Children's Exposure to Domestic Violence

Children who witness the assault of their mothers also suffer consequences. They are at risk of being assaulted themselves, of developing adjustment problems during childhood and adolescence, and of continuing the cycle of abuse.

  • In a Toronto study, children were present during 50.4% of wife assault incidents. In 12.3% of these incidents, the children were also physically assaulted.
  • Most violent behaviour is learned. Some studies indicate that between 40 and 60% of abusive men witnessed wife assault during childhood.
  • Children exposed to wife battering have a comparable level of adjustment problems to children who are physically abused themselves.
  • Serious behaviour problems are 17 times higher for boys and 10 times higher for girls who have witnessed assault.
  • Children of battered women rate significantly below their peers in areas reflecting social competence such as school performance, organized sports and social involvement.
  • In one study, over 50% of young offenders charged with crimes against people were found to have been exposed to domestic violence as children.
  • 25% of children who had resided in a shelter for battered women felt that it was appropriate for a man to strike a woman if the house was messy. After group counselling, none of the children supported a man hitting a woman.


Many children learn that violence - fighting, hitting and aggression - is the way to solve problems. These children may develop behavioural problems in the home and school. Often children are misdiagnosed with ADHD when in fact they are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD); this is due to the similarity of symptoms. PTSD requires professional care, it will not simply go away.

Studies indicate that child adjustment problems are more related to the level of domestic violence witnessed by children than to the separation, divorce or loss of parents.