The Impact of Violence

When hearing about child abuse, the common assumption is that we are referring only to physical and sexual abuse. However, witnessing violence is a form of child abuse that can have damaging effects on children’s minds. Violence can include domestic violence, gang violence, violence at school, murder, war, etc. Children who witness violence experience unnecessary mental and emotional stress. The Child Advocacy Center is working towards increasing awareness of the impact that witnessing violence has on children’s minds and on finding more clients who fit this demographic. 


Children who have witnessed acts of violence can show several symptoms, including:

·         Sleep difficulties; frequent waking, nightmares, fear of falling asleep

·         Somatic complaints; headaches, stomachaches, aches and pains with no clear medical cause

·         Increased aggression and angry outbursts

·         Increased activity level

·         Hypervigilance; worries, fears, overreaction to loud noises or sudden movements

·         Regression; loss of skills learned at an early age; babyish behavior

·         Withdrawal; loss of interest in friends, school, or other activities the child used to enjoy

·         Numbing; showing no feelings at all, not bothered by anything

·         Increased separation anxiety; refuses to go to school, very upset when left with babysitter or              child care provider

·         Distractibility; has trouble concentrating at home or school

·         Changes in play; repeatedly acts out or recreates violent events in play, less able to play                      spontaneously or creatively

Witnessing violence also impacts children emotionally and can cause them to be more susceptible to:

·         Depression

·         Anger

·         Post-traumatic stress disorder

·         Role reversal—when children are treated as a therapist or confidant for their parent and are                forced to take on additional household responsibilities

·         Desensitization to aggressive behavior

·         Poor anger management skills

·         Poor problem solving skills

·         Engagement in exploitative relationships

Despite these negative consequences, children who witness violence can be helped by:

·         Working with the victim of violence to discuss the options he/she might have to  increase                   safety

·         Visiting a legal advocacy center, domestic violence shelter, or domestic violence services                      agency to address the issue of safety

·         Counseling and mental health interventions

·         Support groups, individual therapy, and dyadic treatment with the non-offending parent


The course of treatment depends on the child’s age, nature and severity of the traumatic reaction, the circumstances of the family, and the availability of other supports. However, it is important to intervene and provide treatment for children who witness violence to reduce the lifelong effects of trauma on the child.

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