3.6 Effects of violence

Children and adolescents feel the effects of violence and neglect in ways that range from mild symptoms to debilitating and life-threatening conditions. In the same way that the risk of violence comes from a combination of influences, so the child's circumstances (both negative and positive) will affect their vulnerability or resilience to the effects of violence. Factors that influence the effects of abuse include:

  • the age and developmental status of the child when the violence occurs
  • the severity of the abuse
  • the frequency and duration of the abuse
  • the relationship between the child and the perpetrator
  • the type(s) of violence and neglect.

You might remember these definitions from Module 1 Session 1:

Vulnerability: being more easily physically, emotionally, or mentally hurt, influenced, or attacked.

Resilience: the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress.

In the first section of this session we identified four groupings for violence against children. Let us return to those grouping to consider the effects that children may suffer from each sort of violence.

Category of violenceEffect of violence
Physical abuse

The initial impact of physical abuse is painful and emotionally traumatic for the child. The longer the violence continues, the more serious the physical and psychological consequences are likely to be.

Short-term effects are likely to include pain, medical problems, emotional troubles (such as anger, fear, anxiety, lowered self-esteem) and behavioural problems (such as aggression and truancy). Longer-term effects can include physical disabilities and serious emotional disturbance such as depression.

Sexual abuse

Much of the harm caused to child victims of sexual abuse only becomes apparent years after the abuse happens, when the victim has become an adult and is struggling to deal with long-term psychological damage. Sexual abuse by a family member can result in more serious trauma, especially in the case of parental incest.

The effects of child sexual abuse include guilt and self-blame, flashbacks, nightmares, insomnia, fear of things associated with the abuse (including objects, smells, places, etc.), low self-esteem, sexual dysfunction, depression, anxiety, and physical injury to the child. Victims of child sexual abuse are far more likely to attempt suicide (CDC, 2006)

Emotional abuse

Some level of emotional abuse is involved in all types of maltreatment of a child, though it also frequently occurs alone. It can be hard to recognise but the effects on children who are shamed, humiliated, terrorised or rejected are significant. Emotional abuse has been likened to brainwashing in the way that it wears away at the victim’s self-confidence and sense of worth. Other effects of emotional abuse include poor development of basic skills, alcohol or drug abuse, suicide and difficulty forming relationships including friendships with other children. 

Longer-term psychological and/or behavioural problems include depression, aggression, hostility, lack of attachment or emotional bond to a parent or guardian. It can affect educational achievement and social skills.


Given that neglect is often found with other forms of abuse, isolating the impacts of neglect alone is difficult. However neglected children, relative to children affected by physical, sexual or emotional abuse, are generally found to experience more severe cognitive and academic problems and social withdrawal.

Children who have been the subject of chronic neglect exhibit problems with attachment, cognitive development, social self-confidence, social competence, perseverance in problem-solving. They may experience language delay and health problems due to lack of ensuring medical attention.

As with all abuse, the younger the child and more prevalent the neglect, the greater the harm.

You will see there is some overlap between the effects of different forms of violence and abuse. This is because they are all forms of trauma to the child. The extent of the impact of violence may also be affected by the length of time for which it has been experienced by the child.

3.5 Risk factors for violence

3.7 Responding to violence