Domestic abuse

Domestic abuse describes any behaviour that involves exerting control over a partner’s or ex partner’s life choices and undermines their personal autonomy (National Guidance for Child Protection).

Domestic abuse can have a profound impact on children and young people, both in the short term and the long term.

Children and young people are at increased risk of significant harm because of domestic abuse, which can profoundly damage their physical, mental and emotional health and wellbeing, as a result of witnessing the abuse, living in the same household where there is abuse and being abused themselves.

Domestic abuse can still disrupt a child’s or young person’s environment and undermine their stability and overall wellbeing, even when they are not subjected to abuse themselves or witness it.

Although most victims are women, men can also suffer domestic abuse. It can occur in any type of relationship, irrespective of the gender composition of the couple, their living arrangements and marital or civil status.

In the UK, one in three teenage girls between 13 and 17 reported some form of sexual partner violence (Partner exploitation and violence in teenage intimate relationships) and one in five children will have experienced domestic abuse by the time they reach 18 (Child abuse and neglect in the UK today).

Gender based violence stems from systemic, deep-rooted women's inequality and abuse of male power and privilege. This includes aspects such as: “physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring in the family (including children and young people), within the general community or in institutions, including domestic abuse (...); sexual harassment, bullying and intimidation in any public or private space, including work; commercial sexual exploitation (...); child sexual abuse, including familial sexual abuse, child sexual exploitation and online abuse; so called ‘honour-based’ violence, including dowry related violence, female genital mutilation, forced and child marriages, and [so-called] ‘honour’ crimes” (Equally Safe).

For professionals it means that they need to be aware of the signs and routinely make appropriate enquiries, and should always work to ensure the protection of both the child or young person and the non-abusing parent or carer.

The support for the latter thus becomes crucial, as it enables them to safeguard, nurture and care for their children.

Key resources

Guidance Resource

National Guidance for Child Protection in Scotland 2023

Year: 2023 | Topic: Active implementation | Author: The Scottish Government
The Scottish Government has updated National Guidance for Child Protection in Scotland which was published in 2021.
Briefing Resource

Children living with domestic abuse

Year: 2012 | Topic: Domestic abuse | Author: Sharp, C. and Jones, J.
Key issues for children and young people living with domestic abuse, research and implications for practice.
Briefing ResourceResearch Resource

Children’s views on contact with non-resident fathers in the context of domestic abuse

Year: 2016 | Topic: Domestic abuse | Author: Centre for Research on Families and Relationships, The University of Edinburgh
Briefing on the factors that influence children’s views about contact with non-resident fathers in the context of domestic abuse.
Briefing ResourceResearch Resource

Strengthening mother-child relationships as part of domestic violence recovery

Year: 2014 | Topic: Domestic abuse | Author: Centre for Research on Families and Relationships, The University of Edinburgh
This study identifies five main reasons why mother-child relationships were (or were not) detrimentally affected by domestic violence.