Children and young people 

Children and young people are doubly affected by domestic abuse and sexual violence as they can be both witnesses to abuse in the adult relationships around them and they can experience abuse in their own intimate relationships.

Witnessing abuse

Witnessing domestic abuse in adult relationships can have an enormous impact on the lives of children and young people.  When there are children in a household where domestic abuse is occurring, the majority of children witness the abuse – and in 90% of cases they are either in the same or next room.  Even if a young person does not directly witness the abuse, or they are too young to understand, the effects of abuse can be significant. Babies may show poor health, be irritable, cry a lot and have sleep problems which get better once removed from the abusive situation.  Many children recall overhearing abuse and have said that not knowing if their parent was alive was more distressing than directly witnessing it. They sometimes felt guilty for not intervening to stop the abuse.

Victims of abuse often feel that they will be blamed for failing as a parent and fear that their children and teens will be taken away if they ask for help.  Whilst it is true that social services will want to make sure that the children are safe, only a very small number of children are made the subject of care orders and removed. Social workers prefer to work with parents to keep children safe rather than take them away as they view seeking help as acting responsibly and will want to work with you to make their lives better.

Some perpetrators use actual or threatened violence towards the victim’s children as another way of controlling them. Some perpetrators deliberately involve children in the abuse, causing confusion and distress to the children and young people involved.

When a child or young person is living in a home where domestic abuse is happening, they cannot feel safe and secure; this can have many negative physical and mental effects, such as:

  • Anxiety and depression 
  • Nightmares and flashbacks
  • Easily startled and tense
  • Physical symptoms such as headaches and stomach pains
  • Bed wetting
  • Increased temper tantrums
  • Behaving as though they are younger than they are
  • Have problems at school or becoming ‘over-achievers’
  • Playing truant
  • Copycat behaviour of what they are seeing at home
  • Becoming aggressive or internalizing their distress and withdrawing from other people
  • Diminished self worth
  • Substance and alcohol abuse
  • Self harming
  • Developing an eating disorder
  • Insomnia

Children or young people witnessing abuse may feel angry, gulity, insecure, alone, frightened, powerless or confused.

There is also a risk of harm to a child or young person trying to defend the victim of the abuse.

If you are, or think you know, a child or young person who is witnessing abuse please see our HELP FOR A CHILD OR YOUNG PERSON section for further information and how to act on it.

Young people experiencing abuse in their own relationships

Many young people are experiencing domestic abuse and sexual violence in their own relationships.  If your boyfriend or girlfriend hurts you or makes you feel scared, if they make you do things you do not want to do, this is abuse.  It is not okay and you should not accept it.

Research has found that 25% of girls and 18% of boys have been victims of physical abuse, 75% of girls and 14% of boys have been victims of emotional abuse and 33% of girls and 16% of boys have been victims of sexual abuse.  They found the rates increased in same sex relationships and that having an older partner also increased levels of abuse. 

Research also suggests that under 18’s are more likely to experience sexual violence than any other age group, with sexual violence centres reporting that 30% of their referrals are under 18, with the most common age being 14 to 15.  There is also increasing concern about the use of sexual violence in youth gang culture.

If you are a young person and you think you are being abused, or you are worried about someone else please see our HELP FOR A CHILD OR YOUNG PERSON section for further information.

If you think you are abusing your boyfriend or girlfriend please see our ADVICE FOR PERPETRATORS section.