The majority of children living in a home where domestic violence is present are affected by the abuse. Children are victims of domestic violence both when directly targeted by the perpetrator of abuse and when witnessing the violence directed at their mother. Research has shown that there is a connection between domestic violence and child abuse and that witnessing the abuse is in itself a form of emotional abuse. (Listening to Children: Children's Stories of Domestic Violence, Hogan, F. and O'Reilly M, Office of the Minister For Children, 2007)
Children may witness domestic violence in many ways. For example, they may be in the same room and may even get caught in the middle of an incident in an effort to protect their mother. They may be in the next room or they may be forced to witness sexual abuse. Children can also be directly abused by the same perpetrator inflicting abuse on their mother. While abuse of children is a huge issue in itself, in domestic violence situations, actual or threatened abuse of children is often used as a controlling mechanism over women. The abuse of the mother and children often continues after separation, especially in the context of access visits and joint custody.
Children can experience both short term and long term effects as a result of witnessing domestic violence. These can include:
However, it is important to remember that some children may not exhibit any negative effects.
Women's Aid will continue to highlight the links between child abuse and domestic violence and the best practice principle of protecting the child through protecting the non-abusive parent, usually the mother, who should be seen as the natural ally in child protection situations. Women's Aid believes that this needs to be reflected in any changes to Family Law or Domestic Violence Legislation as well as in any Child Protection structures.
Click here to visit the Women's Aid website for helpful information on domestic violence and children and you can call our National Freephone Helpline on 1800 341 900 (10am to 10pm, 7 days).