Today we wear purple for the victims of Domestic Abuse. You may have noticed the purple ribbons outside of the Darien Library, or read recent pieces in this newspaper reminding us what constitutes domestic abuse and how to get support for yourself or someone you love.

When we consider the victims of domestic abuse, we usually think of a couple experiencing intimate partner violence (IPV). But in a family, the adults are not the only victims. On average, 1 in 15 children are exposed to domestic violence annually, with 90% of these considered direct witnesses to this violence. Children do not have to be injured themselves to be considered victims. Exposure to domestic violence, directly or indirectly, can have lasting effects, and can be enough to prompt charges of child endangerment and neglect.

Couples may believe their children are shielded from their fights - in other rooms, maybe asleep, or otherwise unaware. But the truth is, it may be the parents who are unaware. Children are very much tuned in to their parents, who are in essence their foundation. They may be listening from their bedrooms when their parents think they are asleep. They may hear their parents speaking about the abuse to other friends or family members. They may see the aftermath: physical marks, messy rooms, or tear-stained faces. In the worst case scenario, they may run into a room to protect a parent and find themselves caught in the crossfire. They may just feel the tension conveyed in the daily interactions between angry parents, verbal and nonverbal communication that is occurring in full view of those who are watching. And our children are always watching.

Exposure to violence and abuse can affect children from infancy, even during pregnancy. Younger children may show their distress in the short-term through changes in sleeping or eating patterns, withdrawing, excessive crying, difficulties separating, regression in developmental skills (bed-wetting, muteness), and increased anxiety or fears. Older children may display increased aggression, difficulty concentrating, difficulties in school or with peers, depression, and risky behaviors. Furthermore, this trauma often has long-term consequences in their lives and relationships.

Teenagers can struggle with abusive relationships too, both as outside observers of their parents, as well as within their own romantic relationships. They may imitate unhealthy relationships they have seen, or simply lack healthy relationship skills. Healthy relationships are founded on trust and respect, with partners allowing each other to flourish independently as well as together. This requires emotional maturity and strong self-esteem, and can be especially difficult for teens, who often derive their self-esteem, identity, and status through the acceptance of their peers.

With the proliferation of cell phones and social media, teens can keep tabs on their partners at all times, checking in regularly, viewing social media posts where they may be tagged with other friends, even tracking their phone. It may feel exciting at first to have this intense focus from a love interest, or get strings of lovesick text messages. It may seem cute to share passwords and post on each other’s accounts. But it can be dangerous when this interest turns to jealously and obsession. As in adult relationships, psychological and emotional abuse can be used as much as physical abuse to gain power and control in teenage relationships. An abuser may leverage their partner’s need for peer acceptance by threatening to share embarrassing or inappropriate pictures or videos, spread rumors, or otherwise destroy social status. They may isolate their partner from friends, convincing them that their love means they should be together all the time. They may damage their partner’s relationship with their parents and supports through subtle intimidation.

Studies show that one in three teenage relationships involve physical or emotional abuse, and 57% of teens say they know somebody who has been physically or emotionally abused by a dating partner. It may be difficult for teens to speak up against their peers, but it is important that they learn to recognize red flags such as when their friends are especially distracted, excessively texting/focusing on their phone, ending participation in extracurricular activities, avoiding gatherings of family/friends, hard to separate from their boyfriend/girlfriend, dressing differently, or acting moody, anxious, or depressed. When something seems off, friends should contact a trusted adult, a hotline, or a 24/7 resource like “Love is Respect” for support.

We all have a right to feel safe and secure in our homes and relationships. Domestic Abuse is never acceptable and never deserved.

For confidential assistance and information, contact:

Connecticut State 24-hour hotline - (888)-774-2900

Domestic Violence Crisis Center (DVCC) - (203) 853-0418

Greenwich YWCA Domestic Abuse Services - (203) 622-0003

The Center for Family Justice - (203) 334-6154

Darien Domestic Advisory Council - www.ddacinc06820.org

Love is Respect: Chat at loveisrespect.org, Text loveis to 22522, or call 1-866-331-9474

Rebecca Martorella, LMFT welcomes ideas and comments and can be reached at themomfront@optonline.net.