- Domestic violence can have short-term and long-term negative effects on children. And children can be impacted regardless of whether they experience the violence directly or witness domestic violence.
- A child’s age, their relationship with the perpetrator and the duration of the domestic violence can each influence how much a child may be impacted by domestic violence.
- Educating children about healthy relationships and boundaries, as well as providing supportive environments could help to stop the domestic violence cycle.
How domestic violence can impact children
Domestic and family violence is a pervasive issue that affects individuals, families, and communities worldwide.
In Australia, domestic and family violence is a significant social issue affecting individuals from all walks of life, regardless of gender, age, socioeconomic status, or cultural background. This makes domestic and family violence all the more frightening with it potentially being a reality for anyone.
Children who have experienced or witnessed domestic violence are particularly vulnerable to the long-term impacts of this form of abuse. But what are these impacts?
In this article, we will explore the long-term impacts and potential effects of domestic violence on children in Australia, including the physical, psychological, and social effects of this form of abuse.
Prevalence of domestic and family violence in Australia
The statistics surrounding family and domestic violence in Australia show that it is a disturbingly common occurrence. It is estimated that one in six women and one in sixteen men have experienced physical or sexual violence from a current or former partner since the age of 15.
Furthermore, an estimated 1.5 million Australian women and 992,000 men have experienced sexual abuse before the age of 15, and 500,000 Australian adults who have experienced abuse said that their children witnessed the abusive behaviour.
Domestic and family violence can take many forms, including physical, emotional, sexual, financial, and spiritual abuse. As abuse can occur in many different ways, some people may not even realise that they are a victim of or witnessing domestic violence.
Below are some of the different kinds of abuse:
- Physical Abuse – this could involve physical behaviours such as hitting, kicking, punching, strangling and restraining.
- Sexual Abuse – this can include rape, as well as non-consensual touching.
- Verbal Abuse – this may include criticism that is aimed to humiliate the victim and give them low self-esteem.
- Psychological Abuse – could involve gaslighting or other actions aiming to negatively impact the mental health of the victim.
- Social Abuse – restricting who the victim contacts and isolation.
- Financial Abuse – restricting access to financial resources, including not allowing the victim to access any money.
- Cultural or Spiritual Abuse – behaviour that doesn’t allow a person to follow their faith customs.
You can learn more about these different types of abuse here.
Effects of domestic violence on children
While it’s clear that domestic violence can have a significant impact on adults, particularly those who are direct victims of violence, children exposed to domestic violence can experience negative physical, psychological and social effects that could impact their entire lives.
The effects of domestic violence on children can occur whether they witness violence or experience it directly and the effects can be short-term or long-term.
The physical effects of domestic and family violence on children can include injuries, such as bruises, cuts, and broken bones, as well as long-term health problems, such as chronic pain and illnesses.
The psychological effects of domestic and family violence on children can include anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other mental health issues.
Children who witness or experience domestic and family violence are also at risk of experiencing social problems, such as poor academic performance, behavioural problems, and social isolation.
Children and adults may experience anxiety for a wide range of reasons, however, in instances of domestic violence it can occur due to the child anticipating when the next violent incident may occur.
Sometimes when children are scared, they may start to do things that they used to do when they were younger, such as sucking their thumb, wetting the bed or even stuttering.
The stress of worrying about more violent behaviour can lead to children having difficulties sleeping which can impact numerous areas of their lives.
Children who are a bit older may start to act out or partake in risky behaviours when domestic violence is present in their lives. This behaviour could include skipping school, fighting with people, and engaging in unprotected sex.
The long-term impacts of domestic and family violence on children in Australia can be severe and even last for the child’s entire life.
Studies have shown that children who have experienced or witnessed domestic violence are at risk of experiencing a range of negative outcomes later in life, including academic difficulties, mental health problems, substance abuse and addiction, and violence perpetration and victimisation.
Academic performance and educational attainment
Children who experience or witness domestic violence are at risk of experiencing academic difficulties, including poor school attendance, low academic achievement, and even academic failure. They are also less likely to complete high school and pursue higher education.
Mental health outcomes
Whether the child has experienced or witnessed domestic violence directly, they could be at risk of developing a range of mental health problems, including anxiety, depression, PTSD, and other mental health issues.
These mental health problems can persist into adulthood and can have a significant impact on the child’s quality of life.
Substance abuse and addiction
Children who witness or experience domestic violence are at risk of developing substance/drug abuse and addiction problems later in life. These problems can have a significant impact on the child’s health, social relationships, and overall well-being.
Violence perpetration and victimisation
Sadly, kids who experience domestic violence trauma are also at risk of perpetrating or experiencing violence later in life. This can include intimate partner violence, child abuse, and other forms of violence.
Factors that influence the long-term impacts of domestic and family violence on children
Not every child who experiences or witnesses domestic violence trauma in their lives will suffer from these effects we’ve mentioned. Various factors can influence the long-term impacts of domestic and family violence on children. Some of these factors include:
Age and developmental stage of the child
The age and developmental stage of the child can influence the long-term impacts of domestic and family violence.
Younger children are at greater risk of experiencing physical harm and could experience delayed mobility, while school-age children and older children may be more likely to experience mental health issues, substance issues, and violence perpetration and victimisation.
Relationship with the perpetrator
The relationship between the child and the perpetrator can also influence the long-term impacts of domestic and family violence.
Children who witness or experience violence from a parent or caregiver may be more likely to experience negative outcomes later in life compared to those who witness or experience violence from a non-caretaker.
Duration and severity of the violence
The duration and severity of the violence can also influence the long-term impacts of domestic and family violence. Children who experience prolonged and severe violence are at greater risk of experiencing negative outcomes later in life compared to those who experience less severe or shorter-term violence.
How else can children be impacted by domestic and family violence?
Besides the risk of physical violence and harm and the other effects we’ve mentioned already, domestic violence can also impact other areas of a person’s life.
For example, domestic violence commonly plays a role in homelessness with 37% of people who were seeking help for homelessness having experienced domestic violence.
In addition to homelessness and housing instability, domestic violence can also cause financial problems and disruptions to a child’s education and can also result in the loss of contact with family members.
Protecting kids from domestic violence: prevention and intervention strategies
Preventing and intervening in domestic and family violence is essential to mitigating the long-term impacts of this form of abuse on children.
Some actions that could help to protect children from the long-term effects of domestic violence include:
Campaigns that are informative and easy to understand could be beneficial to both adults and children. Children can learn more about behaviours that are considered to be abusive, while adults could learn more about the effects of domestic violence on children. These campaigns can also remove the stigma that surrounds talking about these abusive behaviours while also reducing social norms and attitudes that help to perpetuate domestic violence.
Educate children about healthy relationships
Educating children about how to recognise domestic violence and abusive behaviours is important, as is educating them about healthy relationships and what healthy boundaries look like. Teach them about respect, trust, and communication. Help them understand the behaviours that are not acceptable in relationships, including any form of violence, abuse, or coercion. Provide them with age-appropriate information about domestic violence and empower them to recognise and report any signs of abuse.
Create a safe and supportive environment
If you suspect that a child may be experiencing domestic violence, it’s important to create a safe and supportive environment for them. Offer a listening ear without judgment and let them know that they can talk to you about anything. Create a safe space where they feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and feelings.
Provide emotional support
Children who witness domestic violence may experience a range of emotions, including fear, sadness, anger, and confusion. Be there to provide emotional support and reassurance. Let them know that the violence is not their fault and that they are not alone. Encourage them to express their emotions in healthy ways, such as through talking, drawing, or writing.
Encourage reporting to a trusted adult
Encourage the child to report the domestic violence to a trusted adult, such as a teacher, school counsellor, or healthcare professional. These individuals are mandated reporters and can take appropriate steps to ensure the child’s safety, including involving law enforcement or child protective services.
How a Lawyer Can Help
A family and domestic violence lawyer plays a crucial role in cases involving the effects of domestic and family violence on children. We have specialised knowledge and experience in dealing with sensitive family law matters and can provide valuable assistance to ensure the safety and well-being of children affected by domestic violence.
Domestic violence lawyers can also help by representing the best interests of the child in court proceedings, advocating for protective orders or restraining orders to keep the abusive parent away from the child, and seeking appropriate custody arrangements that prioritise the child’s safety.
We can also guide parents (or guardians) in navigating complex legal processes, provide emotional support to the child and family, and connect them with community resources such as counselling services or support groups.
Working closely with domestic violence lawyers allows you to access the legal protections and support necessary to break the cycle of abuse and provide a safe environment for children to thrive.
How we can help
Whether you’ve recently separated from an abusive partner or you’re experiencing violence from a current partner, at Unified Lawyers our domestic violence lawyers here for you. We can provide you with guidance, assistance and representation to ensure your safety and the safety of your family.
We offer a free, no-obligation initial consultation for all new clients, and we understand how difficult it can be to seek assistance when you’re experiencing domestic violence. Our services are strictly confidential.