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There's a lot of new research emerging that's focused on the effects of domestic violence on children. Researchers are finding out that abuse actually affects children -- and the adults those children later become -- in far worse ways than they ever imagined.

Here are some of the most important things researchers have discovered about domestic violence and its aftermath:

1. The full scope of domestic violence isn't known.

The estimated number of children exposed to physical violence ranges from 4.5 million to 15 million per year. However, researchers believe the true numbers are higher. They believe that many adults downplay or hide instances of domestic violence out of shame.

2. "Second-hand violence" is just as bad for children as direct abuse.

It's no surprise that a child who is physically abused might suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and other issues, like depression and learning disorders. However, researchers discovered that even witnessing abuse can damage a child's mental health just as badly.

A child doesn't even have to be a direct witness to abuse to suffer in its aftermath. Children who were in utero when their mothers were abused show the same mental health problems as children who witnessed abuse or experienced it directly.

3. Abuse causes physical harm long after the actual violence is over.

Children who experience or witness domestic violence suffer well into adulthood. The changes in their brain chemistry and makeup are permanent. As adults, they often suffer from obesity and poor sleep patterns. They also show higher levels of inflammation in their bodies -- which researchers theorize may be related to damage done to their adrenal glands from stress.

This research indicates that there is no way to protect a child from the effects of domestic violence in a household short of leaving the situation. If you are the victim of domestic violence, protective orders and other legal means of limiting your abuser's contact with you and power are available. Reach out for help today. It's necessary for your future -- and the future of your children.

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