How Does Domestic Violence Affect Children?
Children exposed to domestic violence in their homes suffer trauma even if they, themselves, are not physically harmed. They may witness their mother being abused, hear their mother’s cries or a batterer’s threats, and/or observe the results of a violent event through their mother’s injuries or broken furniture.
National surveys of mothers show that in homes where there is domestic violence, 87% of children have witnessed the abuse.
Exposure to domestic violence can limit children’s cognitive development and their ability to form close attachments. Children who witness domestic violence may experience anxiety, fear, sleep disruption, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and have problems in school.
Some studies of young males have linked witnessing violence at home to youth violence and adult criminal behavior. In addition to the effects on children from witnessing violence, children in homes where a parent is abusive to a partner are at increased risk of child abuse. It is estimated that more than half of the perpetrators who abuse their partner also abuse their children.
Children may also experience a great deal of instability when a parent escapes an abusive home. A 1990 study by the Ford Foundation found that 50% of homeless women and children were fleeing domestic violence. In Rhode Island in 1999, 42% of the families seeking shelter at a homeless shelter reported that they were fleeing domestic violence; 387 Rhode Island children spent time in a domestic violence shelter; and 1,335 children received services from domestic violence agencies.