(Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence) Survival Strategies of Children and Teenagers

Survival Strategies of Children & Teenagers

from http://www.lfcc.on.ca/HCT_SWASM_18.html

When faced with a difficult situation, children “cope” by coming to an understanding (possibly distorted) about what is happening and dealing with the flood of hurtful emotions. Their strategies can involve feelings (emotional), thoughts (cognitive), or actions (behavioural).

Some strategies are helpful

  • examples are seeking peers or supportive adults to talk about the feelings
  • young children cannot easily engage in healthy strategies and need adults to buffer them from the harmful consequences of family adversities such as violence

Some strategies are helpful but costly

  • strategies may be helpful during a crisis but not healthy in the long run, such as emotional numbing, self-injury, substance use, having a baby to escape the family, or being an emotional caretaker for a parent
  • these strategies can be a response to a variety of family adversities, including violence and maltreatment
  • an objectively helpful strategy may not “work” while some objectively unhealthy strategies did do
  • they help a child get through a time of stress or crisis, such as when there is violence in the home
  • however, if used after the crisis is over, or in other circumstances, these strategies may create problems
  • the longer a strategy is used, or the more effective it is in shielding a youth from overwhelming emotions and hurt, the harder it may be to extinguish

Once the family is safe, gradually extinguishing strategies with negative effects and replacing them with healthier strategies may be the key to helping children who have lived with family adversities such as violence.

These are some coping strategies commonly observed in children and teenagers who have lived with violence and maltreatment. Remember that coping styles vary with age.

Mental Blocking or Disconnecting Emotionally

  • numbing emotions or blocking thoughts
  • tuning out the noise, learning not to hear it, being oblivious
  • concentrating hard to believe they are somewhere else
  • drinking alcohol or using drugs

Making it Better Through Fantasy

  • planning revenge on abuser, fantasizing about killing him
  • fantasizing about a happier life, living with a different family
  • fantasizing about life after a divorce or after the abuser leaves
  • fantasizing about abuser being “hit by a bus”
  • hoping to be rescued, by super heroes or police or “Prince Charming”

Physical Avoidance

  • going into another room, leaving the house during a violent episode
  • finding excuses to avoid going home
  • running away from home

Looking for Love (and Acceptance) in all the Wrong Places

  • falling in with bad friends
  • having sex for the intimacy and closeness
  • trying to have a baby as a teenager or getting pregnant as a teen to have someone to love you

Taking Charge Through Caretaking

  • protecting brothers and sisters from danger
  • nurturing brothers and Sisters like a surrogate mother / taking the “parent” role
  • nurturing his or her mother

Reaching out for Help

  • telling a teacher, neighbour, or friend’s mother
  • calling the police
  • talking to siblings, friends, or supportive adults

Crying out for Help

  • suicidal gestures
  • self-injury
  • lashing out in anger / being aggressive with others / getting into fights

Re-Directing Emotions into Positive Activities

  • sports, running, fitness
  • writing, journalling, drawing, acting, being creative
  • excelling academically

Trying to Predict, Explain, Prevent or Control the Behaviour of an Abuser

  • thinking “Mommy has been bad” or “I have been bad” or “Daddy is under stress at work”
  • thinking “I can stop the violence by changing my behaviour” or “I can predict the violence”
  • trying to be the perfect child
  • lying to cover up bad things (e.g., a bad grade) to avoid criticism and worse

Handout for Women

How my Child or Teen Copes (pdf link to off-site page)

Help women use this sheet to identify coping strategies of each of her children (this exercise will not be helpful for babies, toddlers, or most pre-schoolers). Distinguish between those used in response to violence in the past and those still used today. The group can brainstorm specific ways to encourage healthy strategies.

Want to know more?

Alison Cunningham & Linda Baker (2004). What About Me! Seeking to Understand the Child’s View of Violence in the Family. London ON: Centre for Children & Families in the Justice System.


DVIP: Behavioral Characteristics of a Domestic Violence Batterer

Behavioral Characteristics of a Domestic Violence Batterer


Batterers are found in all socioeconomic, educational, ethnic, racial, and age groups.



  • Use psychological, verbal, and physical abuse, including sexual abuse.
  • Engage in excessive minimization and denial.


The batterer is characterized by:

  • Poor impulse control, limited tolerance for frustration, explosive temper – rage. Constantly demonstrating but often successfully masking anger.
  • Stress disorders and psychosomatic complaints; sophistication of symptoms and success at masking dysfunction vary with social and educational levels.
  • Emotional dependency – subject to secret depressions known only to family.
  • Limited capacity for delayed reinforcement – very “now” oriented.
  • Insatiable ego needs and qualities of childlike narcissism (not generally detectable to people outside family group).
  • Low self-esteem; perceives unachieved ideals and goals for self; disappointment in career, even if successful by others’ standards.
  • Qualities which suggest great potential for change and improvement; i.e., makes frequent “promises” for the future.
  • Perception of self as having poor social skills; describing relationship with mate as the closest he has ever known while remaining in contact with his family of origin.
  • Accusations against mate, jealousy, voicing great fear of abandonment or “being cheated on,” possessive, controlling, hovering behavior.
  • Fearfulness that partner and/or children will abandon; fear of being alone.
  • Containment of mate and employment of espionage tactics against her (checking mileage/times, errands); cleverness depends on level of sophistication.
  • Violating others’ personal boundaries; accepts no blame for failure (marital, familial, or occupational) or for violent acts.
  • Belief that forcible behavior aimed at securing the family nucleus is for the good of the family.
  • Absence of guilt on an emotional level even after intellectual recognition.
  • Generational history of abuse.
  • Frequently participating in pecking order battering.
  • Assaultive skills which improve with age and experience (increase in danger potential and lethality risks to family members over time).
  • Demanding and oftentimes assaultive role in sexual activities; sometimes punishes with abstinence; occasionally experiencing impotence.
  • Increasingly assaultive behavior when the mate is pregnant – pregnancy often marks the first assault.
  • Exerting control over mate by threatening homicide and/or suicide. Often attempts one or both when partners separate – known to complete either or both.
  • Frequently using children as “pawns” and exerting power and control through custody issues; may kidnap children or hold them hostage.


Profile of MALE Abuser

Abusers may have some or all of the following characteristics:


  • Excessively jealous
  • Isolates victim (she may rarely go anywhere alone; visitors rarely allowed)
  • Controls victim (makes all decisions; demands accounting of time & actions)
  • Denies beatings or minimizes severity
  • May be more violent when she is pregnant or soon after birth
  • Blames victim for his abusive behavior
  • Uses verbal abuse with physical abuse (insults, mind games, etc.)
  • If victim leaves, he does whatever it takes to get her back (apologizes, sends flowers, cries, begs forgiveness, begs her to come home, promises to get counseling)
  • When victim returns, promises are systematically broken
  • Jekyll and Hyde personality
  • From a dysfunctional family
  • Low/No self-esteem (builds himself up at victim’s expense)
  • Thinks he’s never wrong and never lies – knows everything and everyone
  • Believes myths about abuse
  • Strongly believes in traditional sex roles
  • Feels persecuted – maybe mentally ill
  • Treats victim like a servant/very demanding
  • Must always have his way
  • Reacts violently to criticism
  • Preaches his own religion
  • Is very creative, imaginative and artistic
  • Is capable of fooling untrained authorities (doctors, lawyers, judges)
  • Is in control of his abuse (can – and does – become suddenly civil if someone walks in on the abuse; will only injure to a certain point – that which will ensure compliance)

Profile of FEMALE Victim

Victims may have some or all of the following characteristics:


  • Socially isolated – lonely
  • Blames herself for the beatings
  • Accepts responsibility for her abuser’s behavior
  • Feels she has no power or control
  • Feels ambivalent or confused
  • Embarrassed to admit she is being abused or that she is in a violent, abusive relationship – denial
  • Low/No Self-esteem
  • Believes she cannot survive alone
  • Is highly stressed – terrified – fighting to stay alive
  • Exhibits stress-related physical ailments or problems
  • Believes myths about abuse
  • Denies her anger over the abuse – but explodes over minor irritations
  • Exhibits depression
  • Is fearful of many things, like making a mistake
  • Believes in traditional sex roles
  • Puts needs/feelings of others far above her own
  • Mood is determined by abuser’s disposition
  • Unable to make a decision without abuser’s approval
  • Believes that nothing can ever help her
  • Does what it takes to survive – lies, denies, defends abuser
  • Endures additional abuse to protect children
  • Prays silently






Domestic Violence Intervention Program (powerpoint slides)

  • Duluth Model
    • The Duluth Model engages legal systems and human service agencies to create a distinctive form of organized public responses to domestic violence. It is characterized by:
      • Clearly identifyable and largely shared assumptions and theories about the source of battering and the effective means to deter it
      • Empirically tested intervention strategies that build saftey and accountability  into all elements of the infrastructure of processing cases of violence
      • Well-defined methods of inter-agency cooperation guided by advocacy programs.
  • The Power and Control Wheel is a visual tool used to recognize and identify abusive behavior
  • The Power and Control WheelPower and Control
    • Abusers believe they have a right to control their partners by:
      • Telling them what to do and expecting obedience
      • Using force to maintain power and control over partners
      • Feeling their partners have no right to challenge their desire for power and control
      • Feeling justified in making the victim comply
      • Blaming the abuse on the partner and not accepting responsibility for wrongful acts.
      • The characteristics shown in the wheel are examples of how the this power and control are demonstrated and enacted against the victim.
  • Men Batter
    • Because they can and we let them!
    • Because they believe they can
    • Because they want what they what when they want it
    • To stop her from doing something or to get her to do something
    • Simply to Revel in Dominance over her!
  • Battering is a CHOICE
    • Battering is NOT caused by mental illness, genetics, or substance abuse, stress, or problems within the relationship
  • The Equality Wheel
    • The Equality WheelEquality is at the center, the axle of the wheel. Non-violence is the rim of the wheel, holding it all together. The spokes are:
      • NEGOTIATION AND FAIRNESS: Seeking mutually satisfying resolutions to conflict. Accepting
        changes. Being willing to compromise.
      • NON-THREATENING BEHAVIOR: Talking and acting so that she feels safe and comfortable expressing herself and doing things.
      • RESPECT: Listening to her non-judgmentally. Being emotionally affirming and understanding. Valuing her opinions.
      • TRUST AND SUPPORT: Supporting her goals in life. Respecting her right to her own feelings,
        friends, activities, and opinions.
      • HONESTY AND ACCOUNTABILITY: Accepting responsibility for self. Acknowledging past use
        of violence. Admitting being wrong. Communicating openly and truthfully.
      • RESPONSIBLE PARENTING: Sharing parental responsibilities. Being a positive, nonviolent role
        model for the children.
      • SHARED RESPONSIBILITY: Mutually agreeing on a fair distribution of work. Making family decisions together.
      • ECONOMIC PARTNERSHIP: Making money decisions together. Making sure both partners benefit
        from financial arrangements.
  • Nonviolence
    • Conflict Resolution
    • Learning to be accountable
    • Learning to take ownership
    • Eliminating male privilege
  • The goal of DVIP is for the Batterer to:
    • Acknowledge that they have assaulted, abused, and controlled their partner.
    • Acknowledge they battered by committing specific acts of violence and used patterns of coercive control.
    • Understand that their battering is build on a foundation of male privilege which they took advantage of their communities pervasive oppression of women.
    • They were NOT provoked.
    • Their behavior was NOT caused by stress, childhood trauma, jealousy, intoxication, drug or alcohol problems or addiction, bad relationships, loss of control, bad temper, family history of violence, ANYTHING SHE DID or any other myth, justification, or excuse.
    • Their battering is inexcusable.
    • They made a CHOICE to batter their partner and they alone are responsible for their actions.
    • They can choose to be non-abusive.


Myths and Facts: Why do domestic violence perpetrators do what they do?

Commonly held misconceptions about why batterers batter
Alcohol and/or drugs cause the violence
• Stress causes the violence
• Uncontrollable anger
• The batterer witnessed his father abusing his mother
Why do batterers batter?
• Because they can
• Because it gets them what they want
• Opportunity and self-interest
Common characteristics of batterers:
• Exhibits discrepancy between public and private behavior
• Uses obfuscation to minimize or confuse survivor about behavior
• Externalizes by blaming others and using external factors to justify behavior
• Uses controlling behaviors to get survivor to do, or stop doing, something
• Feels a strong sense of ownership over the survivor
• May use controlled substances
• Is resistant to change
Factors that increase the likelihood of male violence against women
• Ideology of familial patriarchy
• Male peer support
• Alcohol consumption/use
• Exposure to pornographic media


We live in a society where:
° Around the world, at least one in every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused during her lifetime. (Population Reports, Series L, No. 11, December 1999).
o Seventy-eight percent of stalking victims are women. Women are significantly more likely than men (60% and 30%, respectively) to be stalked by intimate partners. (Center for Policy Research, Stalking in America, July 1997).
o Intimate partner violence is primarily a crime against women. In 1999, women accounted for 85 percent of the victims. (Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, Intimate Partner Violence and Age of Victim, 1993-99, October 2001).
o On average, more than three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends in this country every day. In 1999, 1,642 murders were attributed to intimates; 74 percent of the murder victims were women. (Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, Intimate Partner Violence and Age of Victim, 1993-99, October 2001).
MCADSV New Service Provider Training Manual and Resource Guide (May 2006)
• Hold rigid sex role stereotypes

Warning Signs
• History of Violence
Substance abuse
• Breaks or strikes things in anger
• Jealousy
• Controlling Behavior
• Quick Involvement
• Unrealistic Expectations
• Isolation
• Use of Privilege
Cruelty to Animals or Children
• Rape or use of force in sex
• Blames others for Problems
• Blames others for Feelings

MCADSV New Service Provider Training Manual and Resource Guide (May 2006)

Domestic Violence: An Introduction

Domestic violence and emotional abuse are behaviors used by one person in a relationship to control the other. Partners may be married or not married; heterosexual, gay, or lesbian; living together, separated or dating. Violence takes many forms and can happen all the time or once in a while. Abuse is not an accident. It does not happen because someone was stressed out, drinking, or using drugs. Abusers have learned to abuse, using their power to get what they want. The abuse may be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, and psychological.

Domestic violence crosses all ethnic, racial, age, national origin, sexual orientation, religious, and socioeconomic lines. Domestic violence can happen to anybody. In fact, studies suggest that one fifth to one third of all women will be physically assaulted by a partner or ex partner during their lifetime. In heterosexual relationships, 95% of all victims are female and 95% of all perpetrators are male. In same-sex relationships, domestic violence happens with the same statistical frequency as in heterosexual relationships.

“Domestic violence is a pattern of controlling behaviors, some of which are criminal, that includes but is not limited to physical assaults, sexual assaults, emotional abuse, isolation, economic coercion, threats, stalking, and intimidation. These behaviors are used by the batterer in an effort to control the intimate partner. The behavior may be directed at others with the effect of controlling the intimate partner.” Batter Intervention Standards for the State of Michigan, 4.1 (January 20, 1999).

Domestic Violence Victims

Anyone can be a victim! Victims can be any age, sex, race, culture, religion, sexual orientation, education, employment, or marital status. Although both men and women can be abused, most victims are women. Children in homes where there is domestic violence are more likely to be abused and/or neglected. Most children in these homes know about violence. Even if a child is not physically harmed, they may have emotional and behavior problems. NOBODY DESERVES TO BE ABUSED! THE ONLY PERSON RESPONSIBLE FOR THE ABUSE IS THE ABUSER!

Domestic Abusers

There is no “typical” abuser. In public, they may appear friendly and loving to their partner and family. They often only abuse behind closed doors. They also try to hide the abuse by causing injuries that can be hidden and do not need medical attention. Abusers often have low self-esteem. They do not take responsibility for their actions. They often blame the victim for causing the violence. In most cases, men abuse female victims.

Survivor vs. Victim

In most places, we use the term “survivor” due to our emphasis on empowerment advocacy. This happens when the advocate offers support, resources, advocacy, information, and education.

This is a way of recognizing strength, courage, and survival strategies of domestic violence and sexual assault survivors.

Not all women who have experienced domestic or sexual violence see themselves as “survivors.” Remember: Domestic violence and sexual assault is something that happens to individuals; it does not define who they are.


We are a MOVEMENT and our work is different than that of traditional social services in that we:

  • Focus on survivors’ strengths
  • Do not believe that we are the experts in their lives
  • Are survivor-driven, not service driven
  • Understand that violence can happen to any of us
  • Are non-directive in our approach to working with survivors

Instead of viewing survivors as sick or pathological, we believe that survivors are simply reacting in adaptive ways to oppressive societal conditions, restrictive sex roles, and the abusive intimate partners in their lives.

MCADSV New Service Provider training Manual and Resource Guide (May 2006).