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Effects of domestic abuse

The impact of domestic abuse can be devastating on both children and adults.

How does domestic abuse affect children?

If you have been experiencing domestic abuse you will probably have tried to protect your child(ren) from it as much as you can. However in many families where there is domestic abuse going on, the children are aware of it, even if they do not show it or talk to you about it.

For children witnessing or hearing one of their parents being abusive or violent towards the other, it can be a very distressing, painful and damaging experience which can have long lasting effects.

Living in an abusive home will affect children differently, dependent on age, race, sexuality, culture, stage of development, and their individual personality. Your child(ren) may feel that they are to blame, or they may feel angry, insecure, alone, frightened, confused. They may be unsure how to feel towards the abuser and the non-abusing parent.

The longer children live with domestic abuse, the more severe the effects can be. Children who witness domestic abuse may:

  • feel frightened
  • become aggressive
  • display anti-social behaviour
  • suffer from depression or anxiety
  • not do as well at school - due to difficulties at home or disruption of moving to and from refuges

Useful documents

The following documents may help you talk to your children about domestic abuse:

Data in this section is taken from:

How does domestic abuse affect adults?

The impact of domestic abuse can be devastating. It can lead to, or make worse:

  • fear for life, fear for children’s lives
  • emotional harm including loss of confidence and low self-esteem, shame, embarrassment
  • isolation from family, friends and community, decreasing or no social contacts
  • long term social difficulties
  • negative effect on work and possible loss of independent income, frequent absences from work, poor concentration, inability to fulfil work role
  • distorted sense of reality
  • lowered ability to relate to their children, increasingly punitive parenting and perceived neglect of children
  • substance misuse, often as an attempt to cope with circumstances. Abused women are 15 times more likely to abuse alcohol and 9 times more likely to use drugs
  • poor mental health such as anxiety, panic attacks, depression, post-natal depression, post-traumatic stress disorder
  • self-harm, suicide
  • abused women are 3 times more likely to be diagnosed as depressed or psychotic and 5 times more likely to commit suicide.
  • repeated short term impacts on health including bruises, burns, cuts, broken bones, sexually transmitted diseases, and lost teeth and hair.
  • long term and chronic health problems including asthma, epilepsy, digestive problems, migraine, hypertension and skin disorders
  • physical and sensory impairments, such as walking difficulties or deafness
  • gynaecological effects – pelvic pain, pelvic inflammatory disease, recurrent infections
  • miscarriage, still birth and other complications during pregnancy
  • physical and/or emotional harm to a child or dependent adult in the household
  • preventing an adult from being able to care for others and themselves
  • threat or actual loss of a carer or home (being a carer, for example for a partner with dementia or an adult child with mental health issues, or having been abused by their carer)
  • preventing children and dependent adults from achieving their full potential
  • for some, domestic abuse will result in serious injury of death

This list is indicative rather than fully comprehensive and many other presenting conditions may be as the result of this form of abuse.

What can I do?

Seek support and help as soon as possible, whether you are a victim or perpetrator. The longer the abuse goes on, the more damaging it is on all of those involved.

If you are worried that your child might be affected, do not be afraid to talk to them about what is happening. Children need time to discuss the feelings they have about what is going on. Children need to know it is not their fault and that this is not the way relationships should be.