real life

The warning signs of child abuse you can’t ignore.

Benevolent Society
Thanks to our brand partner, Benevolent Society

If you notice these warning signs, don’t ignore them.

If you ever overheard your parents fighting, you know only too well how upsetting it can be.

Now, imagine being a child in a family where domestic violence is the norm – where you experience the terror of watching your mother being hit or yelled at, and the fear of what could happen to you.

It’s heartbreaking. These children are helpless. These children need a voice.

Children’s safety and emotional wellbeing are directly linked to the safety of their primary carers, usually their mothers. We all know this. So when you consider the fact that one in six women has experienced physical or sexual abuse by a partner, then add to that more than half of women who report domestic violence have children, then that’s a lot of children who are being affected.

“These children are helpless. These children need a voice.”

In Australia, one woman every week is being killed as a result of domestic violence. Recently the conversation surrounding this has changed. Domestic violence is often referred to now as ‘family violence’ to factor in the children who are also the victims.

Related: If your friend receives abusive texts, show her this.

In the 2001 National Crime Prevention Survey, almost one quarter of Australian youth reported having witnessed physical domestic violence against their mothers. That includes witnessing or being exposed to violence, being the victims of direct abuse or being injured while trying to intervene. There is even research showing that domestic violence can cause damage while children are in utero.

Violence towards children (or threats of violence) is also a strategy used by perpetrators to exert control over their partner or ex-partner and to undermine their parenting and the mother-child relationship. For mothers, such strategies create feelings of helplessness around protecting their children.

signs of domestic violence
These children need a voice. Image via iStock.

For anyone who’s ever felt the fear and discomfort of hearing their parents have an argument, you can only guess how gut-wrenching and damaging extensive and prolonged domestic violence is for these children.

When home, instead of being safe, is more like a war zone, it’s no wonder that child psychologists report children dealing with family violence have the same post-traumatic stress symptoms of returning soldiers.


But do you know how to spot the signs of a child who is traumatised?

A study of child victims of domestic violence aged between birth and six years shows us what to look out for:

• For babies – sleep disturbances, eating problems, heightened irritability and increased crying
• For toddlers – loss of developmental skills
• For older children – behavioural problems
• Depression and anxiety
• High levels of general distress
• Sleep disturbances
• Poor concentration
• Hyperactivity
• Significant anxiety when separated from their primary caregiver
• Sudden changes in behaviour or school performance
• Has not received help for physical or mental problems told to parents
• Is always watchful, as though preparing for the worst
• Lacks adult supervision
• Doesn’t want to go home

signs of domestic violence
“But do you know how to spot the signs of a child who is traumatised?” Image via iStock.

These kids need help as soon as possible. They need understanding that they are not ‘bad’ and they need specialist support. That’s why the Benevolent Society is focusing their Winter Appeal on just that – helping the mothers and their children who are the victims of family violence.

Related content: Rosie Batty outlines some domestic violence ‘red flags’.

These children need ongoing help, even after their parents have separated. Shared custody situations can place them at significant risk and lead to psychological abuse of their mother though threats. It’s really important that we give these children a voice due to the damage that can be done.

The Benevolent Society wants to focus on strengthening the bond between a mother and their child. That is a significant relationship with profound effects. By supporting mothers to respond well to their children who have been affected, it reduces the impact of the trauma on the child.

You can help children who are affected by domestic violence by donating to the Benevolent Society’s Winter Appeal here.

How have you helped a child in need?

Want more? How about:

Domestic violence: Rosie Batty appeals for more media freedom to report on family violence.

Australian police deal with a domestic violence matter every 2 minutes.