Witnessing intimate partner violence: Review of the literature on coping in young persons


  • Kate van Heugten Head of the School of Social Work and Human Services, College of Arts, University of Canterbury.
  • Elizabeth Wilson PhD student at the School of Social Work and Human Services, University of Canterbury.




intimate partner violence, young people, children, resilience, coping strategies,


Since the mid 1980s, there has been increasing concern about the impact that witnessing intimate partner violence (also commonly known as domestic violence or spouse abuse) has on children and young persons. In an article published in Social Work Review in 1994, Pamela Millen reviewed the international literature on children who witness such abuse and reported on strategies for intervening to ameliorate the negative consequences. This article updates her literature review, attending in particular to strengths-based and ecological perspectives that have emerged over the ensuing 15 years.

Social work research and literature on dealing with trauma has come to increasingly emphasise resilience (the capacity to bounce back from adversity), protective factors (buffers against the effects of trauma) and coping (managing difficulties). This focus on resilience is also encouraging a closer look at the perspectives of survivors, including survivors of childhood abuse. In-depth qualitative research has been undertaken with children and young people in order to gain a better understanding of their perspectives and coping strategies for dealing with the challenges of living with intimate partner violence, including their use of resources in the environment. Meanwhile, quantitative research has looked at relationships between a wider array of variables, raising questions about previous simple ‘cause and effect’ conclusions about the impact of intimate partner violence on children and young people. Research and literature that specifically address issues for young persons as differentiated from children remains scant. 


Anderson, K., & Danis, F. (2006). Adult daughters of battered women: Resistance and resilience in the face of danger. Affilia, 21, 419-432.

Aymer, S. (2008). Adolescent males’ coping responses to domestic violence: A qualitative study. Children and Youth Services Review, 30, 654-664.

Barker, G. (2007). Adolescents, social support and help-seeking behaviour: An international literature review and programme consultation with recommendations for action. Brazil: World Health Organisation.

Barwick, H. (2004). Young males: Strengths-based and male-focused approaches. A review of the research and best evidence. Wellington: Ministry of Youth Development.

Black, B., Tolman, R., Callahan, M., Saunders, D., & Weisz, A. (2008). When will adolescents tell someone about dating violence victimization? Violence Against Women, 14(7), 741-758.

Boshier, P. (2006, 11 April). Domestic violence in New Zealand – Better outcomes for our families. Paper presented at the Tairāwhiti Abuse Intervention Network Hui, Lawson Field Theatre, Gisborne. Retrieved, October 28, 2008, from http://www.justice.govt.nz/family/publications/speeches-papers/?inline=domestic-violence-betteroutcomes-april-2006.asp

Brady, S., & Donenberg, G. (2006). Mechanisms linking violence exposure to health risk behaviour in adolescence: Motivation to cope and sensation seeking. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 45(6).

Cargo, T., Cram, F., Dixon, R., Widdowson, D., Adair, V., & Jackson, S. (2002). Evaluation of programmes for children under the Domestic Violence Act 1995. Wellington, New Zealand: Ministry of Justice.

Carter, J. (n.d). Domestic violence, child abuse, and youth violence: Strategies for prevention and early intervention. San Francisco: Family Violence Prevention Fund, Retrieved, 28 October 2008, from http://www.mincava.umn.edu/link/documents/fvpf2/fvpf2.shtml

Crichton-Hill, Y. (2001). Challenging ethnocentric explanations of domestic violence: Let us decide, then value our decisions – a Samoan response. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse: A Review Journal, 2(3), 203-214.

Crime Research Centre & Donovan Research. (2001). Young people and domestic violence: National research on young people’s attitudes to and experiences of domestic violence. Canberra, Australian Capital Territory: Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department.

Cunningham, A., & Baker, L. (2004). What about me! Seeking to understand a child’s view of violence in the family. London, Canada: Centre for Children & Families in the Justice System.

Cunningham, A., & Baker, L. (2007). Little eyes, little ears: How violence against a mother shapes children as they grow. London, Canada: Centre for Children & Families in the Justice System.

Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria. (n.d.). Bursting the bubble. Retrieved 5 February 2009, from www.burstingthebubble.com/

Dunedin Women’s Refuge & Te Whare Pounamu Women’s Refuge. (1999, July). Group work for children experiencing family violence. Paper presented at the Children and Family Violence Effective Interventions Now Conference, Wellington, New Zealand. Retrieved 9 February 2009, from http://www.justice.govt.nz/pubs/reports/1999/family_conference/ author_12.html

Edleson, J. (2004). Should childhood exposure to adult domestic violence be defined as child maltreatment under the law? In P. Jaffe, L. Baker, & A. Cunningham (Eds.). Protecting children from domestic violence: Strategies for community intervention (pp. 8-29). New York: Guilford Press.

Ernst, A., Weiss, S., Del Castillo, C., Marvez-Valls, E., D’Angelo, J., Combs, S., et al. (2007). Witnessing intimate partner violence as a child does not increase the likelihood of becoming an adult intimate partner violence victim. Academic Emergency Medicine, 14, 411-418.

Fergusson, D. M., Boden, J. M., & Horwood, J. (2006). Examining the intergenerational transmission of violence in a New Zealand birth cohort. Child Abuse & Neglect, 30(2), 89-108.

Fergusson, D. M., & Horwood, J. (1998). Exposure to parental violence in childhood and psychosocial adjustment in young adulthood. Child Abuse & Neglect, 22, 339-357.

Fleming, T. M., Watson, P., Robinson, E., Ameratunga, S., Dixon, R., Clark, T., et al. (2007). Violence and New Zealand young people: Findings of Youth2000, a national school health and wellbeing survey. Auckland: The University of Auckland.

Fordham, B. (2001). Caught in the cross-fire: Exploring the relationship between the impact on children of witnessing domestic violence and violent youth offending. (Unpublished Masters thesis), Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand.

Gilligan, R. (2006). Creating a warm place where children can blossom. Social Policy Journal of New Zealand, 28, 36-45.

Goldblatt, H. (2003). Strategies of coping among adolescents experiencing interparental violence. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 18, 532-552.

Hardesty, J. L., Campbell, J. C., McFarlane, J. M., & Lewandowski, L A. (2008). How children and their caregivers adjust after intimate partner femicide. Journal of Family Issues, 29(1), 100-124.

Hassall, I., & Fanslow, J. (2006). Family violence in New Zealand: We can do better. The New Zealand Medical Journal, 119, 1830-1833.

Henderson, S. (1996). Children who witness domestic violence. Social Work Now, 4, 31-36.

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

Herrera, V., & McCloskey, L. (2001). Gender differences in the risk for delinquency among youth exposed to family violence. Child Abuse & Neglect, 25(8), 1037-1051.

Humphreys, J. (2001). Turnings and adaptations in resilient daughters of battered women. Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 3, 245-251.

Indermaur, D., Atkinson, L., & Blagg, H. (1998). Working with adolescents to prevent domestic violence: Rural town model. Full report. Canberra: Crime Research Centre, University of Western Australia.

Jackson, S. (1998). Teenage dating violence. (Unpublished doctoral thesis), Auckland University, Auckland, New Zealand.

Jaffe, P., Wilson, S., & Wolfe, D. (1990). Children of battered women. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Joest, K. (2005). Multiple contexts of violence in the lives of adolescent females who have been exposed to domestic violence. (Unpublished doctoral thesis), Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia, USA.

Kennedy, A. (2007). Homelessness, violence exposure, and school participation among urban adolescent mothers. Journal of Community Psychology, 35(5).

Kingi, P. (1999, July). The impact of violence on children: Vulnerability and resilience. Paper presented at the Children and Family Violence Effective Interventions Now Conference, Wellington, New Zealand. Retrieved 28 October 2008, from http://www.justice.govt.nz/pubs/reports/1999/family_conference/author_11.html

Kitzmann, K., Gaylord, N., Holt, A., & Kenny, E. (2003). Child witnesses to domestic violence: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 71, 339-352.

Laing, L. (2000). Children, young people and domestic violence. Australian Domestic & Family Violence Clearinghouse, 2, 1-28.

Landon, L. (2000, March 31). Shelters fear Child Act changes: Battered women will be less likely to seek help, they say: [Final Edition]. The Ottawa Citizen, p. A6. Retrieved August 24, 2008, from ProQuest Central database. DOI: 201086121.

Margolin, G., & Gordis, E. (2000). The effects of family and community violence on children. Annual Review of Psychology, 51, 445-479.

Margolin, G., & Vickerman, K. (2007). Posttraumatic stress in children and adolescents exposed to family violence: I. Overview and issues. Professional Psychology – Research and Practice, 38(6), 613-619.

Martin, J., Langley, J. D., & Millichamp, J. (2006). Domestic violence as witnessed by New Zealand children. The New Zealand Medical Journal, 119(1228).

Mckenzie, M. (2003). New website hits home: Bursting the bubble: A guide for teenagers living with family violence. Domestic Violence and Incest Resource Centre Newsletter, 3, 8-12.

Millen, P. (1994). Children who witness spouse abuse: A review of the literature and reported strategies for intervention. Social Work Review, 6(4), 18-23.

Ministry of Social Development. (2002). Te Rito: New Zealand Family Violence Prevention Strategy. Wellington, New Zealand: Author.

Mullender, A. (2004). Tackling domestic violence: Providing support for children who have witnessed domestic violence (Home Office Development and Practice Report No. 33). London: Home Department of the UK Government. Retrieved from http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs04/dpr33.pdf

Mullender, A., Hague, G., Imam, U., Kelly, L., Malos, E., & Regan, L. (2002). Children’s perspectives on domestic violence. London: Sage.

Mulroney, J. (2003). Australian prevention programmes for young people. Sydney: Australian Domestic and Family Violence Clearinghouse.

New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse. (2007). Current initiatives. Wellington: Author. Retrieved, 5 December 2008, from http://www.nzfvc.org.nz/Initiatives.aspx

O’Keefe, M. (1996). The differential effects of family violence on adolescent adjustment. Child & Adolescent Social Work Journal, 13(1), 51-68.

Rhinas, J. (2006). Resiliency in the face of interparental violence: A qualitative investigation. (Unpublished Masters thesis), University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.

Seith, C., & Bockman, I. (2008). Children and domestic violence: A study of their understandings, coping strategies and needs: Executive summary of Final Report to Swiss National Science Foundation, NFP 52. Zurich: Department of Education, University of Zurich.

Shepherd, P., & Maxwell, G. (1999). Do children’s programmes work? Occasional papers in criminology: New series. Wellington: Institute of Criminology, Victoria University of Wellington.

Suzuki, S. (2005). The experiences of adults exposed to intimate partner violence as children: An exploratory qualitative study of resilience and protective factors. (Unpublished doctoral thesis), Alient International University, San Diego, California.

van Heugten, K., & Wilson, E. (2008). Building resilience in young people who have witnessed intimate partner violence. Te Awatea Review, 6(2), 9-13.

Vickerman, K., & Margolin, G. (2007). Posttraumatic stress in children and adolescents exposed to family violence: II. Treatment. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 38(6), 620-628.

Wolfe, D. A., Gough, R., Reitzel-Jaffe, D., Grasley, C., Pittman, A-L., Lefebvre, L., et al. (1996). The youth relationships manual: A group approach with adolescents for the prevention of woman abuse and the promotion of healthy relationships. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Wood, B. (2006). Children and domestic violence in New Zealand. Wellington: UNICEF New Zealand.

World Health Organization. (1989). The reproductive health of adolescents: A strategy for action. A joint WHO/UNFPA/UNICEF statement. Geneva: WHO.

Youth Helpline. (2008). Youthline. Te Awatea Review, 6(1), 13.




How to Cite

van Heugten, K., & Wilson, E. (2017). Witnessing intimate partner violence: Review of the literature on coping in young persons. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 20(3), 52–62. https://doi.org/10.11157/anzswj-vol20iss3id342