Domestic violence as witnessed by New Zealand children

N Z Med J. 2006 Jan 27;119(1228):U1817.


Background: This study reports on domestic violence in New Zealand families witnessed by members of the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study.

Method: Questions on the witnessing of father to mother and mother to father physical violence and threats of harm up to the age of 18 were included in a retrospective family violence interview carried out when the cohort was interviewed at age 26. Study members who reported violence between parents were asked about the nature, context, and consequences of this violence.

Results: One-quarter (24%) of the sample reported violence or threats of violence directed from one parent to the other. Nine percent reported infrequent assaults while one in 10 reported more than five acts of physical violence. In violent families, 55% reported violence by fathers only, 28% by both partners, and 16% by mothers only. Almost 90% of the exposed group witnessed violence between natural parents, and 80% were exposed to violence before the age of 11. The gender of the study member or parent did not predict how upset study members were, but frequency of violence did. Witnesses were more likely than non-witnesses to have diagnoses of anxiety and depression at age 21. Socioeconomic status and age of parents were related to violence patterns, but not the mother's education or employment status.

Conclusion: This study suggests that a quarter of young adults have been exposed to acts or threats of violence carried out by one parent toward another parent, and the majority found such witnessing to be a very upsetting experience. Public education programmes should emphasise that all violence carries risk of harm to all family members.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Dissent and Disputes
  • Domestic Violence / statistics & numerical data*
  • Family Characteristics
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • New Zealand / epidemiology
  • Parent-Child Relations*
  • Prevalence
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Socioeconomic Factors