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Domestic Violence and its Effect on Children: A Case Study of The United States

  • 16 Pages
  • Published On: 18-11-2023


The problem of domestic violence is not a new one, research has shown that around the world, an average of six women are killed by their partners or a family member, per hour. The numbers have been going up ever since the pandemic has forced people to stay at home and women are spending more time near their abusers (Broom, 2020). Often times, the children of these women are subjected to the same kind of violence. Over 15.5 million children in the US grow up in households which experience some form of domestic violence. Consequentially, these children are not only affected immediately by these acts of violence, rather growing up in such an environment leaves long term effects on the physical and mental health of the children, leaving them with severe disadvantages (McDonald et al, 2006).

The purpose of this report is to categorically examine the condition and extent to domestic violence which is faced by children in the United States and try to uncover what could be the long and short term effects of it on the children.

Review of Literature


The literature review was conducted through the usage of various tools like search engines, journals and national statistics. The figures related to domestic violence and its effect on children was searched using search engine and using keywords which are relevant like ‘domestic violence’, ‘children’, ‘impact’, ‘long and short term effects’ and ‘witness’. The report was able to elucidate in detail the frequency of domestic violence occurrences and witnessing in the United States and thus reiterated on the importance of this study. The report was successfully able to collect several reports which positively made a connection between domestic violence and troubled child behaviour like, peer violence, delinquency, depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety, low academic performance and overall physical health of the child. The journals that were sourced by this review were mostly social and psychological in their disciplinary categorisation, and some medical journals were consulted to understand the impact of domestic violence in unborn children.

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV)’s figures show that, in the United States, around 20 individuals are abused by their intimate partner in the United States, per minute. They also reported that the higher percentage of those who face domestic violence are women; one out of three women face domestic violence in their family. One out of five children are also exposed to the domestic violence in the house and 90% of these children are eyewitnesses to the violence (

Hence, there is ample statistics to make clear that violence witnessed and experienced by children at home is prevalent in the US. Sternberg et al (1993) and Hughes and Graham-Bermann (1998) elucidate that children who grow up witnessing violence often have trouble adjusting emotionally. Levendosky and Graham-Bermann (2001, 2000) discover that domestic violence in the household negatively effects not only the child when they are directly exposed to it, but also when they are being parented by the non-abusive parent. The non-abusive parent in the partnership may feel dissatisfied in their marriage because they are facing domestic violence and consequentially may not be completely conscious of the needs of the child. This particular theory is supported by Khan et al (1993), Saunders et al (1994) and Dutton and Painter (1993).

Jaffe et al (1990) and Wolfe et al (1996) elucidate that there is the possibility of several long term issues which could arise because of the exposure to domestic violence in the childhood. Children who are exposed to these are more likely to have problems like depression and anxiety and are also more likely to experience cognitive and learning problems. It has also been discovered that children who are exposed to domestic violence in the childhood are more likely to display signs of problematic behaviour like slow learning, bullying and acts of violence in common areas like schools (Chafey et al, 1996; Kashini and Allan, 1998; Edleson, 1999).

Moylan et al (2008) relay that there are several factors which are responsible for domestic violence towards a child by their family members; unemployment of the guardians, poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, lower education levels among the guardians, and bad health. A similar result was obtained by Dong et al (2004) and Hartley (2002) who discovered that a common correlation between the households where children experienced domestic violence was the occurrence of mental health issues and crime rates in the family. hence, factors like this may be the direct cause of domestic violence in a home or may be a byproduct of domestic violence. The social skills of these children also suffer, whereby the children are reported to feel negative emotions like social isolation, shame, fear and guilt and they are also prone to problems of the mental health like depression, anxiety and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (Chambers, 2000; Wisdom 2000). This could cause future sustainable developmental issues as well as it has been seen among adolescents who experience domestic violence or experienced it in their childhood that they are more likely to drop out of school as well, and among girls, these children are more likely to become pregnant while they are teenagers (Wekerle and Pittman, 2000; Russo et al, 1998). Additionally, these children may also suffer from further adverse effects like suicidal tendencies, delinquency, willingness to abuse substances depression, eating disorders, low self-esteem, emotional and psychological impairment and so on (Fergusson et al, 1996; Hough, 2005; Lichter and McCloskey, 2004; Newton et al, 2003).

At this juncture, it is important to distinguish between child abuse and children’s exposure to domestic violence and understand what are the effects of these two and how they differ. Herrera and McCloskey (2001) find that the long term effects faced by children who grow up experiencing and/or witnessing domestic violence are far more than children who grow up facing childhood abuse in early stages of their childhood; the former are more likely to engage in delinquent activities than the latter. A similar result was obtained by Cunningham (2003) who discovered that direct physical abuse during childhood is not as detrimental to the overall health and well-being of the child in long term as much as being privy to domestic violence at home is.

The impact of witnessing domestic violence begins in children even before the children are born. Howell et al (2016) elucidate that children begin to feel the negative effects of domestic violence through the stress faced by the mother even when they are in their mother’s womb. Hence, the mental and physical development, a significant part of which is achieved when the child is in the womb. It has been discovered that children who feel that their mother is in danger when they are in the womb tend to be more anxious, more aggressive towards their peer group and are generally more fearful than other children (Robbins et al, 2012; Scheeringa and Zeanah, 1995). The impact of witnessing domestic violence on the scholastic performance of the children is also profound, as it was reported that children exposed to domestic violence are 12.2 percentile below their peers in their school performance (Peek-Asa, 2007).

Data Analysis

The following section will attempt a data analysis on the prevailing figures and facts related to domestic violence and its effects on children. The data analysis will try to categorise major and relevant literature in this particular line of academic inquiry and present its finding in a tabular format. Because of the challenges of collecting data in the field, the data has mainly been collected via literature review and the primary data that has been collected previously.

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From the above analysis, one can find several common and interconnecting threads which bind the past and contemporary literature together. What has become evident from reviewing the literature is that the effects of witnessing and being a part of domestic violence is a both a short and long term issue for children. The health of a parent is important to the health of a child and hence, both physical and mental distress to the parent is a distress for the child. Several of the times, children often intervene in violent situations and they are faced with violent situations too. This is a phenomenon which is more highly seen among mothers and children as mothers are more likely to face domestic violence than any other group of guardians (Gordon et al, 2005).

From the table above, it is clear that domestic violence both directly and indirectly affects children, both in short and long term and there needs to be policy which will remedy this problem along with remedying the problem which is faced by guardians, especially women, who are the ones who have to bear the brunt of domestic violence.

Policy Analysis

The purpose of this section is to analyse the policies which have been undertaken in the US with relation to domestic violence and analyse the effectiveness of policies in controlling domestic violence across states in the US. Although all of the legislations passed in the country may not be discussed in the section due to the paucity of space, the most relevant ones will be elucidated.

The Violence Against Women Act was passed in 1994 by the Tennessee congress which protected women from an intimate partner or any such family member who physically harmed them or threatened to harm them using physical force and/or a weapon. Under this legislation, the assailants have to pay the woman financially so she could recover from the physical and mental trauma. Although the law was specifically not for children, the law states that the assailants needed to financially compensate the woman for any children she has, for their maintenance and/or any physical or mental harm to them ( A direct policy which works for preventing domestic violence is the The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act which was put forward in 1974. According to this act, the state can initiate an intervention if it feels that the child is being abused or neglected. Another policy in place to protect the children from domestic violence is the Victims of Child Abuse Act which was implemented in 1990, which has been the result of a long legislation process. The Victims of Child Abuse Act has been successful in initiating and changing policy with respect to special training when it comes to making legislation for children a mandatory requirement and special judges to pass judgement on cases related to child abuse. The Victims of Child Abuse Act is more comprehensive about where reports must be made and who needs to register complaints with regards to matters of child abuse than the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act of 1974. Another legislation which has been put in place in order to protect children is the legislation of the Child Victims’ and Child Witnesses’ law, which provides protection to children who have witnesses and/or been a victim of domestic violence. Under this act, the children are given protection and counselling from the law if they are testifying against a domestic abuser in court. The legislations take into account the special needs of the children who are dealing with this issue and allow for special provision which the child could lean on, like guardian support when the child is testifying and counselling support (NRC, 2014).

However, the implementation of these measures remain an issue as the main implementing executive, the police, remain largely lacklustre about complaints of domestic violence. Additionally, the lack of discretion exercised by US police offers may be another reason why people are not very willing to report incidences of domestic violence in the US (McPhedran et al, 2017). Hence, policy needs to include actions which need to be taken by implementors as well, in addition to laying out rules for what the law should do.

Reflection Statement

The review of literature, analysis of the current and dominant forms of theories which have been elucidated in the form of literature and the analysis of policies has laid forward some of the gaps in the current understanding of domestic violence which is currently prevalent in the society. One of the main areas where research needs to be concentrated now is understanding domestic violence from the perspective of children themselves, the literature needs to take more accounts of what children experience when they witness violence and/or when they see a parent or guardian getting subjected to violence. The effect on children cognitively and psychologically have been studied and understood extensively, but beyond the medical inquiry, one needs to be aware of the real world ramifications of emotional hurt, which is caused by domestic violence as well. The gap in the literature needs to take into account the emotional distress that children go through as well, as most of the literature on the emotional ramifications of domestic violence centres around women and their children. Also, research needs to look into domestic violence against men as well because it is an often overlooked area, mostly because of the smaller number of men who experience domestic violence, but it is still a relevant area to study.

Research Proposal

The research is concerned with finding out about the emotional ramifications of domestic violence on children below the age of seventeen in the US, in an attempt to understand what are the dominant emotions that children feel when they are victims of or have witnessed domestic violence.

Research Questions

What are the emotional after-effects of domestic violence in children? What is the immediate reaction of children when they are faced with or/and are the victims of domestic violence?

Methods of Data Collection

Since the pandemic has rendered it difficult for researchers to make contact with samples physically now, the research will have to rely on survey tools like Survey Monkey for the purpose of getting information from the samples. The sample will consist of children who have come from homes where domestic violence would take place on them directly and/or if they have a parent who has faced domestic violence and they have been present. Several children like this are living in shelter homes and a significant number of them have started living in those shelter homes with their mothers, escaping a violent household and/or partner with their child or children (Chanmugam, 2016). The survey will ask 10-15 simple, close-ended questions which will be arranged according to a Likert scale in the questionnaire about the range of emotions they felt when they felt domestic violence.

To ensure that there is no ethical compromises, the survey will require a parent/guardian/counsellor to be present at all times with the child. The care home will be contacted in advance and their consent will be taken, their cooperation is essential to the completion of this data entry. Another consent form will be signed by the child’s guardian and/or the counsellors at the care home before the child can begin the survey. The survey questions will be close ended.

Data Analysis

Since this is a small scale research that will consist of only close-ended questions, the data will be analysed using Excel, where the responses of the children will be recorded and comprehensively analysed. Through the usage of charts and figures, a comparative analysis will be done to understand the frequency of the range of emotions which are felt and expressed by the children. The data will not be quantified strictly in accordance with the numbers and presented like so. The research will try to find relevant literature which addresses problems of violent acts by children, which are then correlated with domestic violence at home and try to analyse the emotions felt by the child at home in juxtapositions of the emotions felt by the child when they are committing violent activities against their peers and/or other individuals.

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The following report was an inquiry into the nature and perspectives on domestic violence on children in the US and the review of literature shed light on what is the predominant forms of understanding into the effects and occurrences of domestic violence in the US. The report discovers that while there is a plethora of literature surrounding the short and long term effects in the US, there is literature which still does not address the policy gaps and the gap where the perspectives of the children themselves need to be taken. The report suggests an inquiry, through a research proposal, of inquiring into the emotions of the children and what they feel when they are faced with such an occurrence.


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