Intimate Partner Violence affects children too. Reducing their length of exposure can reduce the harm.
- IPV is common in Australia: one in three children in our study (32%) was exposed to IPV.
- Children exposed to IPV were more likely to have behaviour problems.
- The length of time exposed to IPV was more important than when it occurred during the early life course. The sooner we detect IPV and intervene, the better for children.
Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a pattern of behaviour that can include physical, sexual, psychological and/or emotional violence, or threats of violence. IPV is common: 30-50% of women and 25% of children will be exposed to IPV.
We know that up to two-thirds of children exposed to IPV will have poorer outcomes than their peers. This includes behaviour problems, which are often divided into internalizing (e.g., anxiety, fear, depression, withdrawal) and externalizing (e.g., aggression, hyperactivity, impulsivity, substance use and attention problems). This can set up a poorer developmental pathway, where behaviour problems in early childhood are linked with aggression in middle childhood and crime in adolescence.
What we don’t know is whether the timing matters. For example, does IPV have a bigger impact on toddlers or school-aged children? This information could help us to better target screening and intervention resources.
To answer this question, we used data from women born in 1973-1978 who are part of the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health (ALSWH). This study is run by the University of Queensland and the University of Newcastle. Women have completed surveys about every 3 years since 1996. We looked at experiences of IPV from 2163 mothers at three time points in the child’s early life course: pre-conception, around 1 year old, and around 4 years old. We then linked that to reports of child behaviour problems at around 8 years old for 3697 children.
We found that almost one in three children (32%) were exposed to IPV. Of these, 55% were exposed at one time, 29% at two times and 16% at all three times. Overall, the length of exposure was more important than when it happened. In other words, exposure at any time was bad, but exposure at more times was worse.
We also found that middle childhood (around 3-6 years) was a critical time for internalizing problems in boys. Boys were particularly vulnerable to IPV exposure during this time.
- The sooner we detect IPV and intervene, the better for children (and parents). Reducing the length of time children are exposed to IPV can reduce negative impacts on their behaviour.
- Boys exposed to IPV in middle childhood (around 3-6 years) are at higher risk of developing internalizing problems than boys not exposed to IPV. This could be a target for screening.
Moss, K.M., Loxton, D. & Mishra, G.D. (accepted). Does timing matter? Associations between intimate partner violence across the early life course and internalizing and externalizing behavior in children. Journal of Interpersonal Violence.
Dr Katrina Moss
We are grateful to the Department of Health and Aged Care for funding the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health, and to the women who have provided the data over such a long period of time.