Australian Institute of Criminology

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Exposure to domestic violence a form of child abuse

Media Release

27 June 2011



A new Australian Institute of Criminology report that says witnessing domestic violence should be recognised as a form of child abuse show the Gillard Government’s reforms to the family law system are critical to the safety of children.

Attorney-General Robert McClelland and Minister for Justice Brendan O’Connor today released an Australian Institute of Criminology report Children’s exposure to domestic violence in Australia.

The report underlines the harm to children from growing up in a violent household and emphasises the need for the Gillard Government’s reforms to the family law system to protect children at risk of family violence and child abuse.

“The study finds that there is growing local and international recognition that hearing or seeing domestic violence is damaging to children and constitutes abuse. The report also looks at measures to better assist children who have grown up in violent household,” Mr O’Connor said.

“The report shows that children who are exposed to domestic violence at home can suffer many problems including acting violently themselves, as children or as they grow up.

“Domestic violence is a criminal offence, but it’s also a social problem that has long lasting effects on victims, their families and communities across Australia,” Mr O’Connor said.

“By learning more about domestic violence and its effects, we can better address it and improve the ways we try to protect the most vulnerable in our community – especially children.

“The report shows that a substantial amount of domestic violence is witnessed by children, ranging from a child hearing violence or having to defend a parent against the violence, to “patching up” a parent after a violent incident,” Mr O’Connor said.

Attorney-General Robert McClelland said the Government’s Family Law Legislation Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Bill 2011 contains key measures to create a safer and fairer family law system and prioritise the safety of children.

“This report builds on the body of evidence that shows that family violence and child abuse remain real concerns in our community. Family violence and child abuse are completely unacceptable and that is why the Government has introduced the Family Violence Bill.

“The Family Violence Bill prioritises the safety of children, encourages people to bring forward evidence of family violence and child abuse, and helps families, professionals and the courts to better identify harmful behaviour through new definitions of ‘family violence’ and ‘child abuse’,” he said.

“There are clearly serious, and often long-term, negative effects of exposure to violence on a child’s physical and social development.  In recognition of this, the Family Violence Bill expands the definition of child abuse to include a child’s exposure to family violence.”

The Family Violence Bill is currently being considered by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, and will then be considered in the Senate.

“This legislation will significantly improve the protections in place to ensure the safety of children in the family law system,” Mr McClelland said.

“It will help people within the system to understand and recognise family violence and child abuse, and encourage them to act.

“There is a growing body of evidence that these reforms are urgently needed to protect children and families and I would strongly encourage Senators to support this important legislation.”

Children’s exposure to domestic violence in Australia documents the effects that exposure to domestic violence can have on children, including psychological, behavioural, health and socio-economic effects, as well as the link with the intergenerational transmission of violence and re-victimisation.

The report notes that more policies and programs to address domestic violence and child abuse have been introduced in recent years through COAG’s National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children and the National Council’s Plan for Australia to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children.

Children’s exposure to domestic violence in Australia by Dr Kelly Richards is available at  

Media Adviser (O’Connor): Jayne Stinson 0458 547 512  
Media Adviser (McClelland): Ryan Liddell 0427 225 763