Emotional abuse is the persistent emotional maltreatment of a child such as to cause severe and persistent adverse effects on the child’s emotional development. It may involve seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another, causing children frequently to feel frightened or in danger, or the exploitation or corruption of children..
There is increasing evidence of the adverse long-term consequences for children’s development where they have been subject to sustained emotional abuse. It has an important impact on the development of the child’s mental health, behaviour and self-esteem. Emotional abuse can be especially damaging in infancy. Underlying emotional abuse may be as important, if not more so, as other more visible forms of abuse with regard to its impact upon the child.
As adults, children who have witnessed violence and abuse are more likely to become involved in a violent and abusive relationship themselves. Children tend to copy the behaviour of their parents. Boys learn from their fathers to be violent to women. Girls learn from their mothers that violence is to be expected, and something you just have to put up with. This was a worrying aspect of the abuse in R-v-A where such statements were made by the husband and colluded with, or supported by other family members
However, children don't always repeat the same pattern when they grow up. Many children don't like what they see, and try very hard not to make the same mistakes as their parents. Even so, children from violent and abusive families may grow up feeling anxious and depressed, and find it difficult to get on with other people.
A particularly troubling aspect to the impact of exposure to domestic servitude, is that the abuse is perpetrated and condoned by the children’s parents and possibly extended family. Children learn social norms, values and behaviours from their parents. When the victim of domestic servitude is also required to tend to the needs of the children, attitudes to the victim are modeled by the adults.
Children are often the indirect victims of domestic servitude. Investigators need to recognise the presence of children and the effects of exposure to this form of abuse, in exactly the same way that we would with regard to domestic violence. At the point of identifying suspected Domestic Servitude, Children’s Social Care should be engaged in joint planning and investigation with the Criminal Investigators.
Children within families may therefore be witnesses but should also be considered as indirect victims of the abuse i.e. suffering or likely to suffer significant harm.