The Impact of Domestic Violence on Children

National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

The Impact of Domestic Violence on Children

In a Washington Post article from early February, the authors (two state attorneys) describe children who are exposed to incidents of domestic violence as the “invisible victims.” They write:

As prosecutors, we have long noted with distress how often children are present when violent crimes are committed. Kids don’t need to be the target of the violence to be scarred by it. Ask any adult who witnessed domestic violence while growing up; decades later, he or she will still be able to talk vividly of the event and how it affects them today.”

Domestic abuse affects everyone — family, friends, and even the community. As highlighted in the Post article, children often are affected if they are living in a space where this is taking place. They become the ‘secondary’ victims of the abuse, whether it’s emotional, physical or sexual, and whether it takes place constantly or in isolated incidents.

Here are some interesting facts about children and domestic violence:

  • Over half of female domestic violence victims live in households withchildren under the age of 12.
  • Research indicates that up to 90 percent of children living in homes where there is domestic violence know what is going on.
  • In a study of more than 6,000 families in the United States, it was reported that half of the men who physically abused their wives also abused their children. Also, older children are frequently assaulted when they interfere to defend or protect the victim.
  • A child’s exposure to domestic violence is the strongest risk factor for transmitting violent behavior from one generation to the next.
  • Childhood abuse and trauma has a high correlation to both emotional and physical problems in adulthood, including tobacco use, substance abuse, obesity, cancer, heart disease, depression and a higher risk for unintended pregnancy.

How Can I Help

One resource for learning how to assist children in these situations is Lundy Bancroft’s “Helping Your Children Heal the Wounds of Witnessing Abuse,” in which he shares ways parents can encourage their children to cope, heal and talk about the abuse they’ve seen.

If your child is witnessing abuse in your home, what you’re experiencing is likely made even worse by the worry and concern you feel for your child. It’s important to remember that both you and your children’s needs are important.

Have conversations. Let children know that it’s okay to talk about what has happened. Stress that abuse is wrong, but avoid criticizing the abuser if they are a parent or parent-figure to the child.

Remind your kids that the abuse is never their fault. Make sure that they know that you care about them. Children are extremely resilient, and while the impact of abuse can be long lasting, knowing that they have someone to depend on that loves them will help them heal.

Above all, proceed with caution and listen to your instincts. Tap into what you feel is best for both you and your child. There are often pros and cons of either staying with or leaving an abusive partner. It can be a dangerous situation either way. If you do decide to leave your relationship, consider when and how to best leave. Allow children to be open about their feelings in the process, and devise a safety plan (whether staying or leaving).

Call The Hotline toll free, 24/7 at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for more information about what you can do.

Comment section

0 replies
  1. You are so wonderful and helpful and was to me in regards to leaving my abusive exhusband.
    I stayed married to him for 13 years and my son was 10 when we left and he does have the inside scars, he is always double and tripple checking that I am ok and his trust level is so low because his father would always break promises and the end result was hurt and fear.his father has threatened us so many times it became “normal” to him and me. he flinches stil if you raise your voice but now after 3 years he is starting to relax a little. he has no visitaion with his father and he doesnt know where we live.
    I do worry sometimes about how he will be when he becomes an adult and the longterm damage. abuse doesnt have to be physical to leave scars and a lot of people stil look the other way. there was times we where in the supermarket and he got mad and threw cans and stuff at us and people would just look and walk away while I was getting hit with it and my son hiding. looking back it makes me so mad but it just made me believe him when he said “no one will care” you are nothing” that`s just how I felt then. he stil after we left would continue on the phone during his court ordered calls to my son and the worst was when 1 1/2 years ago he told him that he had a twin brother which he had taken from me and made me sign off on the adoption papers at birth. that really hurt him and when he is having a bad day he throws that at me saying how I should have “picked” his brother whom in his eyes are better and more “perfect”. my son is autistik but highly functioning. thank God its been a while since the last call since my ex went hding again to avoid us in court for final sole custody and support hearing. but trust me the damage is done and to people that see it PLEASE REACH OUT even if someone had said something in the supermarket it wouldnt have stopped him and yes he would have been mad and hurt me later but he did anyway the difference would have been me beleiving someone DID care.

    1. Petra, thank for contacting the National Domestic Violence Hotline. We are happy to know you are now safe and free from abuse. We thank you for sharing your story. If you have any interest in seeking counseling or support for recovery please contact us at 1-800-799-7233, we can assist you in finding professional counseling or support in your community.

  2. Our 2 year old grandsons was sexually molested and assaulted by his paternal grandfather. He has told. been interviewed by Childs Alliance and DHS.
    The case remains open however my daughter and the childs father are in a custody battle as this is being written,.All his lawyer has done is pull shady moves, like putting hearing for custody before the protecton of abuses have been. We are do have family eval on both sides. The Lawyer for the father seens to know every trick and the book and is playing them and the court is allowing it all to happen. I feel the Judge has in some way been compensated for her ridiciloos ruling. The first ruling for the estrange father to have his son just age 3 for 7 days staying with his father the “AP”. Also he was staying with his new girlfriend and child had to sleep between them. This is not an acceptable arrangement and it even stipulates on the court order child not to be left alone with pateranl grandfather. The father dropped the child off the spend the night there the first night. We sent the police and have it documented the father was not in the residence. My daughter is now in contempt because she has refused to return her son to this sick family. And the Judge makes sure all hearings are in her court, heard by her law clerk.
    Something smells in Demark, my friends and we need all of the help we can get.

    1. Deborah,

      Thanks for sharing with our blog community. It sounds like this has been a very difficult situation. It is so great that your daughter and grandson have you there as their support system. It sounds like a lot is going on and we know that an abusive partner will find any way to keep the control in the relationship and that may include using the child to hurt the mother. If you or your daughter would like to talk about what has happened or find helpful referrals in your area please feel free to contact the HOTLINE at 1-800-799-7233. And advocate is available 24/7 and your call is completely anonymous and confidential.


      I have removed some identifying information from this post. If you have any questions, please refer to the community guidelines outlined on our website.

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