Family Violence

Children can be harmed indirectly by other types of family violence, such as spousal or partner abuse. Studies show that child abuse and battering of the child’s mother occur together in the same household up to 75% of the time.(1) Even when child abuse does not accompany spousal abuse, up to 87% of incidents of partner violence are witnessed by children.(2)

When children witness spousal abuse, they are deeply affected. The following are some effects seen in children of different ages:

Womb - 1 year:
• Fright or trauma
• Sleep disturbances
• Eating disturbances
• Death
• Frequent illness or colic (inconsolable crying)
• Physical injury
• Nervous, jumpy, frequent crying
• Insecurity due to care by traumatized mother
• Non-responsive to nurturing - not “cuddly”

2-4 years:
• Speech problems
• Verbalizes what is witnessed
• Acts out violently
• Becomes withdrawn
• Eating problems
• Sleep problems
• Insecurity
• Delayed toilet training
• Fear
• Anxiety
• Depression
• Problems relating to other children
• Heightened sibling rivalries
5-12 years:
• Insecurity
• Low self esteem
• Withdrawal
• Depression
• Running away
• Substance use/abuse
• Bedwetting
• Sexual activity
• School problems
• Under/overachiever
• Prone to violence
• Caretaker of adults
• Caretaker of siblings
• Causes problems to divert abuse from Mom
• Embarrassed by family, isolated (3)

Spousal abuse can take on many different forms, including:
• Actual or threatened physical injury
• Sexual assault
• Psychological abuse (for example: intimidation or threats)
• Economic control
• Progressive social isolation(4)

Please take some time to think about your relationship and whether or not your spouse are partner has power and control over you. If you think that you are being abused, it is extremely important for both you and your child(ren) that you seek help.

Please call one of the following 24-hour toll-free numbers to speak with someone who can help (these calls won’t show up on your phone bill, unless you use a cell phone):
• In Massachusetts, call the SafeLink Hotline at 1-877-785-2020. Spanish-speaking rape crisis counselors are available at 1-800-223-5001.
• In other States, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233).

The AWAKE (Advocacy for Women and Kids in Emergencies) Program at Children’s Hospital Boston provides extensive individual and group domestic violence advocacy and intervention services for battered adult and adolescent women (patients, parents/caretakers of patients, and employees). For more information about AWAKE, please call 617-355-4760.


(1) Walker, L., Thyfault, R., and Browne, A. (1982) Beyond the Juror’s Ken: Battered Women and Violence. Yllo, K., Bograd, M. (1994) Feminist Perspectives on Wife Abuse. McKibben, L., DeVos, E. and Newberger E. (1989) Victimization of Mothers of Abused Children.
(2) Walker L. (1984) The Battered Woman Syndrome.
AWAKE Project. Children’s Hospital Boston.
(4) 1997-1998 Risk Management Update for the Massachusetts Physician. Medical Education Group Learning Systems, Inc., 1997.

Last Updated: February 29, 2004
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