Children’s exposure to violence typically refers to children who witness or are victimized by violence.

This includes physical assault, peer victimization, sexual victimization, child abuse and maltreatment, as well as witnessing violence in the home, school, or community. Exposure to violence, particularly multiple exposures, can interfere with a child’s physical, emotional, and intellectual development.

Each year, millions of chil­dren and adolescents in the United States are exposed to violence in their homes, schools and communities as both victims and witnesses.

Children react to exposure to violence in different ways, and many children show remarkable resilience. All too often, however, children who are exposed to violence undergo lasting physical, mental and emotional harm. They suffer from difficulties with attachment, regressive behavior, anxiety and depression, aggression and conduct problems. They may be more prone to dating violence, delinquency, further victimization, and involvement with the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. Moreover, being exposed to violence may impair a child’s capacity for partnering and parenting later in life, continuing the cycle of violence into the next generation.

Research shows that about one third of children experience two or more direct victimizations each year. That exposure to one type of victimization places children at risk for exposure to additional types of victimization. Knowing this, it is important to check to see if children and adolescents who have been harmed in one way have also been harmed in other ways. For example, a child who has been sexually assaulted by a family member may also be cyber-bullied by classmates.

Research has found that early identifica­tion, intervention, and continued followup are valuable strategies to prevent or decrease the impact of exposure to vio­lence. Families, teachers, police, judges, pediatricians, mental health providers, child protection workers, domestic vio­lence advocates and others who interact with children have a responsibility to create interventions, both physical and psychological, that decrease or prevent the harms associated with exposure to violence.

Some ways you can help mitigate the impacts and risks are:

  1. Finding ways of interacting sensitively and expeditiously with children
  2. Ensuring protective environments and caregivers
  3. Helping children use positive coping skills