Effects of domestic violence on women and children

Domestic violence harms women and children in many ways.  Research shows that the experience of domestic violence puts women and children at risk of psychological trauma.  Every woman and child is unique and therefore their experience of violence can and does vary. Below are some examples of how experiencing domestic violence is damaging.  If you are a woman experiencing violence, it is important to note that these effects can be addressed.  It is possible to seek support for yourself and your children by contacting your local women’s domestic violence service.  You and your children have the right to be safe and to have time and space to heal from the harm done to you.  It is never the fault of the targets of violence.  The responsibility for the harm done to women and children lies with the person using the violent behaviour.

EFFECTS ON WOMEN

Psychological: feelings of terror, shame and guilt; loss of self-esteem; loss and grief; confusion; feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness.  This can impact on a women’s mental health resulting in her being diagnosed with such illnesses as depression, anxiety, and/or post traumatic stress disorder.

Physical: pain, injuries (often repeatedly over time, often untreated), permanent disability, murder, suicide, unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted illnesses, miscarriage, self harming.

Economic: homelessness, poverty, loss of standard of living, loss of earnings and employment, loss of career and promotion, medical expenses, legal costs, housing and relocation costs, education costs, property damage.

EFFECTS ON CHILDREN

Children may feel fear, shame, guilt (as children often blame themselves).  They may feel sad and anxious.

Children may experience disturbed sleep (eg nightmares), difficulty in concentrating, difficulty in forming and maintaining relationships, lack trust in others (especially adults), stress related illnesses (eg headaches, stomach aches), speech difficulties, issues with eating, reluctance to go to school (wanting to stay with their mother).

Children may behave more aggressively or may revert to behaviours of a younger age (known as regressive behaviours, examples of which include thumb sucking and bed wetting).  They may become withdrawn and less communicative.

Domestic violence is considered a form of child abuse.

EFFECTS ON MOTHER-CHILD RELATIONSHIP

The effect domestic violence has on the relationship between mother and children is less recognised.  However, research demonstrates that its effects are profound.  Some of these include:

  • children losing respect for mother and her authority as parent
  • relationship is damaged as the mother has been less available to meet the needs of children, is prevented by the abuser from doing so, and children may distance themselves from her due to fear, shame or contempt
  • some abusers use children as a weapon to harm the woman
  • some abusers divide family members against each other, favouring one child or scapegoating another
  • children may compete with each other for the abuser’s affection
  • children may adopt a parental role in their attempt to protect their mother
  • after separation, the abuser may use the children to gain a tactical advantage in family law proceedings
  • women are often financially worse off after separation and children may blame her for this; the abuser may use this to gain their favour by blaming her for their lower standard of living
  • the effects of domestic violence on women and children in themselves impact on the relationship between a mother and her children.

Source:  Baker, L & Cunningham, AJ (2004) Helping Children Thrive: Supporting Women Abuse Survivors as Mothers, Centre for Children & Families in the Justice System, London Family Court Clinic, Inc.

For further information about the effects of domestic violence, see Links to further information, research and statistics.