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The problem of children as victims of domestic violence is an area that has been neglected for a very long time. Most research focus on domestic violence and its effects on women, or as a direct effect on children. The current research aims at identifying the impact of domestic violence on children. It has considered children as witnesses of domestic violence, and from the act of witnessing; they end up being affected either physically or psychologically.

This paper adopts a literature-based approach where the available literature will serve as the population of study. Data collected from the existing literature in this area will inform data analysis and evaluation. The research will concentrate on literature that is thematically related to the topic of study. Analysis and discussion is done to address the issues that arise from the reviewed literature. After the analysis, a critical appraisal and evaluation will inform the findings of the research.

It is expected that the effects of domestic violence on children will be realized from the evaluation and the review of literature.

Key words: domestic violence, gender, children as witnesses of domestic violence, culture,



The impact of domestic violence on children, especially as witnesses of the violence has been ignored for a long time. Many researches that have been conducted on this area did not dedicate much of the work to exploring this area of interest (Royal College of Psychiatrists, 2014). According to Wolfe and Jaffe (1999), there are two main ways in which children can be affected by domestic violence. The first one is molesting the children directly, for example through physical beating. The second way is when children suffer as a result of witnessing domestic violence in the family. Previous research has mainly majored on direct domestic violence on children. There is, therefore, the need to explore this area of the effects of domestic violence on children as witnesses of domestic violence in the home.


1.1.1 Defining domestic violence

Domestic violence can be defined as the act of forcefully controlling an adult partner in an abuse that can be physical, sexual, psychological, or even other, like financial (Hester and Radford 2006). Sociologists argue that domestic violence is socially constructed, and that it is constructed through a perspective that involves the perceived interests, the distribution of authority, or current, family-social understanding. Even though sociological feminists have argued in favour of extension of the perspective of looking at domestic violence, Muehlenhard and Kimes (1999) still hold that; the social construction of domestic violence matters in many societies. A new circular by the government (Home Office 2013) incorporates several aspects to compose a comprehensive definition of domestic violence. This is aimed at encompassing all the aspects and the broadness of domestic violence. The aspects include controlling an intimate partner financially, sexually, psychologically, physically or emotionally. The intention to harm, threaten or frighten, with a view to manipulate is indicated. The definition given by this office of the Home Office only considers people who are sixteen years and above. It has not considered children who are below the age of sixteen. In addition, this definition appears to be short of clarity on the issue of psychological effect on children as witnesses of domestic violence. Sticking to the wording of this definition may make one quickly forget to include such victims in the bracket of people who suffer domestic violence.

1.1.2 Trends and statistics on domestic violence on children

Domestic violence nowadays, unlike in the past, has been found to affect children to a great extent. Children are at the central place in the family, and whenever domestic violence occurs, children cannot be spared from the agony. The governance of the United Kingdom, through the Home Office, developed a document to diversify the definition of domestic violence, in order to include minors (Home Office 2013b). According to this fact-sheet, teenagers experience violence in their relationships that can qualify to be called domestic violence. The report indicates that; more than eighteen percent of boys, and twenty five percent of girls, experience physical violence at some point in life. Further, fifty percent of boys, and seventy five percent of girls experience emotional disturbance as a result of domestic violence. Sixteen percent of boys experience sexual violence, and thirty one percent of girls. Although there are many cases of child abuse in the United Kingdom, only a few of them are investigated and prosecuted in a family court. For example, in the year 2010, only 2172 persons in the Wales and England were found guilty as a result of domestic violence (NSPCC 2012). Sexual abuse of children is also reported. According to NSPCC (2012), three hundred and nine people were prosecuted for having sexually abused children.

1.1.3 How children are involved in domestic violence

Children are involved in domestic violence in many ways. According to Royal College of Psychiatrists (2014), three quarters of domestic violence cases, are witnessed by children. Women’s Aid (n.d) asserts that the majority of the children experience domestic violence while in neighboring rooms. In some of the circumstances, children find themselves at the centre of the violence as they try to negotiate for the victim of the violence. In the incidences where children have been involved directly, many of them are usually hit or beaten badly. These incidences are also accompanied by emotional and sexual abuse. The Royal College of Psychiatrists (2014) states that; the abusers of children vary in sex, race, religion and occupation. However, male abusers are more common that female abusers.

Domestic violence impacts greatly on children. Women’s Aid (n.d) states that more than seven hundred and fifty thousand minors in the UK witness domestic violence, in a year. In many cases (70%) that involve women being abused, children are also abused (Office of the Status of Women, 1998). The big question that prevails is how this violence impacts on children. According to Women’s Aid (n.d), children experience many effects from domestic violence. These effects are: anxiety and depression, difficulty sleeping, flashbacks and nightmares, easy startling, body aches, bed-wetting, temper tantrums, school problems, aggressive, lowered self-worth, drug abuse, eating disorder, self-harm. In lieu of this, it is important to review the literature ascertain the impact of domestic violence on children, especially those who experience domestic violence in their homes.

1.1.4 Children as witnesses of Domestic violence

The few parents who understand the impact of domestic violence on children try their best to shield their children on domestic violence, but their attempts have proved futile. Women’s Aid (2014) quotes the Department of health records that, more than three quarters of a million children witness domestic violence every year in the United Kingdom. In the homes that domestic violence takes place, the children either see the incidences of violence or they hear them. In such cases, the perpetrator of the violence can extend the violence to the children in the form of either physical or even sexual abuse.

Women’s Aid (2014) outlines several ways in which children can witness domestic violence. The first one is where children are already in the room where the violence is taking place. In such a case, the children cannot be shielded from witnessing the violence. Secondly, the children may be in another room that is next to the one where violence is taking place. In this case also, the children cannot fail to hear the violence. The third instance is where the children are forced to actively participate in the violence. They may be involved in throwing abuses to the person suffering from the violence. Since children are fully affected by any decision or action the parents takes, witnessing domestic violence has many negative effects on them. Women’s Aid (2014) asserts that all the children that witness domestic violence usually suffer emotional disturbance. The Adoption and Children Act 2002 (Section 120) has recognized the act of children witnessing domestic violence as ‘significant harm’. This is an important milestone towards dealing with domestic violence on children.


The main purpose of this article is to explore the impact of domestic violence on children in the United Kingdom, who re aged between zero and seventeen years. The current research considers children as witnesses of domestic violence. In a bid to expound on the topic, the research will look at the causes of domestic violence, as well as, the role of families and practitioners in detecting and dealing with domestic violence. The author’s interest in domestic violence is a result of personal experiences during childhood. Even though the subject has attracted some enormous research, little research has concentrated on domestic violence on children as witnesses rather than direct victims. This area thus needs more exploration to fill the existing gap. Additionally, advancement of knowledge and understanding for professional development in this area is beneficial.


Domestic violence-is the act of forcefully controlling an adult partner in an abuse that can be physical, sexual, psychological, or even other, like financial (Hester and Radford 2006).

Gender- is the sociological aspect of being a female or a male.

Children as witnesses of domestic violence- refers to the aspect of domestic violence in which children are involved though witnessing, rather than being molested directly.

Culture- it refers to the way of living of the people.




The current research adopts an interpretivist’s perspective where systems of meanings are used to understand the question under study. Focus is directed towards looking for cultural and historical interpretations of the subject domestic violence in relation to children. Views of people concerning the subject as documented in the available literature are collated and analyzed. On theoretical perspective, the research adopts the feminist’s perspective. However, to provide a wide basis of understanding domestic violence in relation to children, several social theories have been discussed.

Domestic violence in children has some relation to theoretical basis. Several theorizations have been put forward to define domestic violence in children, and also to explain the impact that domestic violence can have on children. Most of these theories take a theoretical orientation, and concern the abuse of power in the family (Nolan and Julia n.d). This section will look at four theoretical perspectives of family violence. These will be family and systems theories, social theories of family violence, cognitive and behavioral theories of family violence, and psychodynamic theories of family violence.

2.1.1 Psychodynamic theories of domestic violence

The object relations theory relates domestic violence to the background of person when one was a child. It presupposes that the early relationships that a person witnessed determine their future relations (Fairbairn 1952). Fairbairn proposes that, the mental representations that people form about themselves and others in their early childhood, is what dictates to their future relations. This theory further poses that, the people who are able to endure domestic violence, it is because of the defenses they formed while they were young. The theory makes a good proposition for both the causation and the impact of domestic violence. It shows that domestic violence arises from a learned behavior, which arises from mental representations of childhood. Going by the propositions of this theory, it is evident that a child who witnesses domestic violence is likely to manifest an aggressive behavior in their future.

The attachment theory of domestic violence explains domestic violence from the attachment that a child develops with the caregiver. Bowlby (1951) explain that the future behavior of a child depends on the exercise of their caregiver’s power on provision of security. Even though positive attachments are preferred, not all attachments are positive between the child and the caregiver. Bowlby explains that some attachments may be disorganized or ambivalent. These negative, anxious and disorganized attachments arise from insecure attachments formed between the child and the parent. The author of this theory further agrees that such negative attachments lead to a pre-forming of a strained relation in children, which translates into their relationships in their adulthood. This shows how domestic violence in the family affects children who witness it in their future.

The trauma violence of domestic violence relates incorporation of internal defenses into the structure of a person’s personality. Landecker (1992) postulates that victims of trauma have the traumatic events coded and sequenced in their thinking processes. This coding of negative information affects their future relations with other people. The victims tend to have a compulsion to repeat the trauma because it becomes difficult for them to incorporate the negative effects into their memory. The trauma theory thus explains that once these negative traumatic experiences are formed in individuals, they affect their future thinking. Through this process, children who are exposed to domestic violence tend to be affects psychologically in their future.

2.1.2 Social theories on domestic violence

Control theory is a social theory of domestic violence. It postulates that domestic violence arises from the need to assert power and control in a family. This theory explains that the members of the family that regard themselves powerful, such as the parents, use force or threats to make the children comply with their orders (Bostock et al. 2002). According to Bostock et al. (2002), the controlling member in the family tries to promote what they think is the desirable behavior by restricting other family members. They use force and threats to control the thinking of the other members of the family. This theory helps in understanding of how violence occurs especially to the children who are regarded as weak members of the family. Forms of control like isolation are used by the abusers rendering the children hostile in their adulthood.

Explanation of domestic violence through the resource theory postulates that wealthy parents can control their children easily using the resources they have (Goode 1971). However, people who are in short of resources may use violence as a way of controlling their children. Closely related to this is the ecosystem factor theory. it focuses on life stressors of life events that exceed a person’s capacity or resources (Hines and Morrison 2004). These events may include job loss, or a need to move to a new home. However, this theory postulates that violence brought about through the explanation of this theory is dependent on other factors. These factors include social issues like a personal history characterized with violence.

The social isolation theory of domestic violence borrows from isolation of parent-child relationships from the social support systems of life. Sherman and Garbarino (1977). The study done by Sherman and Garbarino shows that isolated families are more exposed to domestic violence those families that live together. Children in these families will tend to suffer from stigma associated with domestic violence more than those in families living as communities.

2.1.3 cognitive/behavioral theories of family violence

The social learning theory is one among many theories that are used to explain domestic violence and its effects on children. It stipulates that people learn behavior by imitating others or simply by observation (Bandura 1977). Moral decision-making, language and aggression are some of the aspects that develop through social learning theory. in regard to this theory, children who grow up in an environment of domestic violence are likely to learn the violence and transmit what they have learnt to their generations. Children who are abused by their parents are more likely to abuse their children. This explains how domestic violence affects children through intergeneration transmission of learned negative behavior.

Genetics and the environment also have been seen to be causative factors for violent behavior. According to Saudino and Hines (2002), the features of anti-social behavior and aggression are genetically influenced. This is evident in members of the same family line who are reported as having abused their family members.

The theory of reactive aggression is based on emotional responses by people. They develop an emotional response to a situation. This emotional response causes an urge to hurt people, which later leads to an aggressive behavior (Walker 1979). An example is people who get angered easily. These people tend to be quick to administer physical discipline to their children. This usually leads to abuse of the children, attracting the consequences of domestic abuse. Their anger can also result from abuse of their spouses, where the children are affected as witnesses of the violence.

2.1.4 Family Systems Theory of Domestic Violence

This theory explains that the members of the family should be viewed through the interactions and the interrelations that exist in a family. Interventions and assessment of a family in this perspective is dictated by the interactions between individuals of the family, rather than the individuals of the family (Kinskern and Gurman 1981). According to this theory, when one member of the family is affected, all the member of the family feels the effect. On the other hand, anything that affects the family system is likely to affect all the members of the family. This theory is very beneficial in understanding how children are affected as witnesses of domestic violence. When a spouse or rather one member of the family is abused, the children will be affected because they are within the family system. These theories help a great deal to explain how domestic violence occurs in a family and how it affects children as witnesses of domestic violence.


The importance of feminism on the issue of domestic violence cannot be emphasized. According to Wagstaff (2009), it is feminism that contributed to bring domestic violence into the limelight of the public. In this period of the 1970s, women and children suffered in silence, because the issue of domestic violence had not gained roots in the public domain. The aspects of control, violence and power come out when domestic violence is considered through the eyes of the feminists (Ferraro and Johnson 2000). According to Wagstaff (2009) men use the ideology of a patriarchal society to control women and children. In other words, the feminists look at domestic violence by considering male chauvinism that is adopted by patriarchal societies. According to Respect (2004), women believe that, even in the present society, institution of the society have continued to favor the men, in terms of power relations. This has made some of the men to take advantage of the women and extend violence to them. A study by Hart (2006) on the issue of domestic violence supports this view. It established that majority of domestic violence cases involve the man molesting the woman. The feminists argue that traditional gender attitudes and intimate terrorism in relationships are the aspects that cause domestic violence. They also associate male dominance in patriarchal societies with violence against children, and argue that some men see their women at the level in which they see their children. According to Johnson (2006), the motivating variable is the need to control.

The feminist perspective has also been supported by Pence and Paymar (1993), in that men learn their dominating behavior from patriarchal societies, and this is transmitted through generations. These authors argue that these societies teach men to control their women. In essence, they agree that from a feminist’s perspective, domestic violence is based on the need to control. In the United Kingdom, feminist movements have realized the extension of domestic violence to the children. They still consider it from a feminist’s perspective, and they have been doing a lot to support the victims, as well as, advocate for their justice. An example is Women’s Aid (Wagstaff 2009), that has been championing for observance of the rights of both women and children. The Women’s Aid is one organization that has identified with the family systems theory, in that molesting a mother will affect the children as well. Hart (2006) argues that women groups in the United Kingdom advocated for the Reform bill 1994, which guaranteed more protection of children’s rights to contact.

The current research adopts a feminist’s perspective. By applying this perspective, the study considers the contribution of feminists in shaping the domestic violence policy in the United Kingdom. In agreement with Itzn and Hammer (2000), men count as the leading perpetrators of domestic violence affecting children. However, the study has considered the other social theoretical perspectives that explain domestic violence, and how children are affected as witnesses of the violence. In line with the postulations of Babbie (2011), the different paradigms put forward by feminists are also be considered. The negative themes touching on the oppression of children and women comes out through the application of a thematic style of analysis.



3.1 Definition of methodology:

The methodology adopted in this study is determined by the purpose of the study, which is to find out the impact of domestic violence to children. The research asks the question: What is the impact of domestic violence on children? In other words, the research tries to find how and in what ways are who witness domestic violence in their lives affected by it. Going by the propositions of Bryman (2004), the quantitative paradigm has been for years been used in social sciences research. This paradigm was also linked to natural science positivism and epistemology. As days went by, a transformation happened in social research methodology, and it has seen qualitative method being used more in social research (Coley 2007). Linking this with the current study, a mixed-method approach was favored. This is because the research is literature based, and aims at understanding the perceptions, as well as, the experiences of children as a result of witnessing domestic violence. Going by this, the research adopts an interpretivism epistemological position (Bryman 2004). In this research, therefore, meaning of reality will be shaped by complex systems of interactions. Since knowledge by this perspective is socially constructed, the current research will try to understand how the participants in the society create social experience, and how they interpret their world. As coley (2007) suggests, the conclusions, the role of the researcher, and the collection of data in qualitative research is determined by the epistemological stance. The current research is guided by a strand in sociological inquiry, which is, social constructivism. The research will thus use interpretive analysis as the main methodological principle.

3.2 Definitions of terms:

Epistemology –this is the study that tries to understand what knowledge is in social research.

Ontology- study of what is in existence and what is not, in social life of people.

Methodology- this explains how theory will be put in to practice.

Methods- refer to the primary and the secondary research tools that will be used to achieve the methodology.

Interpretive analysis- is a methodological principle where the researcher tries to interpret or derive meanings from participants in a society.

3.3 Methods:

The current research adopts a literature based method. The existing literature will serve as the population of study. Data collection is made thorough an inclusion-exclusion criterion, including articles that align with the subject under study. Since this is a mixed-method study done using the interpretive perspective, the researcher will play a role of filtering the data (Creswell 2009). The analytical phases will constitute appraising the data and a last phase of data synthesis. A structured approach is used for data analysis and it entails employing the principles of a systematic review, which includes the data extraction tool, and consideration of the feministic theoretical framework. In appraising the data, themes and conclusions, as well as, how the authors arrived at their findings are considered. The authority and background of the authors is considered too. Their theoretical frameworks, chosen methodology and their epistemological orientation will be looked into. The findings are organized into themes and it is addressed how the researchers arrived into their themes.

3.4 Ethical considerations

Going by the propositions of Bell (2010), the research considers the nature of the agreement that regards conducting the current research. All the research subjects and stakeholders are treated with the dignity they deserve. Further, the professional codes of conduct are adhered to in conducting the research. The sources used are credible as Babbie (2011) advises concerning the conduction of research. In line with professional conduct of research, every material used is cited and referenced appropriately. In protecting data and copyrights, the principles of conduct outlined in the British Society Coode of Ethics and Conduct are adhered followed. Going by the need to be in line with social change (Webster and Bond 2002), the researcher is informed of the current ethical considerations when conducting research.


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