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Stop Violence Against Women

Effects on Children Witnessing Abuse

In Canada, it is estimated that each year 800,000 children are exposed to a woman being abused. When children witness abuse they receive the message that violence is an acceptable way to resolve conflict and therefore a normal part of a relationship.

The impact of witnessing abuse depends on the age and developmental stage of the child, the frequency and severity of the abuse along with the support systems in place for the child.

Children often become victims of physical violence as well. Children are harmed in 10 percent of spousal assaults against women and 4 percent of spousal assaults against men.

Typical long-term effects on children witnessing a woman being abused

Adapted from A handbook for health and social service providers and educators on children exposed to woman abuse/family violence, Ottawa: Health Canada, 1999.



5–12 years

12–18 years

Disruption in eating and sleeping routinesPoor concentrationLow self-esteemBeing abused or becoming abusive
Fearful of loud noisesFearPost-traumatic stress disorderSuicidal behaviour
Delays in developmentSeparation anxietySelf-harmDisrespect for females
Excessive cryingFrequent illnessBullyingBullying
Physical neglectHitting, bitingDepressionPoor peer relationships
 ClingingPerfectionismRunning away
 Anger and aggressionProblems in schoolFeeling over-responsible
 Cruelty to animalsInappropriate sexual behaviourPleasing behaviour
 Regressive behaviourAlcohol/drug useAnxiety and tension
 Destruction of property  


  • In 2004, 7% of women and 6% of men reported having been assaulted by an intimate partner in the previous five years.
  • Almost 30,000 women and dependent children were admitted to Ontario shelters between April 1, 2003 and March 31, 2004.
  • 53% of Ontario women escaping abusive situations were admitted with their children; 65% of these children were under the age of 10.
  • 51% of women and 34% of men who reported to the police that they had been assaulted by their spouse said their children had witnessed the violence; of those, 62% of woman and 49% of men feared for their lives.
  • 16% of women who were victimized by their spouse were sexually assaulted.
  • Almost 45% of women and 19% of men assaulted by a partner suffered physical injuries.
  • 22% of men and women accused of spousal homicide or attempted spousal homicide had a history of police-reported spousal violence.
  • Only 37% of women and 17% of men who were victims of spousal abuse reported it to the police.





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This site is not intended to replace the need for counselling. The information provided is intended to inform the viewer, giving information to help you be informed to make the best decision possible for you and your family. Please, always seek professional help and legal advice if you find yourself in an abusive situation.