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Effects on Children

25% - 45% of all women who are exposed to domestic violence are being abused during pregnancy


The long term consequences of childhood abuse and neglect vary depending upon such factors as relationship to the abuser, frequency and duration of abuse, ages of victim and abuser, response by parents/guardians, and adequacy of the social, medical and legal response systems.


Emotional, physical, and/or sexual abuse of children may result in a number of psychological consequences, including but not limited to:


  • Anxiety
  • Repetitive nightmares
  • Feeling guilt and shame
  • Psychosomatic symptoms:  headaches, stomach-aches, bed wetting
  • Depression
  • Social withdrawal
  • Decreased self-esteem
  • Disturbed sleep


Behavioural problems resulting from abuse and neglect seen in childhood and adolescence include:


  • Developmental delays
  • Extreme shyness and clinging behaviour
  • Difficulty socializing with peers
  • Disruptive classroom performance
  • Poor academic performance
  • Truancy and running away
  • Early use of drugs alcohol
  • Eating disorders
  • Suicide and suicide attempts
  • Fear of intimacy
  • Difficulty trusting others
  • Overly sexualized relationships


Continued exposure to abuse may lead to more serious levels of anxiety, anger, hostility, and guilt. Adolescents and adults with a history of abuse are over represented in the prison population and have more psychiatric diagnoses like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and major depression. Children do not have to be abused themselves in order to be impacted by violence in the home. Untreated sexual abuse and assault during adolescence is associated with:


  • Increased sexual dysfunction
  • School failure
  • Poor contraceptive use
  • PTSD
  • Anxiety
  • Eating disorders/obesity
  • Somatization
  • Insomnia
  • Nightmares
  • Poor self-esteem
  • Depression, 
  • Prostitution
  • Multiple sex partners
  • Interpersonal problems
  • Sexual relations problems
  • Substance abuse
  • Psychiatric admissions
  • Teen pregnancy
  • Risky health behaviours. 


Males who have been abused as children are more likely to respond by externalizing (fighting, swearing, use of weapons, reckless use of cars, etc.) and are twice as likely to abuse their own partners and children when they become adults. Females who witness maternal abuse, on the other hand, tend to internalize (depression, suicide attempts, anxiety, withdrawing, etc.) and are more likely to tolerate abuse as adults more than girls who do not.


In homes where domestic violence occurs, fear, instability, and confusion replace the love, comfort, and nurturing children need; these children live in constant fear of physical harm from the person who is supposed to care for and protect them; they may feel guilt at loving the abuser or blame themselves for causing the violence