How Domestic Violence Affects Children

When a child is exposed to violence it can harm a child's emotional, psychological and even physical development. Children exposed to violence or living in a home with violence are more likely to have difficulty in school, abuse drugs or alcohol, act aggressively, suffer from depression or other mental health problems.

Resources on Children and Domestic Violence:

What is child sexual abuse?

Child sexual abuse can be defined as sexual activity with a child by an adult, adolescent, or older child. The effects of child sexual abuse are never-ending, but some effects include:

  • Sudden anxiety and depression without a known cause; sleep disturbances; changes in eating habits; recurring urinary tract infections; unusual fear of certain people or places; rebellious and risk-taking behaviors; self-harm or suicidal thoughts; regression to previously outgrown behaviors (i.e., bed wetting or thumb sucking); too “perfect” or overly compliant behavior.

The effects of child sexual abuse do not stop once a child becomes an adult. Child sexual abuse can also increase the risk of re-victimization in adulthood. The CDC reports that more than 4 in 5 female rape survivors reported that they were first raped before age 25 and almost half were first raped as a minor (i.e., before age 18). Nearly 8 in 10 male rape survivors reported that they were made to penetrate someone before age 25 and about 4 in 10 were first made to penetrate as a minor. Similarly, people who experienced child sexual abuse are at 2x the risk for non-sexual intimate partner violence.

“It couldn’t be happening to my kids”

It can be hard for parents and caregivers to think about the prevalence of child sexual abuse in our community, but the fact of the matter is that it can happen to any child. About 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 13 boys in the U.S. experience child sexual abuse. The number of survivors may actually be higher than this, seeing as 85% of child sexual abuse survivors never report their abuse.

Safety Planning with Children

If you are in an abusive relationship, you should safety plan with your children

  • teach them when and how to call 911
  • make sure they have a safe place they can go either in room or;
  • talk to them about a neighbor they could go to
  • talk to them to make sure they know it’s not their fault

Resource for Safety Planning with Children:

For more information or to talk through your situation, reach out to a Phoenix Project Advocate at 540-635-2302. Free, confidential, and language services provided for limited English proficient clients.

Steps you can take to better protect your children from child sexual abuse

  • Educate yourself on the warning signs of child sexual abuse.
  • Have frequent open conversations with your child. These conversations can be about boundaries, consent, and age-appropriate sexual behavior and curiosity, and should allow space for the child to ask questions or express their thoughts. Having conversations about internet safety and “sexting”--or sending and receiving sexually-explicit content—can also help prevent your child from falling victim to child sexual abuse. (Keep in mind that child predators have easier access to children than ever before through the use of technology.) Ensure that you are they are having these conversations with ALL of you children; not just those that appear to be at a higher-risk of victimization. Just because a child does not display any clear warning signs does not mean they haven’t experienced child sexual abuse. Remember that overly-compliant behavior can be a sign of child sexual abuse.
    • Important note about teaching consent- consent extends past sexual activities into our everyday interactions, and it can be confusing for children if they are taught that they have control over their body, yet are still “forced” to do things that go against their wants and needs (i.e.; telling a child they have to sit on their uncle’s lap). Children might not fully grasp the concept of consent unless it is modeled for them in their everyday life. Failing to do so might send the message that children have no power and control over their own body, which can put them at a higher risk of victimization.
    • For tips on how to have conversations about consent with your children, visit How Parents Can Talk to Their Kids About Consent (
  • Put careful consideration into who can provide childcare for you and get to know any adult figures in your child’s life. A troubling statistic from the CDC reveals that 91% of perpetrators of child sexual abuse are someone the child or child’s family knew and trusted. Although it may be uncomfortable, parents and caregivers should also consider the possibility of incest and child-on-child sexual abuse in their child’s life as well when making childcare decisions.
  • Beware of grooming. A common tactic that child predators used is known as “grooming.” Grooming is when a child predator forms a relationship, trust, and emotional connection with a child in order to manipulate, exploit, and abuse them. Groomers may also build a relationship with the child’s family or friends to appear trustworthy and minimize the likelihood of getting caught. The relationship between a groomer and a child does not start off as sexual. Groomers will slowly gain the child’s trust so they can have a better chance at coercing the child into engaging in the abuse.
    • The legal age of consent for sexual contact in Virginia is 18 years old. No matter how ‘mature’ a minor may seem, they are unable to consent to any sexual activity.
    • Some warning signs of grooming behavior in adults: giving special attention or preference to a child; unexplained gift gifting (i.e.; your child received a bracelet from their coach for no special occasion); touching or hugging the child; offering to do favors for the child’s family that would give them one-on-one time with the child (i.e.; offering to drive a child to their soccer game); sympathizing with the child and creating barriers between the child and their friends and family. For more information on grooming behaviors and warning signs, visit Child sexual grooming: spotting the signs | Raising Children Network

While the ultimate goal is to end child sexual abuse for all, the ugly truth is that it continues to be a prevalent problem in our community. That is why it is extremely important for survivors of child sexual abuse to have a safe adult to support them on their healing journey.

Healthy Relations for Teens

Teen dating violence is more common than we think, nearly 1.5 million high school students experience physical abuse from a partner in a single year.  Most teens don’t recognize the signs of an unhealthy relationship. As adults, we need to educate our teens and provide appropriate resources for their safety.

Warning Signs of Dating Abuse:

  • Telling you what to do
  • Explosive temper
  • Isolating you from your friends and family
  • Mood swings
  • Physically hurting you
  • Extreme jealousy
  • Pressuring or forcing you to do things you do not want to do

Teen Dating Stats:

  • 1 in 3 girls is a victim of physical, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner
  • 1 in 10 high school students have been hit, slapped or physically hurt by a girlfriend or boyfriend
  • Violent behavior often begins occurs between the ages 12 and 18

Take the opportunity to educate yourself about teen violence by visiting the websites below:

For teens and parents to learn more about sexual health, you can visit the following websites:

Parenting Resources/Tips

For more information on child sexual abuse and how to protect your children from it, visit the following websites:

  • Parents Protect – Books to read with children to help prevent sexual abuse
  • Child Sexual Abuse | RAINN – Contains information on child sexual abuse, warning signs to look out for, tips on how to protect your children from sexual assault, and tips on how to talk to your child when you suspect sexual assault.
  • Take It Down ( – This website helps take down child pornography online.

A short video on Youth Violence:

If you are interested in learning more about how to help your teen recognize what is a healthy vs. unhealthy relationship please reach out to our office at 540-635-2303 or email