The Impact of Exposure to Violence on a Child’s Brain And Why this is a Grave Cause for Concern

The Impact of Exposure to Violence on a Child’s Brain And Why this is a Grave Cause for Concern

Added on Monday, 29 January 2018
An article by Mary Lou Randour, Ph.D., Senior Advisor, Animal Cruelty Programs and Training, Animal Welfare Institute

Children can be exposed to cruelty in a number of ways—in the home, at school, through media consumption, or even in their own communities. Recently, the Dog Meat Free Indonesia coalition revealed that children in Indonesia are often subjected to the violent slaughtering of dogs in public markets. Because children begin to develop empathy as early as their first year, and very young children are able to recognize distress in others, witnessing such events can be incredibly traumatic.

There is no scientific doubt that children who witness violence suffer negative consequences, and these consequences are immediate and potentially long-term. The immediate consequences of witnessing or being exposed to violence can include anxiety, withdrawal, unexpected aggressive behavior, and other changes in personality. These are all changes that manifest themselves in behaviors observable to the human eye.

However, when children are exposed to cruelty and violence, there also can be unseen—and much more permanent—long-term effects. Witnessing violence can have dire negative consequences for the way in which a child’s brain develops—it induces actual physical changes in a child’s brain.

The Impact of Exposure to Violence on a Child’s Brain And Why this is a Grave Cause for Concern
“We witnessed young children watching as dogs were beaten to death or blowtorched whilst still alive. Troublingly, none of the children we observed exhibited any emotional response whatsoever, suggesting they may have become desensitized to the cruelty.”

Neurons are the building blocks of the brain, creating interlocking systems and organizing those systems into increasing levels of complexity. The development of these systems is sequential, meaning prior events can disrupt ongoing development. Trauma—that is, witnessing or experiencing violence such as the slaughter of dogs—can interfere with the brain’s development. Neural pathways needed for adaptive behavior are compromised, which can lead to disrupted attachment, cognitive delays, and impaired emotional regulation.

Trauma can also reduce the length of telomeres—essential components of human cells that affect how our cells age. Premature cellular aging produces health problems, such as increased cardiovascular risk, elevated risks for mental health disorders, and shorter life expectancy. The negative biological and psychological effects created by trauma often are passed on to the next generation. Traumatized children grow up, become parents, and have children who suffer deficits in health and psychological well-being.

The current practice of dog slaughter in Indonesia undoubtedly harms any child who is exposed to this cruelty. As supported heavily by scientific evidence, witnessing trauma has damaging impacts on development of a child’s brain and later physical and psychological health. This practice needs to be immediately terminated for the sake of the children of Indonesia.


Hero’s Story

The Dog Meat Free-Indonesia coalition spent many long and heartbreaking months investigating the inner-workings of the dog meat trade throughout Indonesia. As people who do what we do because we care so passionately about animals, doing investigations never gets any easier. It is soul-destroying and heart-breaking, but essential in documenting the reality of the trade so that we are best-positioned to fight it, and to ultimately realise our goal of ending the dog meat trade.

But we always save those we can…

On one particular day, we had the chance to save a dog who we named 'Hero'.

Change is coming in Indonesia and throughout Asia… Never before has the dog meat trade or the consumption of dog meat been questioned the way it is now. People are turning their backs on a trade and a practice that can no longer hide behind a defense of ‘culture’ or ‘tradition’.