Children Witnessing Violence Fact Sheet

Witnessing Violence Fact Sheet
Joanne Davis, Ph.D. and Ernestine Briggs, Ph.D
National Violence Against Women Prevention Research Center
Medical University of South Carolina

Society has become increasingly aware of the negative impact of child abuse on children’s’ behavioral, emotional, and social functioning. Research has shown that children do not have to be the direct targets of violence to be affected by it. Indeed, the research on negative outcomes associated with exposure to violence has grown exponentially. Children may be exposed to various types of violence including violence in the media (e.g., television or movies), in the school or in the community, and between adults at home.

This fact sheet will focus primarily on children’s experiences of witnessing domestic violence.

What Kinds of Violent Activities do Children Witness?
The violence that children are exposed to in their homes can vary in frequency, duration, degree of reciprocity, and severity (Wolak & Finkelhor, 1998). Although domestic violence is typically thought of in terms of a physical assault, it includes verbal and emotional abuse, sexual assaults, and murder.

Edleson (1999) discussed the different ways in which children can witness or be a part of domestic violence (see also Ganley & Schechter, 1996). These include witnessing the actual violent events occurring, hearing the fight, being physically assaulted while near the mother during a violent incident, being taken hostage in order to force the mother’s situation, and being forced to participate in the violence.

Also, some children ribe coping with the aftermath of domestic violence as particularly stressful. After a violent t, a child may have to aid an injured parent, call the police, witness the arrest or removal of the offending parent, relocate to a shelter and/or cope with a host of persistent family stressors (e.g., poverty, substance abuse, mental and physical illness).

How Many Children are Affected?
Prevalence estimates of children who witness domestic violence vary widely. Some commonly cited figures suggest that 3.3 million children and 10 million teenagers are exposed to domestic violence each year (Carlson, 1984; Straus, 1992). Other studies suggest that approximately 20% to 41% of adults recalled observing domestic violence when they were younger (Henning, Leitenberg, Coffey, Turner, & Bennett, 1996; Silvern 1995). Differences in prevalence rates are a function of several methodological issues including age and geographic location of participants sampled, and retrospective versus prospective nature of the studies examined. Despite the variation in the prevalence
estimates, most researchers would agree that a substantial number of children are exposed to violence in their homes.

Correlates of Witnessing Violence
Children who witness domestic violence (i.e., violence between parents, guardians, or caregivers) are often referred to as the “forgotten” victims since interventions generally target the adult victim or perpetrator (Groves, Zukerman, Marans, & Cohen, 1993). Most of the research in this area sugge that children exposed to domestic violence are at increased risk for emotional, behavior, academic, and social problems (Kolbo, Blakely, & Engelman, 1996; Pfouts et. al., 1982). More specifically, children exposed to domestic violence may exhibit immediate and long-term problems with anxiety, depression, anger, self-esteem, aggression, delinquency, interpersonal relationships, and substance abuse (Carlson,1990; Jouriles, Murphy, O’Leary, 1989; Silvern, et al., 1995; Sternberg, et al., 1993). Moreover, children who are exposed to domestic violence may react in ways that fur augment their risk for negative outcomes. For example, some children run away from violent homes, which increases the risk of substance use, prostitution, homelessness, physical illness or injury, and victimization.

The Association Between Child Abuse and Witnessing Domestic Violence
Children in violent homes are at higher risk for being abused than children in non-violent homes. McKibben, DeVos, and Newberger (1989) found that 40-60% of mothers of abused children were abused themselves by their partner, compared to 13% of mothers of unabused children. In a study investigating the effects of witnessing domestic violence, Hughes et al. (1989) compared children who had ‘only’ witnessed violence, children who were abused and witnessed violence, and those who experienced neither. The investigators found that children who experience both direct abuse and witnessed violence exhibited the most symptoms, and the group that did not experience either exhibited the least.

Revictimization and Other Long-Term Correlates
Women who witnessed domestic violence as children may be at higher risk for being victimized in their own relationships. Experiencing revictimization may also lead to greater difficulties in the women’s functioning (i.e., post traumatic stress disorder, depression) as adults. In a study of 201 battered women, Sonnleitner, Basil, and Van Hasselt (1999) found that women who also experienced or witnessed violence in their families of origin reported greater depression and hopelessness. Silvern et al. (1995) found that witnessing domestic violence was associated with depression, low self-esteem, and trauma symptoms in adult women and trauma symptoms in adult men. Henning et al. (1996) surveyed adult women in the community and found that those who reported witnessing domestic violence as children reported higher psychological distress and lower social adjustment than those who had not witnessed violence.

Limitations of Research and Future Directions
Although the research on exposure to domestic violence is steadily improving, there are limitations and methodological shortcomings that must be addressed:

  • Frequency, severity, recency, type of violence, and other important characteristics associated with a child’s exposure to violence are rarely assessed and reported by researchers.
  • Child abuse and neglect often are not assessed despite the high risk in this population.
  • Most studies have included children residing in shelters. Although this is an important group to study, the chronicity and severity of the violence they witness may not accurately represent the range of experiences and symptoms reported by children exposed to less severe forms of domestic violence. Also, many of these studies fail to differentiate between children who witness violence and those who experience it.
  • Little attention has been paid to the demographic characteristics and the differential developmental needs of children exposed to domestic violence.
  • Most studies have relied on the reports of the primary caregiver rather than assessing the child’s response directly.
  • Few studies have differentiated between the effects of observing domestic violence and the impact of negotiating multiple transitions and family disruptions that are secondary to leaving an unsafe environment.
  • Few assessment tools have been designed specifically to address the impact of witnessing violence.
  • To date, there are virtually no follow-up, prospective, or longitudinal studies that examine the effects of witnessing violence.

When domestic violence comes to the attention of others, interventions are typically focused on the adults. In the past, law enforcement and other social service agencies have not been equipped to deal with the diverse needs of children exposed to domestic violence (Wolak & Finkelhor, 1998).

According to Wolak and Finkelhor (1998), professionals serving the needs of children exposed to domestic violence should be prepared to provide: (1) crisis intervention (i.e., assess for safety; develop a safety plan; file an abuse report; and provide crisis counseling); (2) assessment (i.e., assess current functioning, suicide risk); (3) short and long-term therapy (i.e., gradual exposure, trauma processing, reduction of feelings of responsibility and self-blame).

Carlson, B.E. (1990). Adolescent observers of marital violence. Journal of Family Violence, 5 (4), 285-299.

Carlson, B.E. (1984). Children’s observations of interparental violence. In A.R. Roberts (Ed.), Battered women and their families (pp. 147-167). New York: Springer.

Edleson, J.L. (1999). Children’s witnessing of adult domestic violence. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 14 (8), 839-870.

Ganley, A.L., & Schecter, S. (1996). Domestic violence: A national curriculum for children’s protective services. San Francisco: Family Violence Prevention Fund.

Henning, K., Leitenberg, H., Coffey, P., Turner, T., & Bennett, R.T. (1996). Long-term psychological and social impact of witnessing physical conflict between parents. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 11 (1), 35-51.

Hughes, H.M., Parkinson, D., & Vargo, M. (1989). Witnessing spouse abuse and experiencing physical abuse: A “double whammy?” Journal of Family Violence, 4, 197-209.

Jouriles, E.N., Murphy, C.M., & O’Leary, D. (1989). Interpersonal aggression, marital discord, and child problems. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 57(3), 453-455.

Kolbo, J.R., Blakely, E.H., & Engelman, D. (1996). Children who witness domestic violence: A review of empirical literature. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 11(2), 281-293.

McKibben, L. DeVos, E., & Newberger, E. (1989). Victimization of mothers of abused children: A controlled study. Pediatrics, 84, 531-535.

Pfouts, J., Schopler, J., & Henley, H. (1982). Forgotten victims of family violence. Social Work, 367-368.

Silvern, L., Karyl, J., Waede, L. Hodges, W.F., Starek, J., Heidt, E., & Min, K. (1995). Retrospective reports of parental partner abuse: Relationships to depression, trauma symptoms, and self-esteem among college students. Journal of Family Violence 10(2), 177-202.

Sonnleitner, M.R., Basil, V.M., & Van Hasselt, V.B. (1999, August). Impact of early exposure to violence on battered women. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, Boston, MA.

Sternberg, K. J., Lamb, M.E., Greenbaum, C., Cicchetti, D., Dawud, S., Cortes, R.M., Krispin, O., & Lorey, F. (1993). Effects of domestic violence on children’s behavioral problems and depression. Developmental Psychology, 29(1), 44-52.

Straus, M.A. (1992). Children as witnesses to marital violence: A risk factor for lifelong problems among a nationally representative sample of American men and women. Report of the Twenty-Third Ross Roundtable. Columbus, OH: Ross Laboratories.

Wolak, J. & Finkelhor, D. (1998). Children exposed to partner violence. In J.L. Jasinski & L. Williams (Eds.) Partner Violence: A Comprehensive Review of 20 Years of Research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Working with Children Living with Domestic Violence

Grandville : Cent Proverbes

An image of a child being spanked by a man while in the background a woman is being hit by another man with a stick. Image via Wikipedia


The published research on children’s exposure to domestic violence focuses largely on two aspects of their experience: the trauma of witnessing physical assaults against their mothers, and the tension produced by living with a high level of conflict between their parents (e.g. Rossman, Hughes, & Rosenberg, 2000). As important as these factors are, they are in fact only two aspects of many complex problems that typically pervade the children’s daily life. The bulk of these difficulties have their roots in the fact that the children are living with a batterer present in their home. The parenting characteristics commonly observed in batterers have implications for the children’s emotional and physical well-being, their relationships with their mothers and siblings, and the development of their belief systems.


The Batterer’s Parenting Style

  • Authoritarian
  • Under involved
  • Undermining of mother’s authority
  • Undermining of mother’s parenting in multiple ways
  • Limited sense of age-appropriateness
  • Use the children as weapons
  • Good under observation
  • Tend to see children as personal possessions
  • Rarely improve post-separation (typically get worse)
  • High risk of child abuse


Batterers’ Risk to Abuse Children

Physical Abuse

  • 50-70% of batterers abuse children
  • 7 times more likely than an non-batterer
  • Correlated with level of physical abuse of partner
  • Other indicators: level of control, substance abuse, rigid belief-system, abused as a child


Sexual Abuse

  • 2-5% of batterers will sexually abuse children
  • 6 times more likely than a non-batterer
  • Correlated with presence of violence towards partner but not with severity
  • Other indicators: high entitlement, self-centered, use of children to meet his own needs, manipulative, seeing the children as personal possessions, substance abuse


Psychological Abuse

  • Generally present to some degree


From: MCADSV New Service Provider Training Manual and Resource Guide who cites:

The Parenting of Men Who Batter, and The batterer as Parent: Addressing the Impact of Domestic Violence on Family Dynamics by Lundy Bancroft, © 2002. Published in Court Review, Vol. 36, No. 2, 44-39.

Drug Facilitated Sexual Assault

Drug Facilitated Assault

Drug facilitated assault: when drugs or alcohol are used to compromise an individual’s ability to consent to sexual activity. In addition, drugs and alcohol are often used in order to minimize the resistance and memory of the victim of a sexual assault.

Alcohol remains the most commonly used chemical in crimes of sexual assault, but there are also substances being used by perpetrators including: Rohypnol, GHB, GBL, etc.


Diminished Capacity

Diminished capacity exists when an individual does not have the capacity to consent. Reasons for this inability to consent include, but are not limited to: sleeping, drugged, passed out, unconscious, mentally incapacitated, etc.

It is important to understand diminished capacity because oftentimes victims of sexual assault in these situations blame themselves because they drank, did drugs, etc. It is essential to emphasize that it is not his or her fault, that the aggressor is the one who took advantage of his or her diminished capacity.



Rohypnol is not approved for medical use in the United States. It is smuggled into the country and has become an increasingly popular street drug.

Street Names: Roofies, Roach, the Forget Pill, Circles, Mexican Valium, Rib, Roach-2, Roopies, Rophies, La Rochas, Rope, Poor Man’s Quaalude, Whiteys, Trip-and-Fall, Mind Erasers, Lunch Money, and R-2.

What is it?: A small white tablet that looks a lot like aspirin. It quickly disolves in liquid and can take effect within 30 minutes of being ingested. The effects peak within 2 hours and may have lingering effects for 8 hours or more.







GHB has not been approved by the FDA since 1990. Therefore, it is illegal for distribution and sale in the U.S.

Street Names: Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH), Liquid X, Liquid E, G, Georgia Home Boys, Easy Lay, Cherry Meth, Soap, PM, Salt Water, Vita G, G-Juice, Great Hormones, Somatomax, Bedtime Scoop, Gook, Gamma 10, Energy Drink, and Goop.

What is it?: Pure GHB is commonly sold as a clear, odorless liquid or white crystalline powder. Because it is made in home labs, the effects are often unpredictable. Once ingested, GHB takes effect in approximately 15 minutes and can last 3-4 hours.




  • Sedation of the body
  • Intense drowsiness
  • Hampered mobility
  • Verbal incoherence
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Nausea, aspiration on own vomit
  • Headache
  • Respiratory failure
  • Unconsciousness
  • Seizure-like activity
  • Coma, death


A GHB-like product, GBL is often sold under the guise of a dietary supplement or an industrial cleaner.

What is it?: When the body metabolizes GBL, it becomes twice as potent as GHB. It has a bitter taste that can easily be masked by strong-tasting drinks. GBL now comes in flavors such as lime, cinnamon, and cherry. Once ingested it takes approximately 30-45 minutes to take effect.




  • Severe amnesia
  • Nausea, aspiration on own vomit
  • Lethargy
  • Confusion
  • Hypothermia
  • Coma
  • Respiratory arrest
  • Seizures
  • Agitation
  • Loss of bowel control
  • Death

NOTE: People who take GBL may act normally (i.e., may not appear intoxicated or sedated) but will have no memory of the time period. This effect can make it difficult for friends or acquaintances to identify that the individual has been drugged.



What is it? Commonly prescribed as anti-anxiety and sleeping medications in the United States, these drugs can be put into an alcoholic drink or soft drink in powder or liquid form. These are legal forms of Rohypnol.

What it does: Like the other drugs described above, Benzodiazepines can markedly impair and even abolish functions that normally allow a person to resist, or even want to resist, sexual aggression or assault.


GHB, GBL, Rohypnol, & Benzodiazepines

NOTE:For all of these drugs, alcohol increases the effects.

All four of these drugs have some common effects that make them appealing to perpetrators. These drugs are common weapons of sexual assault due to the combined efforts of the sedative effect and the memory-impairment qualities.

How they Work
  • They are typically odorless, colorless, and tasteless when placed in liquid (except for GBL).
  • 5-30 minutes after ingestion, the victim of the drugging may struggle to talk or to move and may eventually pass out.
  • At this point the drugged individual is vulnerable to assault.
  • A survivor of such an assault may have virtually no memory of the events that occurred.

Another factor that makes these drugs dangerous and difficult to detect is that they leave the body rapidly, leaving little time for detection.

  • Rohypnol– leaves in 36-72 hours
  • GHB– leaves in 10-12 hours
  • GLB– leaves the urinary system within 6 hours and the blood stream within 24 hours.
Some Good News

The producers of Rohypnol have recently changed the chemistry of the pill so that it changes the color of clear drinks to bright blue and makes dark drinks go cloudy. It will, however, take a while for these new pills to hit the streets.


A dissociative general anesthetic that has stimulant, hallucinogenic, and hypnotic properties. It is usually used by veterinarians.

Street Names: K, K-Hole, Special K, Vitamin K, Purple, Psychedelic Heroin, Kit Kat, Jet, Bump, Black Hole.

What is it?: A fast-acting liquid that can be slipped into drinks. It can be used to sedate and incapacitate individuals in order to sexually assault them. Ketamine is especially dangerous when mixed with other drugs or alcohol.

What it does: Ketamine causes individuals to feel detached from their bodies and their surroundings so that, while they may be aware of what is happening to them, they are unable to move or fight back. In addition it may cause amnesia so that they do not remember what happened.




  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Agitation
  • Disorientation
  • Impaired motor skills
  • High blood pressure
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Depression
  • Potentially fatal respiratory failure


A toxic hallucinogenic and stimulant that has psychedelic effects. It is illegal to sell or to produce in the United States.

Street Names: E, X, X-TC, M&Ms, Adam, CK, Clarity, Hug Drug, Lover’s Speed.

What is it?: Ecstasy is commonly sold as small pills or capsules and is also available in powder and liquid forms. It can be slipped into an individual’s drink in order to facilitate sexual assault.

What it does: Ecstasy causes individuals to feel extreme relaxation and positivity towards others while it increases sensitivity to touch. When under the influence of ecstasy individuals are less likely to be able to sense danger and it may leave them unable to protect themselves from attack.




  • Increased blood pressure, pulse, and body temperature
  • Nausea
  • Blurred vision
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Hallucinations
  • Chills
  • Sweating
  • Tremors
  • Strokes
  • Seizures
  • Hypothermia
  • Heat stroke
  • Heart failure


Information for this section was adapted from and materials provided by the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault. This is published on


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.


Domestic Violence and Substance Abuse

Why it matters

While substance abuse does not cause domestic violence, there is a statistical correlation between the two issues. (1) Studies of domestic violence frequently indicate high rates of alcohol and other drug use by perpetrators during abuse (2). Not only do batterers tend to abuse drugs and alcohol, but domestic violence also increases the probability that victims will use alcohol and drugs to cope with abuse (3). The issues of domestic violence and substance abuse can interact with and exacerbate each other and should be treated simultaneously (4).


Did you know?

• Regular alcohol abuse is one of the leading risk factors for intimate partner violence. (5)
• A battering incident that is coupled with alcohol abuse may be more severe and result in greater injury.(6)
Alcoholic women are more likely to report a history of childhood physical and emotional abuse than are nonalcoholic women.(7)
• Domestic violence and drug and alcohol addiction frequently occur together, but no evidence suggests a causal relationship between substance abuse and domestic violence.(8)
• Alcoholism treatment does not “cure” abusive behavior.(9)
• Women who have been abused are fifteen times more likely to abuse alcohol and nine times more likely to abuse drus than women who have not been abused.(10)
• In 2002, the Department of Justice found that 36% of victims in domestic violence programs also had substance abuse problems.(11)
• 51% of domestic violence program directors agree that a woman’s use of alcohol can be a barrier to leaving a violent relationship.(12)
• 87% of domestic violence program directors agree that the risk of intimate partner violence increases when both partners abuse alcohol or drugs.(13)
• The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse found that 69% of women in treatment for substance abuse say they were sexually abused as children.(14)
Substance Abuse and Batterers

• The U.S. Department of Justice found that 61% of domestic violence offenders also have substance abuse problems.15
• Batterers living with women who have alcohol abuse problems often try to justify their violence as a way to control their victims when they are drunk.(16)
• Men who batter frequently use alcohol abuse as an excuse for their violence. They attempt to rid themselves of responsibility for their violence by blaming it on the effects of alcohol.(17)
• A 1994 study conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice on murder in families found that more than half of defendants accused of murdering their spouses had been drinking alcohol at the time of the incident.(18)
Substance Abuse and Children

• Children of substance abusing parents are more likely to experience physical, sexual, or emotional abuse than children in non- substance abusing households.(19)
• A survey of public child welfare agencies conducted by the National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse found that as many as 80% of child abuse cases are associated with the use of alcohol and other drugs.(20)
• Children who have experienced family violence are at greater risk for alcohol and other drug problems later in life than children who do not experience family violence.(21)
• Evidence suggests that children who run away from violent homes are at risk of substance abuse.(22)

Services for Domestic Violence and Substance Abuse (23)

Although there is no causal link between domestic violence and substance abuse, the failure to deal with domestic violence in substance abuse treatment programs or to deal with substance abuse in domestic violence programs interferes with the effectiveness of these programs. Many service providers recognize tht correlation between substance abuse and domestic violence, but few domestic violence programs can offer adequate counseling or health services for substance abusers.
There are many reasons for the absence of substance abuse treatment programs within domestic violence services:
• Domestic violence programs typically have limited resources and cannot afford to pay for the equipment, staff, and other resources needed to provide substance abuse programs.
• Domestic violence programs primarily focus on providing safety and shelter.
• There is a fear that focusing on the substance abuse problems of victims will encourage victim blaming.
In 2004, the Department of Justice found that:
• 80% of domestic violence programs that cannot provide substance abuse treatment programs for victims or abusers refer them to substance abuse treatment programs in their communities.
• 92% of domestic violence programs would like to begin or continue working with substance abuse treatment facilities to develop enhanced services for substance-abusing women.
When domestic violence programs were asked why they did not provide substance abuse treatment:
• 75% of programs cited a lack of financial resources.
• 71% of programs cited a lack of staff resources.
• 60% of programs cited a lack of experience dealing with substance abuse problems.

To improve treatment for individuals with both substance abuse and domestic violence problems, the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment recommends:
• Providing more federal funding for programs to be able to provide these much needed services in shelters.
• Furthering efforts to link domestic violence and substance abuse treatment programs in human services systems and to provide counseling, child care, substance abuse and mental health treatment, among other services, in one program.
• Creating mechanisms for interagency cooperation at the state and local level.
• Funding demonstration projects to test the feasibility and effectiveness of linking domestic violence and substance abuse treatment programs.



(1) Fazzone, Patricia Anne, et al. “Substance Abuse Treatment and Domestic Violence: Treatment Improvement Protocol.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and SAMHSA’s National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information.

(2), (3) “Making the Link: Domestic Violence & Alcohol and Other Drugs.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and SAMHSA’s National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information.

(4) Fazzone, Patricia Anne, et al.

(5) Connecticut Clearinghouse. “Making the Link Between Alcohol and Other Drugs and Domestic Violence” Plainville, CT: A Program of the Wheeler Clinic.

(6) Women’s Rural Advocacy Programs. “Alcohol Abuse and Domestic Violence.”

(7)National Institutes of Health, National Library of MEdicine. “Effects of Domestic Violence on Substance Abuse Treatment.”

(8) Alle-kiski HOPE Center. “Alcohol Abuse and Domestic Violence.”

(9) Women’s Rural Advocacy Programs.

(10) Shipway, Lyn. (2004) “Domestic Violence: A Handbook for Health Professionals.”

(11), (12), (13) Collins, James J. and Donna L. Spencer. (2002) “Linkage of Domestic Violence and Substance Abuse Services, Research in Brief, Executive Summary.” U.S. Department of Justice.

(14) Online News Hour. “Substance Abuse Rises in Women.” April 21, 2006.

(15) Collins, James J. and Donna L. Spencer. (2002) “Linkage of Domestic Violence and Substance Abuse Services, Research in Brief, Executive Summary.” U.S. Department of Justice.

(16) Women’s Rural Advocacy Programs.

(17) Alle-kiski HOPE Center.

(18) Bureau of Justice Statistics. (1994) “Violence Between Intimates: Domestic Violence.” NCJ Pub. No. NCJ-149258. Washington, DC: Beureau of Justice Statistics.

(19) U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families. (2002) “Substance Abuse and Child Maltreatment.” National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect and Information.

(20) McCurdy, K., and Daro, D. (1994) “Current Trends in Child Abuse Reporting and Fatalities: The results of the 1993 Annual Fifty State Survey.” Chicago: National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse.

(21), (22) County of Yolo. “Domestic Violence and Substance Abuse.”

(23) Collins, James J. and Donna L. Spencer. (2002) “Linkage of Domestic Violence and Substance Abuse Services, Research in Brief, Executive Summary.” U.S. Department of Justice.


Information from – The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.


Separation Violence

Most people believe that battered women will be safe once they separate from the batterer. They also believe that women are free to leave abusers at any time. We have all heard, “All she had to do was leave; she brought it on herself.” The unfortunate fact is that leaving does not usually put an end to the violence. Batterers may, in fact, escalate their violence to coerce a battered woman into reconciliation or to retaliate for the battered woman’s perceived rejection or abandonment of the batterer. The man who believes that he is entitled to a relationship with a woman or that he “owns” her; views the woman’s departure as an ultimate betrayal which justifies retaliation. Evidence of the gravity of separation violence is overwhelming. One study revealed that 73% of the battered women seeking emergency medical services sustained injuries after leaving the batterer. Another study showed that over ¼ of the women killed by their male partners were attempting to end the relationship when they were killed.
Although leaving may pose additional hazards, at least in the short run, the research data and experience demonstrate that ultimately a battered woman can best achieve safety and freedom apart from the batterer. Leaving requires planning and legal intervention to safeguard victims and their children. Victim advocates and battered women must work in partnership to assure that the risk of violence is minimized the separation process. Getting out of an abusive relationship is not easy, but it can provide an opportunity for you and your children to live a life free of violence. Seeking counseling and support when you end a violent relationship is crucial for you and your children.

Why Women Stay: The Barriers to Leaving

Why Women Stay: The Barriers to Leaving

One of the most frustrating things for people outside a battering relationship is trying to understand why a woman doesn’t just leave. A letter to Dear Abby on the subject was signed “Tired of Voluntary Victims.”

The most important thing to keep in mind is that extreme emotional abuse is always present in domestic violence situations. On average, an abused woman will leave her partner 6-8 times. The reasons they return or stay in the relationship vary from case to case. Some of these include:
Situational Factors

  • Economic dependence. How can she support herself and the children?
  • Fear of greater physical danger to herself and her children if they try to leave.
  • Fear of being hunted down and suffering a worse beating than before.
  • Survival. Fear that her partner will follow her and kill her if she leaves, often based on real threats by her partner.
  • Fear of emotional damage to the children.
  • Fear of losing custody of the children, often based on her partner’s remarks.
  • Lack of alternative housing; she has nowhere else to go.
  • Lack of job skills; she might not be able to get a job.
  • Social isolation resulting in lack of support from family and friends.
  • Social isolation resulting in lack of information about her alternatives.
  • Lack of understanding from family, friends, police, ministers, etc.
  • Negative responses from community, police, courts, social workers, etc.
  • Fear of involvement in the court process; she may have had bad experiences before.
  • Fear of the unknown. “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.”
  • Fear and ambivalence over making formidable life changes.
  • “Acceptable violence”. The violence escalates slowly over time. Living with constant abuse numbs the victim so that she is unable to recognize that she is involved in a set pattern of abuse.
  • Ties to the community. The children would have to leave their school, she would have to leave all her friends and neighbors behind, etc. For some women it would be like being in the Witness Protection program–she could never have any contact with her old life.
  • Ties to her home and belongings.
  • Family pressure; because Mom always said, “I told you it wouldn’t work out.” or “You made your bed, now you sleep in it.”
  • Fear of her abuser doing something to get her (report her to welfare, call her workplace, etc.)
  • Unable to use resources because of how they are provided (language problems, disability, homophobia, etc.)
  • Time needed to plan and prepare to leave.

Emotional Factors

  • Insecurity about being alone, on her own; she’s afraid she can’t cope with home and children by herself.
  • Loyalty. “He’s sick; if he had a broken leg or cancer–I would stay. This is no different.”
  • Pity. He’s worse off than she is; she feels sorry for him.
  • Wanting to help. “If I stay I can help him get better.”
  • Fear that he will commit suicide if she leaves (often he’s told her this).
  • Denial. “It’s really not that bad. Other people have it worse.”
  • Love. Often, the abuser is quite loving and lovable when he is not being abusive.
  • Love, especially during the “honeymoon” stage; she remembers what he used to be like.
  • Guilt. She believes–and her partner and the other significant others are quick to agree–that their problems are her fault.
  • Shame and humiliation in front of the community. “I don’t want anyone else to know.”
  • Unfounded optimism that the abuser will change.
  • Unfounded optimism that things will get better, despite all evidence to the contrary.
  • Learned helplessness. Trying every possible method to change something in our environment, but with no success, so that we eventually expect to fail. Feeling helpless is a logical response to constant resistance to our efforts. This can be seen with prisoners of war, people taken hostage, people living in poverty who cannot get work, etc.
  • False hope. “He’s starting to do things I’ve been asking for.” (counseling, anger management, things she sees as a chance of improvement.)
  • Guilt. She believes that the violence is caused through some inadequacy of her own (she is often told this); feels as though she deserves it for failing.
  • Responsibility. She feels as though she only needs to meet some set of vague expectations in order to earn the abuser’s approval.
  • Insecurity over her potential independence and lack of emotional support.
  • Guilt about the failure of the marriage/relationship.
  • Demolished self-esteem. “I thought I was too (fat, stupid, ugly, whatever he’s been calling her) to leave.”
  • Lack of emotional support–she feels like she’s doing this on her own, and it’s just too much.
  • Simple exhaustion. She’s just too tired and worn out from the abuse to leave.

Personal Beliefs

  • Parenting, needing a partner for the kids. “A crazy father is better than none at all.”
  • Religious and extended family pressure to keep the family together no matter what.
  • Duty. “I swore to stay married till death do us part.”
  • Responsibility. It is up to her to work things out and save the relationship.
  • Belief in the American dream of growing up and living happily ever after.
  • Identity. Woman are raised to feel they need a partner–even an abusive one–in order to to be complete or accepted by society.
  • Belief that marriage is forever.
  • Belief that violence is the way all partners relate (often this woman has come from a violent childhood).
  • Religious and cultural beliefs.

Other Reasons Women Stay…


  • Battered women usually have no job, few friends, and little support from family due to the batterer’s manipulative and abusive tactics.
  • The assailant’s inconsistent behavior represents an intermittent reinforcement and punishment schedule that is confusing to the battered woman and prolongs her commitment to the relationship.



  • Many abusers do not want their partners to work so that they will be dependent upon them and will not leave.
  • For women who are employed, it is common for an abusive man to sabotage her job by making sure she does not have transportation or by showing up and engaging in behavior that creates problems for her and her employer.
  • Many abused women feel they cannot leave because they are in severe financial debt. Often spending all disposable income, eliminating any savings balances. He may withhold his earnings, causing the abused woman to spend all of her salary on family necessities.


Social Attitudes and Family Pressures


  • Society generally blames women for abuse.
  • Courts and police do not take women seriously until it is too late.
  • The stigma of single parenting and financial implications are a greater burden for women. Single fathers are often viewed as exceptional whereas single mothers are viewed as failures.
  • Women will hide abuse so as not to disappoint extended family. Some women are encouraged to “try and make things work,” or “try not to do things to upset him.”

There is no excuse for domestic violence.