Intimate Partner Violence Leads to Problem Behavior in Children

Intimate partner violence (IPV) takes many forms, including physical violence, emotional abuse, and sexual violence. Witnessing this type of behavior can result in deleterious outcomes for children. Problems, including disruptive behavior, are often present in children who have been exposed to IPV. But until now, the link between specific types of IPV and disruptive behavior has not been clearly established. To establish a definitive link, Laura C. Spiller of the Department of Psychology at Midwestern State University in Texas led a study surveying 449 mothers with children between the ages of 4 and 8 years old. The mothers were all receiving aid from domestic violence organizations. They reported what types of IPV they had experienced in the previous 12 months and how much psychological stress it caused. The mothers were also asked about the behavior patterns of their children.

Spiller discovered that the most common type of violence experienced by the women was physical violence, but nearly three quarters had also been victims of sexual violence. Analysis revealed that the IPV was directly related to increases in disruptive behavior in the children. Also, as the mothers’ levels of psychological distress increased, their children’s behavior deteriorated. Spiller believes these findings are crucial for understanding the full impact of IPV on parents and children.

Of importance was the finding that sexual violence increased distress in the mothers and problem behaviors in the children, but physical violence did not predict either directly. This may imply that sexual victimization causes more trauma for the mothers, diminishing their psychological resources. Children then may experience secondary trauma because of their mother’s inability to emotionally or physically attend to them. Also, the perpetrators may have engaged in other behaviors, such as drug and alcohol use or verbal abuse that increased the mothers’ distress and problem behavior. These are factors that were not fully explored in this study, but should be analyzed in future work. Spiller believes these results demonstrate the need for additional work focusing on sexual IPV and the impact it has on children and mothers. “The overriding implication of this study is the need to advocate for the measurement of multiple dimensions of IPV, particularly women’s sexual victimization, in research, clinical, and forensic settings,” she added.

Spiller, Laura C., Ernest N. Jouriles, Renee McDonald, and Nancy A. Skopp. Physically abused women’s experiences of sexual victimization and their children’s disruptive behavior problems. Psychology of Violence 2.4 (2012): 401-10. Print.

© Copyright 2012 All rights reserved.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Cyndi


    December 7th, 2012 at 6:36 PM

    I hope many people read this article, in order to weigh the benefits of receiving professional support, for both their own good and the good of their children.

  • Derek


    December 8th, 2012 at 4:16 AM

    No big surprise here, right? If this is the kind of unstable environment that a child is raised in, then it should go without saying that they are going to exhibit their own behavioral problems throughout childhood and into later in life as well. Kids will emulate what they see- what they see in homes with huge amounts of IPV is dysfunction. They are never given the skills for how to get anything done via positive conflict resolution, only via violence and poor communication. I am like Cyndi in that I hope that a lot of people experiencing this will read this article and look at it very closely. Kids do not just show up in life and become something- they become what we teach them to become.

  • robinson


    December 8th, 2012 at 11:36 AM

    kids are so malleable
    in ways that we don’t understand
    until they begin showing the inevitabel signs of hate in the home
    it is only then that we realize what we have done with our own sense of entitlement and rage

  • lee


    December 9th, 2012 at 9:19 AM

    I get this personally, because I grew up with a mom and dad where it was nothing to see my dad hit her aorund all the time. It really did nothing to teach me how to treat a woman other than hit her too when she didn’t do something that I wanted her to. I had always thought that a dad should be a role model to me and he should have been except that wasn’t the deck of cards that I ggot dealt in life. It took me a long time to learn that not all homes are like this, that it doesn’t have to be like this, but it has been hard to remember that and I know that I have hurt a lot of people along the way because of it.

  • Jackie


    December 10th, 2012 at 1:11 AM

    Wow-this article makes me so sad. Just thinking about all those kids out there who have to go through watching their mom be abused is heart breaking. I think we all need to remember than when we see kids acting out, it isn’t necessarily because they are spoiled. Sometimes, they may be dealing with the unthinkable at home.

  • eric s

    eric s

    December 10th, 2012 at 3:57 AM

    I know that a lot of times things like this are beyond your control when you get into a relationship.
    What I never understand though, no matter how dire the circumstances, is why someone would stay with someone else who is harming them and who is taking a chance on harming their kids. Who would do that? I know that you must feel stuck at times, and their could feel like there isn’t a way out, but I think that enough has been said about the subject that anyone should know that there is always somewhere to go.
    Maybe I am naive about what people in these relationships go through, but I know that if it was me, I would be long gone before I allowed my child to be in a damgerous situation with someone who could hurt them.

  • CMarie


    December 10th, 2012 at 4:48 PM

    I am almost 48. I have had PTSD since I was a very young child sitting in the middle of the room ripping my hair out in clumps. All my doctors agree with me I was a frustrated child wanting all the abuse & chaos to stop. I do not remember doing this & I found out when my “wonderful mother” told me about it thinking it was funny. Thanks a lot, right? Since I remember as far back as 4 yrs old, I was most likely 3 or under. I am furious at her to put that image now burnt into my brain. This September I walked into the Gyno’s office. I sat next to her with a end table in between us. A friend came in. I said to her “You would not think this is my mommy dearest sitting next to me would you?” My friend was speechless. My name was called. I said hold on one minute. With her head still buried in the magazine not ever acknowledging me I went right up to her face saying, “I hate your guts for what you did to me as a child accepting violence because of money.” At first I felt great. Then the doctor walked into my room. I busted into tears. He was awesome saying how sorry he was that happened to me & I had to see her at his office. I waited years to confront her. Now I can add it to my upcoming Autobiography, What is Wrong with the Black Sheep. I then had my psych appt. I was so angry at myself for using the word, hate. He told me that is how I felt not to be so hard on myself. I cannot wait until I run into Daddy dearest, whose 16 year affair resulted in me being a runaway 1K miles away. They knew where I was as the mistress’ 19 yr old neighbor was in on grooming me into seeing the affair. He became my 1st abusive BF, so my sperm donor is responsible for setting the standard of me loving the bad boys. They knew where I was because he was in the Navy. They left me there for 8 months sucking on iced cubes starving because he ate on base not caring I was starving. I have never starved since, so great lesson learned. I recently called my school to find out how they explained why I was not in my Junior year at 16 yrs old. I picked up the copy of my record for my book last week. It stated 6/12/81 FLORIDA. They knew they were not coming for me. I would have walked to Florida for my daughter and granddaughters. They didn’t even wait until the new school year to report it. I starting tearing up in front of the guy who went to the Board to get permission to release my records. I asked him, “How could they do that to me?” He couldn’t apologize enough. I would have graduated with him, but I graduated under my graduating class with awards which I am very proud of. I also said to him, “Do you know how hard that was for me to know I should be graduating with you, but I had another year because of my father’s affair.” He replied, “But you should be very proud of yourself.” I said, “It still hurts. My doctor and I are still trying to figure out why I have Chronic PTSD….lol” He wished me good luck saying he will be looking forward to reading my Autobiography. I will help others especially children.

  • Anton


    December 11th, 2012 at 6:44 PM

    Whatever the form of abuse,such an environment is not suitable for kids and parents that indulge in violence especially in the presence of children should be ashamed of themselves.I think it is the height of irresponsibility when a parent lets his or her issues spill over and affect the kids.The women who were victims themselves here cannot do much but the perpetrators need to be taught a lesson so as to never repeat such a ghastly act again.

    Even exposing children to abuse should carry a big penalty.

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