Co-Occurrence of Child Abuse and Domestic Violence Exposure

Key Talking Points
  • Considerable evidence points to the fact that domestic violence and child abuse often co-occur.
  • In an estimated 30 to 60 percent of families in which either child maltreatment or exposure to adult domestic violence is occurring, the other form of violence also is being perpetrated.

It is well established that children exposed to domestic violence are at increased risk for physical abuse and other forms of child maltreatment (Appel & Holden, 1998; Edleson, 1999; Herrenkohl et al., 2008; Jouriles et al., 2008; Osofsky, 2003). In their seminal review of 31 studies involving battered women, Appel and Holden (1998) found a base rate of co-occurrence of about six percent in community samples and a co-occurrence rate ranging from 20 to 100 percent in clinical samples of battered women or physically abused children. When a conservative definition of child abuse was used, they found a median rate of co-occurrence between child abuse and domestic violence of about 40 percent.

The findings of other literature reviews and primary research studies generally are consistent with these findings. For example, Edleson’s (1999) review of 35 studies on the overlap of domestic violence and child maltreatment in the same family found a co-occurrence rate of between 30 and 60 percent in most of the studies reviewed. His review, however, included only clinical samples of families with known or suspected child maltreatment, known spouse abuse, and known child fatalities or critical injuries. Jouriles and colleagues (2008) reviewed 8 studies drawn from clinical and community-based samples in which domestic violence was identified and child abuse was defined as severe parental aggression and found a broad range of co-occurrence (from 18 to 67 percent).

Several retrospective studies of adults examining the co-occurrence of child maltreatment and domestic violence also are available. For example, Dong et al.’s (2004) analysis of data from a large retrospective study of the adverse childhood experiences of adult health maintenance organization participants found that the likelihood of experiencing child maltreatment was significantly higher when domestic violence was present in the home. In that study, they found the prevalence of physical child abuse was 57.5 percent for adults who were exposed to domestic violence as children and 21.7 percent for those who reported no prior exposure.

In general, estimated rates of co-occurrence within community samples are lower than for high-risk, clinical samples (e.g., from domestic violence shelters and child welfare settings), but, as outlined above, are still substantial (Appel & Holden, 1998). Other methodological issues impacting reported co-occurrence rates include how liberally or conservatively domestic violence and child abuse are defined and whether abuse is determined based on parental report, professional assessment, or a child’s self-report (Appel & Holden, 1998; Edleson, 1999; Jouriles et al., 2008).

References

Appel, A.E., & Holden, G.W. (1998). The co-occurrence of spouse and physical child abuse: A review and appraisal. Journal of Family Psychology, 12(4), 578-599.

Dong, M., Anda, R.F., Felitti, V.J., Dube, S.R., Williamson, D.F., Thompson, T.J., et al. (2004). The interrelatedness of multiple forms of childhood abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction. Child Abuse & Neglect, 28, 771-784.

Edleson, J.L. (1999). The overlap between child maltreatment and woman battering. Violence Against Women, 5(2), 134-154.

Herrenkohl, T.I., Sousa, C., Tajima, E., Herrenkohl, R.C., & Moylan, C.A. (2008). Intersection of child abuse and children’s exposure to domestic violence. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 9(2), 84-99.

Jouriles, E.N., McDonald, R., Smith Slep, A.M., Heyman, R.E., & Garrido, E. (2008). Child abuse in the context of domestic violence: Prevalence, explanations, and practice implications. Violence and Victims, 23(2), 221-235.

Osofsky, J.D. (2003). Prevalence of children’s exposure to domestic violence and child maltreatment: Implications for prevention and intervention. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 6(3), 161-170.

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