Family Violence

An emergent term in Human Services is Family Violence. This is an umbrella term which includes Domestic Violence, Intimate Partner Abuse, Elder Abuse, Domestic Abuse and Child Abuse. Increasingly, all abuse within families is seen as operating within a dynamic system wherein trauma occurring in one part of the family reverberates throughout. Often one form of abuse within the family is seen as a red flag that further abuse or violence of different kinds is likely to also be occurring. Even in situations where only one party is being abused, the psychological impact of that abuse is felt throughout the family. For example, in the case of Domestic Violence the grandparent might feel helpless to stop it and the children will feel deep psychological scars as they watch one or both parents committing acts of violence or abuse.

Family Violence is also being seen as a specialization of various counseling and psychological professions where the matter of trauma and abuse within a family can be dealt with holistically by the counselor or psychologist. Family violence is a very serious matter and even in cases where a family member is not being directly abused factors such as Vicarious Trauma (where someone who did not directly experience trauma will show symptoms equivalent to those who have) or the trauma caused by witnessing acts of abuse can lead to severe psychological problems. These problems can include substance abuse, depression, PTSD, self-harm and suicide. Some researchers even believe that Bi-polar disorder (genetics is the biggest risk factor for BPD), ADD or ADHD can also result from Family Violence.

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Physical violence is the most well-known form of Family Violence and takes its toll on millions of Americans every year resulting in injuries minor and major and in severe cases can lead to the death of the victim. Physical violence is a criminal act and the victim can expect legal protection in these cases.

Sexual assault is a tragic and largely hidden epidemic which can affect not only adults and children but also elders. All cases of sexual abuse should be handled with the utmost compassion and confidentiality.

Psychological abuse is committed in a variety of ways including screaming, insults, attacking of self-esteem, manipulation and other various assaults on the psychological well- being of the victim. Emotional abuse can be overt such as yelling swear words in the face of the victim, to more subtle cases where control and manipulation are the main tools the abuser uses. Emotional abuse takes its toll on the victim in a variety of ways from lower self-esteem to a decreased immune system or even the victim resorting to self-harm and suicide. Emotional abuse does not usually fall under the same legal protections as sexual or physical assault, but leaves a lasting psychological impact on the victim.
Financial abuse is a form of abuse that attempts to control the victim through the denial of financial freedom and independence. Often abusers prevent able bodied adults from having access to their own funds or to getting gainful employment. It is a subtle form of abuse but is very effective at controlling the victim and can be extremely damaging to the victims psyche.

Medical neglect is a type of abuse that is particularly dangerous for children, elders or gravely ill adults. By denying the victim medical care the abuser can cause extremely significant emotional harm and in severe cases can lead to death of the victim who was denied access to medical care.

Family Violence is a very serious problem in America and affects millions of Americans every year. This results in over 6 million injuries and 1,800+ deaths of children per year1. For adults the figures are 2 million injuries and 1,300 deaths2. There are also an unknown number of deaths among elders every year as deaths of elders are rarely investigated for elder abuse3.

All of these forms of Family Violence are of serious concern to Human Services professionals and there are a variety of laws and protocols one must follow when faced with suspected cases of Family Violence. Many Human Services workers, especially those employed by the government, are “mandatory reporters” of suspected Child Abuse and by law must report suspected cases of Child Abuse. The rules and protocols around reporting Family Violence are different within each organization and it is imperative that you are informed about your agencies reporting requirements. Most Human Services organizations also have trainings around related subjects such as Mandatory Reporting, Domestic Violence, confidentiality and Vicarious Trauma. In cases of Family Violence confidentiality is critical in cases of suspected Family Violence due to the potential for retaliation by perpetrators upon victims when Family Violence is reported.

While Family violence is a very serious matter, one can take solace in the fact that there are a variety of occupations within the Human Services profession that have specialized training to deal with the effects of Family Violence. Jobs such as Counselor, Psychologist, Licensed Social Worker, Child Welfare Case Worker, Child Advocate, Child Psychologist and Domestic Violence Counselor are all equipped to help address and heal the trauma caused by Family Violence. By joining the workforce of one of these specialties you are taking a stand against Family Violence and helping society to heal these wounds and advance past this kind of silent epidemic. It is truly a noble cause and one that the Human Services professional can take enormous pride in being part of the solution to this societal illness.