Children and Abuse

The Other Victim

Children are considered the “hidden” victims of domestic violence. According to the Resource Center on Domestic Violence, 3 – 10 million children in the United States witness domestic violence each year. These young people grow up in a “climate of fear”. Tragically, many of these children hold themselves responsible for the violence. 

As a community, we must place the responsibility for the violence on the offender. Oftentimes, programs are designed to support the abused parent. Therefore, the effects on the children who witness violence in their homes often go unacknowledged because they are not the direct recipients of the abuse. Contrary to this expectation, children can experience the following negative outcomes when exposed to domestic violence: psychological health outcomes, physical health outcomes, academic difficulties and failure, behavioral problems, delinquency and offending, and poly-victimization, among others.   

Children may respond differently to the trauma they were exposed to even within the same family. Some children may engage in violent tendencies, while others may withdraw. They may think they are making things easier by appearing to cope with the situation and by not saying how they feel. These children often feel isolated and ashamed about the violence they are experiencing at home. Sometimes they are placed in opposing positions, such as being the only person who can call the police for help or being told that the abuse is a “family secret” that no one should know about. Regardless of the family dynamics, children and young people also bear the burden of domestic violence. They are victims, too. Please see the following table for more detailed information regarding responses according to age: 

Source: National Child Traumatic Stress Network

An adult might think it is alright if their partner is emotionally abusive to them, as long as they treat the children well, but domestic violence comes in many forms. Domestic violence can look like emotional, financial, sexual, and physical abuse. By abusing the parent, the abusive partner is NOT being good to the children. Giving them attention/affection or financially sustaining them cannot make up for denying children their right to a safe and happy life.  Although victims believe they can hide domestic violence from their children, research suggests between 80 and 90 percent are aware of the abuse taking place at home. 

What can you do for children of domestic violence?

  • Help them feel safe.  
  • Let them know the abuse is not their fault, or the victim’s fault. 
  • Let them know it is not their role to protect the adult. Children should never place themselves between their parents during a fight. Children should be taught to go to a designated safe location (a neighbor or friend’s house). 
  • Explain to them what is happening. 
  • Let them know that they are entitled to express their feelings and you want to hear what they have to say. 
  • Assure them that feeling frightened, angry, confused, or sad is normal in the situation. 
  • Talk to them about boundaries and healthy relationships.  
  • Help them find a reliable support system. It is important for them to have a trustworthy, sympathetic adult they can talk to (such as a relative, school counselor, or teacher). 
  • Get them professional help. Find them services, information, and support.


  • Around 45 million children will be exposed to domestic violence during childhood. 
  • Approximately 1 in 5 homicides of children aged 2-4 are related to domestic violence.  
  • 30% to 60% of the domestic violence perpetrators, abuse children in the household.  
  • Children who witness domestic violence are 3 times more likely to engage in violent behavior and/or crimes.  
  • Witnessing violence in the home is the strongest risk factor for transmitting violent behavior from one generation to the next. 
  • Children exposed to domestic violence are at a higher risk of becoming victims of violence and have more difficulty with relationships and parenting.



For more information and resources please visit Blue Sky Bridge.