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Innocent Bystanders: Children and Domestic Violence

Khalida Haque, Nour’s Counselling Service Co-ordinator, explores the impact of domestic violence on children.

Often victims stay in these relationships ‘for the sake of the children’. They think, possibly because they have come from broken families, that their children are better off with their parents being together…



In the UK, 75% of reported domestic violence-related incidents are witnessed by children. One can only imagine the fear and other negative feelings these children are experiencing as they watch the violent and abusive behaviour of (usually) one parent towards another. We know that there are negative consequences for children after seeing their parents argue, so what untold damage is being inflicted if they are observing domestic abuse on a regular basis?



Below is a list of just some of the effects on children from growing up in domestically violent households:

Feeling fearful and responsible
Children often see themselves as the source of the conflict that they see between their parents. They feel to blame and think, ‘Perhaps if I was better…’, ‘Maybe if I helped more …’ or ‘If only I  wasn’t so bad …’ and sometimes even ‘If I’d never been born …’



Social isolation, stigma and keeping secrets
Kids who grow up in domestically violent households often find it difficult to socialise as they may lack skills that would enable them to make friends. They may also be fearful that by socialising, their and their family’s secret will be found out, which might result in the family being split up and them being taken away from their parents.



Developmental delay
This can occur on many levels and is often resultant of neglect as mothers are usually trying to just ‘survive’ and so are not able to be wholly available to children on numerous levels. Children can be slower academically, physically, psychologically and emotionally. Sometimes, however, some children mature more quickly, particularly older ones, taking on adult responsibilities well before their time.



Low self-esteem and confidence
Children who grow up in an environment where conflict along with belittling is the norm, have very little self-worth. They are constantly being given the message (spoken or unspoken) that they are ‘not good enough’ and so struggle their entire lives trying to feel ‘good enough’.



Conflicting loyalties
So much guilt is induced in a child when feeling that they in some way have to choose between their parents. They feel bad for loving the parent who hurts the other whom they also love. They do not like what is happening and feel trapped between the two parents.



Early substance abuse
Statistics show that those growing up in domestically violent environments are more likely to become involved in drug and/or alcohol abuse. Substance abuse, along with other destructive behaviours, can be a way of escaping the realities of their lives and existence – one pain being substituted for a more manageable form.



Difficulties in adult relationships
We learn what we see. So if we see that the way of handling difficulty in a relationship is aggressive physicality, then that is what we will utilise in our own relationships. Children who grow up in a household where domestic violence has been the norm, are far more likely to repeat the pattern as either victim or perpetrator, or they may swing between the two roles.



Doing what’s best?
If we look at the hadith where Abu Hurairah (RA), narrated that the Prophet (SAW) said, “Every child is born with a true faith (i.e. to worship none but Allah (SWT) alone) but his parents convert him to Judaism or to Christianity or to Magianism, as an animal delivers a perfect baby animal. Do you find it mutilated?” (Bukhari)



We can see from this, that as parents, we may be entirely responsible for how our children ‘turn out’. A hard question to face, but one we may have to ask ourselves before we are questioned on the Day of Judgement concerning it: Can we truly use the excuse that we were being oppressed?



“O you who believe! Stand firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even if it be against yourselves, your parents, and your relatives, or whether it be against the rich or poor …” (An-Nisa: 135)


“… Do not oppress and do not be oppressed.” (Al-Baqarah: 279)



Often victims stay in these relationships ‘for the sake of the children’. They think, possibly because they have come from broken families, that their children are better off with their parents being together, or they may stay due to extended family/community/societal pressures and norms. This is a mistaken viewpoint. If children are kept in such environments, then we may well see a perpetuation of domestic violence into future generations as has happened in previous ones. Ironically, the call to move away from the oppressive relationship can sometimes come out of the mouth of babes:

“My daughter, aged 8, after one of his outbursts, asked me ‘Why do you stay with Dad? Why don’t you divorce him?’ I was trying so hard to protect her from it all and here she was telling me what I should have done a long time ago!” (Aisha*)



So, the first step in helping children ‘move on’ from domestic violence situations is often to move them away from such circumstances. Talk to children, if possible, before leaving their father but by doing this, i.e. leaving, you are indicating that his behaviour and treatment of you is not right. Continue talking, but never ‘put down’ their dad to them, as this will only serve to hurt them and cause them internal conflict. Finally, remain a ‘constant’ in their life; that is stay reliable, honest, open, affectionate and above all, present. If possible and felt necessary, enable them to have some counselling or perhaps attend family therapy together so that any difficult and conflicting feelings that may have arisen as a consequence of your experiences can be explored, understood and put to rest. The extent of help required is dependent upon what the child has witnessed, their resilience and coping strategies, as well as what they have learnt from their non-abusing parent.



Nour are working towards services whereby children and non-abusing parents can work towards recovery and healing from such damaging situations. This will, insha Allah, be through creative forms of therapy such as play and art, as well as talking therapies as some are unable to process their experiences verbally, at least at first. Funding is one of the things holding us back, so if you are able to contribute financially towards this worthwhile cause, then please do.

(*Name and some details altered to provide anonymity and maintain confidentiality)



For help and advice contact Nour at:







Strength | Support | Solace


Nour is a registered charity that works within the field of domestic violence. Its aims are to raise awareness and educate about this silent yet prevalent issue that knows no barriers in terms of religion, race, class or status. Nour’s services are open to anyone who has been impacted by domestic violence in some shape or form.