Estimates are that more than 3.3 million children are exposed to physical or verbal abuse each year. Children may directly observe domestic violence or they may be aware of it indirectly. They may be in another room when it takes place, be woken during the night and hear the violence, or see bruising or damaged property after the violence occurs.

The impact of domestic violence on children varies from child to child. When compared with other children, children who have witnessed or been victims of domestic violence host a list of behavioural and emotional problems. These problems include both external and internal behaviours which range from aggression and antisocial behaviours, through to depression, anxiety and low self esteem.

Some children react by becoming overly introverted and shy while others act out and become extroverts. Children in families where domestic violence is present generally grow up prematurely, by taking on additional roles such as nurturer, protector or referee between mum and dad. Quite often, children in this situation isolate themselves from other children in order to hide their situation.

Younger children can show excessive irritability and emotional distress and sometimes their toileting and language regresses. Preschool children may develop aches and pains for no apparent reason and eating and sleeping patterns may be disturbed.

Looking at the long term effects on children, depression and low self esteem generally transfer into adulthood. Substance abuse, sexual problems and criminal behaviour are behaviours which are at risk of being taken up in later life, as a result of witnessing domestic violence.

Children of victims are also at risk of continuing the violence in their own adult relationships because their parents failed to teach conflict resolution skills, and instead modeled violent behaviour and abuse. In other cases, the impact of domestic violence can extend to people not directly involved. For example, the effects can flow onto other children not experiencing domestic violence through bullying or aggression.

Those children who survive the ordeal “unscathed” are those with average or above average intellectual development and high feelings of self esteem.