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Header image of a woman and a child's face. The text reads: "Pervasive and widespread, woman abuse and sexual violence harm women of all ages, sexual orientations, racial and ethnic backgrounds, socio-economic classes and religions".

Pervasive and widespread, woman abuse and sexual violence harm
women of all ages, sexual orientations, racial and ethnic backgrounds,
socio-economic classes and religions.

Mobile header containing a woman's face and a child's face. The header contains the following text: "Woman abuse harms women of all ages, sexual orientations, ethnic backgrounds, socio-economic classes, & religions.

Child Witnessing


  • Occurs when a family member, partner or ex-partner attempts to physically or psychologically dominate another. Refers to violence between spouses, or spousal abuse but can also include cohabitants and non-married intimate partners
  • Occurs in all cultures; people of all races, ethnicities, religions, sexes and classes can be perpetrators of domestic violence
  • Behaviors used by one person in a relationship to control the other


  • The national incidence study of child maltreatment (CIS-2003) reported that about one in 100 or 1% of children were exposed to domestic violence
  • In 1993 Violence Against Women Survey estimated that 298,000 children per year see, hear or are otherwise exposed to domestic violence (in 39% of households where violence occurs)
  • According to the 1999 General Social Survey on Victimization, children witnessed spousal violence in the previous five years in almost half a million Canadian households (in 37% of the households in which it occurs), an annual average of 322,700 children
  • A report by UNICEF, the UN Secretary-General’s Study of Violence Against Children and The Body Shop estimates that between 85,000 and 362,000 children witness domestic violence in Canada; between 1.2 and 5.1 percent of children under age 18. It finds that children witness spousal abuse in 60% of the households where it occurs
  • During the one-year period ending March 31, 2000, an estimated 57,200 women together with 39,200 children were admitted to 448 shelters across Canada. Three quarters of these children were under 10 years of age

Issues Affecting Women & Children

  • Fear
  • Connection with the person responsible for abuse
  • Lack of support
  • Lack of resources/knowledge
  • Single parenting
  • Promises of reform
  • Power and Control
  • Myths about woman abuse


1) Emotional

  • Grief for family and personal losses
  • Guilt: responsible for violence
  • Shame: doesn’t happen anywhere else
  • Self blame
  • Confusion about conflicting feelings towards parents
  • Fear of abandonment, or expressing emotions, the unknown or personal injury
  • Fear of expressing feelings (anger), of divorce or separation, of unknown, or injury
  • Confusion: conflicted loyalties (love/hate)
  • Powerless: because they are unable to keep the violence from happening or to stop these incidents when they occurred
  • Anger: about violence, chaos; at themselves for not being able to stop the violence and for the world for allowing it to happen
  • Depression and feelings of helplessness and powerlessness: to change things (especially caretaker children)
  • Embarrassment
  • Loneliness: feeling unable or afraid to reach out to others, feeling “different” or feeling isolated
  • Burdened: inappropriate roles as caretaker, parent, etc….
  • Distrust: of adults, even teachers, because their experience tells them that adults are unpredictable, that they break promises, and/or that they don’t mean well

2) Behavioural

  • Acting out or withdrawing
  • Aggressive or passive
  • Refusing to go to school/Looks for reasons to stay after school
  • Care taking; acting as a substitute parent
  • Lying to avoid confrontation
  • Rigid defenses: aloof, sarcastic, rigid, blaming, defensive
  • Seeking attention in behaviours
  • Excessive attention seeking
  • Bedwetting and nightmares
  • Out of control behaviour
  • Reduced intellectual competency
  • Manipulation, dependency, mood swings
  • Overachiever vs. underachiever
  • Social
  • Isolation from friends and relatives
  • Relationships with friends may start intensely and end abruptly
  • Stormy relationships
  • Difficulty in trusting, especially adults
  • Poor anger management and problem solving skills
  • Excessive social involvement to avoid home
  • Passivity with peers or bullying
  • Engaged in exploitive relationships

3) Physical

  • Somatic complaints, headaches and stomach aches
  • Nervous, anxious, short attention span (seems like hyperactivity)
  • Tired and lethargic: lazy; fear of falling asleep; falls asleep in school during low-stress activity periods
  • Frequently ill (cold, flu)
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Regression in development: seeming loss of previously learned skills (toileting skills)
  • High risk play
  • Self abuse
  • No reaction, at times, to physical pain
  • Frequent bullying behaviour 

4) Cognitive

  • Difficulty choosing and completing an activity or task
  • Feel responsible for violence
  • Blame others for their behaviour (to not act responsibly)
  • Feel that it’s okay to hit others you care about in order to:
    1. Get what you want
    2. Express anger
    3. Feel powerful
  • Low self concept (cannot succeed in changing violence)
  • Don’t ask for what they need
  • Don’t trust (promise to change)
  • Feel anger is bad (people get hurt)
  • Being a boy means…being a girl means…being a man means…being a woman means…being a parent means….

What You Can Do:

If a child discloses:

  • Allow the child to tell their story
  • Stay calm and reassure the child
  • Follow the child’s lead
  • Listen intently
  • Don’t pressure the child to talk
  • Avoid criticizing or speaking negatively about the abusive person
  • Avoid making commitments to the child you can’t honour
  • Help the child devise a safety plan
  • If a person has reasonable grounds to suspect that a child is or may be in need of protection, the person must promptly report the suspicion and the information upon which it is based to a children’s aid society.
  • DO NOT leave a telephone message (or send home material) about potential issues in the home as this could endanger both mom and child



(1999) A Handbook For Dealing With Woman Abuse and The Canadian Justice System: Guidelines for Physicians.  Health Canada.

Baker, L.L; Cunningham, A.J (2005) Learning To Listen Learning To Help: Understanding Woman Abuse and It’s Effects on Children

Baker, L.L; Jaffe, P.G (2002) Woman Abuse Affects Our Children: An Educator’s Guide

Cunningham, A; Baker, L (2005)  Little Eyes, Little Ears: How Violence Against A Mother Shapes Children As They Grow. 

Baker, L; Jaffe, P; Ashbourne, L (2002) Children Exposed to Domestic Violence: An Early Childhood Educator’s Handbook to Increase Understanding and Improve Community Responses. Centre For Children & Families in The Justice System.

Cunningham, A; Baker, L (2005)  Professor’s Resource Guide To Teaching About Woman Abuse and its Effects on Children

Dauvergne, M; Johnson, H (2002) Children Witnessing Family Violence. Statistics Canada. 21(6).

Matsakis, A (1996) I Can’t Get Over It: A Handbook For Trauma Survivors. New Harbinger Publications.

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