Experiences of Domestic Violence
Introduction 2. Experiences
4. Cycle of Violence 5. Women's
Aid Response 5. Conclusions 6. References
is important to remember that whole families suffer from domestic
violence. For every woman
experiencing violence in the home there will usually be children who are
also suffering. Violence in
the family cannot be kept hidden from the children, they will often
witness the violence, be aware of the tense atmosphere, suffer as
victims themselves or suffer in the aftermath of the violence.
& Young People’s Experience of Domestic Violence
research currently exists which clearly outlines the extent of domestic
violence against women and the effects and context on their lives,
relatively little is known about the impact of violence in the home on
children. As with women who
suffer from domestic violence, every child’s experience will be
has shown that many women experiencing domestic violence suffer violent
attacks during their pregnancy. In
their study of domestic violence in Northern Ireland, McWilliams and
McKiernan (1993) found that approximately one third (19 out of 56 women)
studied had been beaten during pregnancy.
This can cause serious injury to both mother and child.
children are physically present during a violent assault on their
mother. There has been a
large amount of research conducted which serves to prove this.
Hughes(1992) (cited Holder et al 1994) showed that 90% of
children were in the same or next room when the violence was occurring.
Studies by Leighton (1989) (cited Holder et al 1994) showed that
68% of children were witnesses of violence in the home.
During violent assaults for many children an immediate and
natural reaction will be to intervene to protect either their mother or
other siblings. This may present an increased risk of physical injury to
researchers argue that there are close links between domestic violence
and child abuse and that, where one exists, the co-existence of the
other is highly likely. The
Hidden Victims Study (1994) showed that more than a quarter (27%) of the
children involved had been hit or physically abused by the violent
mother/child relationship can also be affected through domestic
violence. The circumstances
in which women find themselves as a direct result of the abuse they
suffer seldom resemble the idealised version of family life and of
is important to remember that the blame for any negative impact on the
mother/child relationship lies solely with the perpetrator of violence.
The impact of continual physical attacks, verbal degradation, emotional
torture and social isolation can have upon a women's life should never
be underestimated or minimised.
most important point for professionals working with families to bear in
mind is that for women to provide effective protection for their
children, they themselves need to be protected and supported.
knowledge on the effects that domestic violence can have on children is,
at present, somewhat limited. Being
“caught in the middle” of domestic violence can have adverse effects
on a child. It is
important, however, to remember that every child’s experience of this
conflict will be different and every child will utilise different coping
mechanisms to deal with the situation.
Such coping mechanisms are unique to each child and will, in many
ways, determine the outcome of how a child will react to domestic
research which has been conducted in this area has shown that children
suffer a wide range of both physical and emotional effects as a result
of domestic violence. Children’s exposure to violence has also been
researched in relation to the impact it may have on children’s
found that children often had difficulties academically as a result of
violence in the home. Overall
effects included school phobia and difficulties in concentration.
McKay (1981) described children as being aggressive with peers,
rebelling against adult instruction and authority and being unwilling to
do schoolwork. In their
study of 56 women, McWilliams and McKiernan (1993) found that many women
talked of both short term and long term effects they felt the violence
had on their children.
children may fail to show any negative signs at all, in fact, some may
even show positive signs such as a sudden improvement in schoolwork.
However, we should never make any assumptions about how children
have been affected by domestic violence.
symptom or syndrome inevitably follows abuse.
There are no set patterns of how a child who has experienced
violence in the home will behave.
cycle of violence theory is one that has been the subject of much
attention and criticism in recent decades.
This theory, which is derived in large from the social learning
theory, is based upon the premise that violence breeds violence.
The legitimacy of such a theory must be questioned.
Although abuse may be transgenerational, it is by no means
inevitable. To assume that
it does would be both naive and simplistic.
Many children will grow up to believe that violence is wrong and
not an appropriate way of dealing with conflict.
It is important to remember that children are individuals with
unique internal resources which enable them to draw their own
conclusions and develop their own interpretations of the world around
majority of women who come to refuges have children.
Children arriving at the refuge may react in a variety of ways to
the change of circumstances as well as to the history of violence.
Through time all children reach a better understanding of their
situation by being sensitively helped to identify and deal with their
feelings: sad, mad, glad, scared, lonely.
A wide range of play activities and material are used by workers
as an integral part of life in the refuge.
Child workers in refuges will be sensitive to the needs of
individual children and look for opportunities to help those with
difficulties. Children need
explanations about what is happening and why, plus lots of reassurance
of love and care. They do
have coping strategies of their own and these can be developed by
understanding them. During
play children can relax. Children
are not confined to the refuge as there are outside activities such as
swimming, visits to the museum, zoo, disco, skating, park and beach.
Taking part in social activities restores normality to children
and mothers are encouraged to get their children back to school as soon
as possible. The easier it
becomes for children to talk about problems the more supported and
accepted they will feel socially.
children and young people can and do recover from adverse effects of
domestic violence. Some
find healthy coping mechanisms, some may find it difficult to come to
terms with and will seek unhealthy ways of coping.
et al (1990) argue that children’s responses to witnessing their
mother being assaulted by their father will vary according to their sex,
age, stage of development and their role in the family.
Other factors may also play a role such as the extent of the
violence, the frequency of the violence, repeated separations and moves,
economic and social disadvantage and special needs that a child may have
independent of the violence.
crucial element in the recovery process is provision of support.
Support may take many forms and may be offered by various
individuals and agencies working with women and children on a regular
and individuals coming into contact with families need to be aware of
signs and symptoms of domestic violence.
Policies and procedures need to be developed and put in place to
ensure that women and children are receiving the support and information
they need either to stay and survive in the situation or to leave.
need supportive adults who will listen to them and help them come to
terms with their own situation. For adults to be supportive they need to understand how
children are affected and develop positive responses in working with
1. Campion, J (1991) Counselling
Children, Whiting & Birch: London.
2. Frude, N (1997) The Impact of
Violence on Children, Parent’s Advice Conference, Conference Notes.
Holder, R et al (1994)
Suffering in Silence? Children
and Young People who witness Domestic Violence, Hammersmith and Fulham,
Domestic Violence Forum: London.
4. Jaffe et al (1990) Children
of Battered Women, Sage Publications: London.
5. McGee, C (1996) Children's
experiences of domestic violence, published.
Child and Family Social Work, 2, p 13-23.
Blackwell science Ltd: London.
6. McWilliams, M & McKiernan, 5, (1993) Bringing
it out in the Open, HMSO: Belfast.
McWilliams, M & Spence, L (1996) Taking
Domestic Violence Seriously, Issues for the Civil and Criminal Justice
System, The Stationary Office: Belfast.
8. Mullender, A& Morley, R (1994) Children
Living with Domestic Violence - Putting Men's Abuse of Women in the
Childcare Agenda, Whiting et Birch: London.
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