Exposure to abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction among adults who witnessed intimate partner violence as children: implications for health and social services

Violence Vict. 2002 Feb;17(1):3-17. doi: 10.1891/vivi.


Intimate partner violence (IPV) damages a woman's physical and mental well-being, and indicates that her children are likely to experience abuse, neglect and other traumatic experiences. Adult HMO members completed a questionnaire about adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) including childhood abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction. We used their responses to retrospectively assess the relationship between witnessing intimate partner violence and experiencing any of the 9 ACEs and multiple ACEs (ACE score). Compared to persons who grew up with no domestic violence, the adjusted odds ratio for any individual ACE was approximately two to six times higher if IPV occurred (p < 0.05). There was a powerful graded increase in the prevalence of every category of ACE as the frequency of witnessing IPV increased. In addition, the total number of ACEs was increased dramatically for persons who had witnessed IPV during childhood. There was a positive graded risk for self-reported alcoholism, illicit drug use, i.v. drug use and depressed affect as the frequency of witnessing IPV increased. Identification of victims of IPV must include screening of their children for abuse, neglect and other types of adverse exposures, as well as recognition that substance abuse and depressed affect are likely consequences of witnessing IPV. Finally, this data strongly suggest that future studies, which focus on the effect of witnessing IPV on long-term health outcomes, may need to take into consideration the co-occurrence of multiple ACEs, which can also affect these outcomes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcoholism / etiology
  • Alcoholism / psychology
  • California / epidemiology
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Child Abuse / statistics & numerical data
  • Child of Impaired Parents / psychology*
  • Depression / etiology
  • Depression / psychology
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Family / psychology*
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events
  • Male
  • Mental Health
  • Middle Aged
  • Needs Assessment / organization & administration*
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • Social Work
  • Spouse Abuse / psychology*
  • Spouse Abuse / statistics & numerical data
  • Substance-Related Disorders / etiology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Survivors / psychology*