakers who can provide age-appropriate information to any group or organizations. Call the shelter, 304-428-2333 to schedule a speaker. The nonprofit center relies on grant funding, donations and fundraisers to operate.