This article, written by Lynn Hecht Schafran and published in the Summer 2014 issue of The Judges Journal, discusses current science on the impact that witnessing domestic violence has on children's developing brains.
In 2000, the National Judicial Education Program (NJEP) added a ground-breaking unit on the neurobiology of trauma to our curriculum on adult victim sexual violence. Judges and others have found this neuroscience unit extremely helpful in understanding phenomena such as why the way in which traumatic memories are recorded and recalled prevents victims of traumatic events such as rape from producing the sequential, never-forget-a-detail narrative of the assault that most people expect.
We are now at a comparable knowledge–development point with respect to understanding the impact of domestic violence on children. This has been a subject of judicial concern and commentary for decades. Now, with the advent of magnetic resonance imaging, neuroscientists have produced scores of studies documenting on a neuronal level the profoundly negative impact of exposure to domestic violence on children, and how children can recover when exposure to the violence is eliminated and they are secure in the care of their non-abusing, primary caregiver parent.