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Domestic Abuse and Children


Each year, an estimated 1 in 9 children are exposed to domestic violence in their home with an average of 1 in 4 children being exposed at some point during their lifetime (Hamby, Finkelhor, Turner, & Ormrod, 2011).

One study found that in homes where domestic violence is present, the majority (60%) of children were under the age of 6 years old and 81% had direct sensory exposure to the incidences (i.e. saw the violence, heard the violence, and/or both) (Fantuzzo & Fusco, 2007).

While it is not always the case, often domestic violence and child abuse occur in the same household – by the same abusive partner. Research estimates that in roughly 40% of homes where domestic violence is present, child abuse is happening as well (Herrenkohl, Sousa, Tajima, Herrenkohl, & Moylan, 2008; Jouriles, McDonald, Smith Slep, Heyman, & Garrido, 2008).

Unfortunately, children experience family violence even if they are in other rooms or have gone to bed. They may hear the fighting, sense the tension in the room, be used as a means of power and control, or see the aftermath of a violent episode – i.e. parent crying or the bruises and marks left behind.

It is important to remember that children are not just “little adults.” They may not be able, or know how, to talk about what they have seen or what they are feeling. Children may try to process these in a variety of ways and the feelings or confusion often come out in heightened emotional reactions or behaviors. Children exposed to domestic violence may also experience learning or developmental delays as the brain’s main focus is on survival and adaptation.

Below you will find some examples of the impact of experiencing domestic violence on children:

  • Nightmares
  • Regressive behavior (i.e. bed wetting, “baby talk”)
  • Belief that they are to blame for the violence
  • Shame, guilt, sadness
  • Physical symptoms (i.e. headaches, stomachache)
  • Anger or lashing out
  • Increased separation anxiety
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Low self-esteem
  • Risk-taking behaviors


What You Can Do to Help a Child Exposed to Domestic Violence

If you suspect that your child has been exposed to domestic violence, even if they were not directly abused, please call our Community Advocacy and Prevention Services Office at 617-770-4065 for support around how to ‘talk to your kids about domestic violence’.