Audio report: Children pick up the stress, even without physical abuse
Part Three in a series
Listen to Lamia Zia’s report and interview with Dr. Resmiye Oral

Children in families in which domestic violence exists sense the stress, even if it is verbal and not necessarily physical or sexual, and are impacted by that the rest of their lives, an international expert on child abuse issues said.

“Violence, basically, is a learned way of communication,” Dr. Resmiye Oral, a University of Iowa clinical associate professor of pediatrics, said. “So you learn it from your parents, and then you become an adult, you do the same stuff. And then your children learn from you and then they go on and do the same stuff.”


Oral, a certified expert in child abuse pediatrics, is the director of the Child Protection Program at the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital and has published numerous articles on child abuse and neglect. She gives various lectures to medical and non-medical professional audiences on domestic child abuse and violence.

She became involved with treating child abuse and neglect in 1993. A graduate of Ohio State University, she established the first multidisciplinary child abuse and neglect follow-up team in Turkey, her country of origin. She wrote a book and three book chapters on child abuse for Turkish physicians.

“Especially when there’s physical abuse and sexual attacks and physical altercations, children develop this fight-or-flight reaction, which is a normal reaction for anybody and everybody when there is violence in the environment,” Oral said.

Dr. Resmiye Oral, University of Iowa

Children don’t calm down during the relative peace between violent episodes in the home, she said. “They know that it’s going to come back.” This anticipation and recurrence physically affects the brain’s physical development in children, she said.

“Children exposed to violence throughout their lives become scared and anxious individuals. And they read violence in anything and everything. They show a lot of characteristics of post-traumatic stress disorder.”

Additionally, boys usually model their behavior after the perpetrator, usually a male, while girls model after their mothers, who usually are the victims in domestic violence situations, Oral said.

Abuse_gray scale
Credit: Jaime Vargas illustration/IowaWatch

Oral’s interests focus on building international systems that address child abuse and neglect, drug-endangered children, shaken baby syndrome, and early intervention of child abuse to prevent severe and usually irreversible consequences of abuse including fatality. Recognizing subtle clues of abuse is of utmost importance, which makes training of all professionals involved with child abuse equally as important, she said.

Child Protection Program, University of Iowa Children’s Hospital brochure

Next: How the community can help stop the violence.

Other stories in this series:

Inside a Domestic Violence Shelter: Respite and Hope
Faces of Silence: Seeking Help Difficult for Midwest Muslim Women Abused at Home

About this Project

Lamia Zia

“Faces of Silence” focuses on Muslim American women of South Asian descent in Midwest United States who have been affected by domestic violence. The project highlights the manifestations of domestic violence in this group, how Muslims in the Midwest are dealing with domestic violence, the best practices for intervention in this community and their challenges. This project was the master’s thesis for Lamia Zia at the University of Iowa School of Journalism and Mass Communication in fall 2012. Zia interviewed during that fall domestic abuse survivors living in a Chicago shelter, experts, local women and imams for this report. Her thesis has been edited for presentation at

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