Magoosh GRE

The prevalence of domestic violence in our societies.

| November 30, 2012


In the last two decades, there has been growing recognition of the prevalence of domestic violence in our societies. Domestic violence has continued to be a global epidemic that kills and tortures physically, psychologically, sexually and economically. It is one of the most pervasive human rights violations, denying women and children equality, security, dignity and their right to enjoy fundamental freedoms. The prevalence of domestic violence is higher in Kenya than in the UK because there is no law that deals with the issues of domestic violence. In light of the growing contention of domestic violence, this dissertation looks at the issues of domestic violence and its effects on children in both the United Kingdom (UK) and Kenya. More specifically, the research seeks to: highlight the common definition of domestic violence, identify factors that contribute to domestic violence, analyze the impact of domestic violence on children, and lastly, look at ways of combating domestic violence in both countries. This review has critiqued and discussed previous studies, articles and other relevant literature.

Research articles were reviewed giving an overview of what domestic violence is. A number of factors that contribute to the effects of witnessing violence by children such as behavioural, emotional, cognitive and physical functioning problems have been explored. The two countries chosen represent the same detrimental effects of domestic violence on children. Lastly, discussions focussing on the methods utilized in dealing with domestic violence in Kenya and the UK were outlined. Focus has been made to the positive steps taken to combat this problem as well as government and non-government actions in fighting domestic violence. Overall, this research will enable you to better understand social conditions and social issues in a broader sense, giving you a view of what various problems mean to different people and how these perspectives impact on society’s response. It will represent a comprehensive and engaging approach for the study of international social conditions and problems. The theoretical ideas such as the feminist approach, attachment theory, systems theory applied will shed some light on how to further understand the issues of domestic violence. Concerns about methodology are also raised.

The reason for carrying out this research is because domestic violence has become a feature of most of the cases that I encounter as a social work student on placement. Born and bred in Kenya where domestic violence is at an increase, this research will  with the worst outcomes for children. Also, professionals in both countries were found to pay less attention to the fact that children were witnessing and living with high levels of violence. Therefore, this dissertation aims at creating awareness on the impact of domestic violence on children and its need for interventions.



1:1 Background and Context

Domestic violence is an internationally recognized problem, yet it remains the most invisible crimes of our times. Women and children face terror in the place where they should be safest- within their families. Many of them are terrified of their homes because it is where they experience violence from those who they trust and are close to them. Domestic violence occurs in all communities regardless of social class, age, race, ethnic, disability, sexuality, and lifestyle. Summers & Hoffman (2002) describes the issues of domestic violence as closely linked to the socialization process, personal choices, crime justice, safety, health care and ethics. They state that, it is rarely a one time event, since abuse tends to have a high rate of recurrence. There are key pieces of legislation, both criminal and civil, which have a bearing on children who experience domestic violence. These are the Children Act 1989, Family Law Act 1996, Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and Housing Act 1996 (Hester et al, 2000). There is a focus on the relevant aspects of the legislation and discussion regarding the implications for practice.The global dimensions of domestic violence are shocking as highlighted by studies on its incidences and prevalence. No society is free from such violence and the only difference is in the patters and trends that are present in countries which will be discussed later in this review ( The first chapter will look at the definition of domestic violence within the UK and Kenya.

Throughout history, assumptions have been made causing society to turn its back on domestic violence. It was assumed that domestic violence is a minor, private/family matter that no one should interfere with (Hanmer, 2000).  Many people still believe that battering is rare and to a lesser extent therefore, do not approve of outside interference. Others feel men are naturally aggressive, and women naturally passive, so abuse is expected due to ‘human nature’. Therefore, they view battering as a problem caused by stress or poverty, or subject to the ‘lower classes’ (Berry, 2000). It is only recent that society has realised the unspeakable horror of domestic violence. As the shocking numbers and stories are made public knowledge, attitudes are changing. People are now aware of the increasing nature of domestic violence, its devastating effect on women, men, children and families, and the tragic consequences of turning away (Hanmer, 2000). In the UK, domestic violence has become a main concern for many local authorities and police divisions while in Kenya, it is still regarded as a family affair that requires no intrusion. The dynamics of this violence as well as the contributing factors are slowly becoming evident.  Each country differs in its perceptions as to what contributes to its domestic violence problems.  In the UK, factors such as social exclusion, poverty, gender inequality, having a criminal background, and having experienced abuse as a child are some of the factors that contribute to domestic violence. The families are classified as patriarchal where male dominate and women are subordinates (Turshen, 2000). In Kenya, domestic violence must be understood as a cultural and historical phenomenon. Its traditional lifestyle determines a specific place for women and children- their roles and duties. The father is the one in charge of the homestead which means practically, he owns everything or rather, he is the custodian of the family property including his wives and children (Njenga, 2007). However, factors such as gender inequality and poverty that contribute to domestic violence in the UK are similar to those in Kenya. The second chapter will expand more on that.

The victims of domestic violence suffer physically, emotionally and psychologically. They are unable to make their own decisions, air their own views or protect themselves and their children for fear of further repercussions. They are deprived of their human rights and have to constantly live with the threat of violence (UNICEF, 2000). Several studies have shown that children who witness domestic violence are at higher risks of becoming victims or perpetrators of domestic as adults. An increasing variety of research has highlighted that children are likely to be at risk of physical, sexual or emotional abuse in the context of domestic violence (Hester et al, 2000). The impact of domestic violence on children has been found to be similar in both the UK and Kenya. This review focuses on these children-the forgotten victims of violence in the home. The third chapter will draw attention to the impact of domestic violence on children.

The challenge for the future is to bring ourselves to the point where the family is characterized by love and nurturing thoughtfulness, as opposed to the horrific psychological abuse, battering, and killing that are a tragic part of domestic violence. A multifaceted and integrated approach that embraces human rights is required to effectively eliminate domestic violence. Perhaps, through international collaboration, we can share insights and meaningful approaches to prevention and controls thereby helping our families become the source of health citizens of tomorrow.  (Summers & Hoffman, 2002). By counterposing Kenya and the UK, this review offers many similarities between the violence encountered by women and children in both countries and its view on male dominance and control. Nonetheless, there are a few differences about the two settings that may prove useful to examine and be productive of insights into the nature of domestic violence. As a result, this study sought to establish the effects of domestic violence on children in both Kenya and the UK with the hope of it being an eye opener to the reality of the situation. 


A literature review is an objective summary and critical analysis of the relevant available research or unresearched literature on a particular topic (Hart, 2001). The sources of data for this research project are secondary sources taken from reliable sources such as academic journals, books, reports of which references can be found on the reference list. The methods chosen for these review were intended to minimise the risk of bias in the identification and selection of relevant and suitable literature ( This included conducting a thorough and comprehensive search involving electronic databases such as ASSIA……Academic one file and the Sage Publication Journals that have been used to identify published articles, books and specialist journals.

Four research articles on the application of domestic violence, gender-based violence, effects of domestic violence on children were searched and identified.  Searches were narrowed to the year 2000 to 2011 to ensure only the most up to date research was found. The studies that were used in this review were chosen because they were relevant and the level of evidence contained in them was high. The use of qualitative and quantitative research to collect data has been analysed to produce findings. Qualitative research methods rely less on the mathematics and statistics of the results than quantitative methods and can be used to search for meanings within answers. Researchers conducting qualitative research do not aim to develop other people’s theories but attempts to collect enough information about a particular topic in order to come up with new ideas and theories; an inductive approach to research (Glasser & Strauss, 1967).

Quantitative data collection finds ‘hard’ data (data that can be measured and eventually turned into number format) and analyses it in statistical terms in order to find conclusions. These conclusions are then used to draw up ideas and theories. In quantitative research, researchers generally starts off knowing a little about the topic in question and explore it further through the research itself. This is called the deductive approach. The important thing in quantitative research is that the researcher must be objective and cannot be biased otherwise the results will be inaccurate.

Limitations to Research

The four studies used in this literature review have used qualitative data method to gather evidence for their research, although one study used both qualitative and quantitative data collection. Qualitative data is perhaps easier to apply in social care research, however it becomes more difficult to analyse than quantitative as results must be ‘grouped’ or ordered into categories of common thoughts/opinions/findings leaving room for misinterpretation or slightly exaggeration of individual results. This is particularly an issue when using open-ended questions. However, multiple choice questions limit the range of answers that can be given and may not be accurate to what the participant wants to convey.

With most of the literature from Kenya, there has been difficulty in comparing prevalence data on violence because different methods have been used to obtain them. The two challenges in obtaining accurate prevalence data are; how to define “abuse” and how to determine the study population. A further complication is that surveys measure the number of survivors willing to disclose abuse rather than actual numbers abused. This can bias prevalence data often prone to under reporting.

In the UK, figures derived from agencies such as the police and women’s refuges are necessarily selective and encompass only a small proportion of victims. It is well documented that police figures suffer from the problem of the ‘hidden figure of crime-that is the non-reporting of crime to the police by the public and the failure of the police to record crime that is reported. Agency figures represent merely the ‘tip of the iceberg’ and in some cases, for instance those derived from women’s refuges, point more to the limited availability of such resources rather than overall extent of the problem (Hanmer, 2000).

Collecting reliable data on this hidden issue is a challenge. There is limited data available on the prevalence of domestic violence in both Kenya and the UK and less information on the numbers of children who may be exposed to such violence.

Ethical considerations

The main issue surrounding any piece of research is the ethical dilemma it causes. When carrying out research, the researcher must balance the value of the research with the amount of intrusion on the participants. Most research carried out in Kenya established that some children and adolescents found questions about home life difficult to answer, especially if the individual has been threatened by a family member from “talking to strangers” about what happens within the family (Chebogut & Ngeno, 2010).

Most studies carried out in the UK did not endeavour to ask children about specific incidences of abuse they had witnessed or experienced because it would be distressing for the child to concentrate on the numerous accounts of violence.

Gaps in Research

Comarck (2000) suggests that literature review may identify gaps in the previous literature that the researcher can address and also provide the reader with knowledge of the field being researched. In order to critically appraise the reviews,


2.1 What is domestic violence?

In researching domestic violence, the first issue that needs to be confronted is that of definition. It is recognised that there is lack of consistency between researchers, policy makers, members of the public and so on, over the relationships and types of behaviour that should be included under the definition of domestic violence and considerable debate as to whether the term should be adopted at all (Kashani & Allan, 1998). In the UK, according to the Home office (2005), domestic violence more specifically refers to the abuse by one person to another in an intimate relationship. These relationships can involve marriage partners living together, dating relationships, and partners living together. The abuse may take the form of physical violence, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, psychological abuse, economic abuse, incest and ultimately death (Berry, 2000; Chalk & King, 1998). This definition bares the same features as the definition of domestic violence in Kenya. However, the term family violence and domestic violence in Kenya, is used interchangeably in different literatures.

In the past, the cases for abused women and children were treated as separate issues with services and policies being delivered differently.

In most studies carried in the UK on domestic violence in heterosexual relationships, it has been found that the vast majority of cases involve violence from men to women (Dobash & Dobash, 1992; Mooney, 1994; British Crime Survey, 1996). In support of this is the NCH Action for Children study on domestic violence and children which suggests that 90-97% of domestic violence is from men to women (Abrahams 1994). However, this does not deny the fact that women can be violent towards men or the fact that women sometimes abuse. Even though there are occasional reports of male victims of domestic violence, the balance is tilted heavily against females. Whichever ways we look at it, children are the ones affected directly and indirectly by the problem. Domestic violence has been an important feature in some instances of child death-e.g. Maria Colwell and Kimberly Carlile. In many cases where children have been killed, the significance of violence to the mothers, as an indicator of potential risk to the children, has often not been understood nor acknowledged by child care professionals. It should be an eye-opener that children, who witness the abuse of their mother, may be directly abused themselves. In a review of studies, Hughes (1992) found correlations of 40-60 per cent between child abuse and domestic violence. Children who witness violence between adults in their homes are only the most recent victims to become visible. These children have been called the “silent,” the “forgotten,” and “unintended” victims of adult-to-adult domestic violence (Elbow, 1982; Groves et al., 1993; Rosenbaum & O’Leary, 1981).

Most children do not witness murders of a parent. Beatings that are fatal but are nonetheless brutal are the types of events that we most commonly think of when children witness adult domestic violence. Therefore, it is apparent that domestic violence is an important indicator of risk of harm to children. Also, an increasing variety of research has highlighted that children are likely to be at risk of physical, sexual or psychological/emotional abuse in the context of domestic violence.

1) Physical abuse:

Physical abuse refers to any behaviour that involves the intentional use of force against the body of another person that risks physical injury, harm or pain (Dutton, 1992). Up to 70% of male abusers also physically abuse their children (90% when there are four or more children in the household). Fortunately, some of these children, despite their traumatic childhood experience, do not become abusers later in life. Kaufman and Zigler (1987) suggest that the rate of intergenerational transmission of violence toward children is 30%. Neverthereless, the witnessing or experiencing of violence by children in the household is the greatest risk factor for predicting involvement in domestic violence. For some women the physical effects of the domestic violence can have a detrimental impact on their parenting and relationships with their children. Not only is their parenting capacity likely to be affected, but also there is a heightened probability that her children may be abused (Hester et al, 2000). The Farmer and Owen (1995) study, he found that in three of five cases where children had suffered physical abuse, neglect or emotional abuse, their mothers were also subject to violence from their male partners.

2) Sexual abuse:

Sexual abuse is defined as any unwanted sexual intimacy forced on one individual by another. Children not only suffer as a result of witnessing this violence, but they often become victims themselves. For example, up to a third of men who batter their female partner also sexually abuse their children. A recent study in Kenya by Maternowska et. al (2009) showed that pressure starts at an early age, with 29% of boys aged 13 years and below reporting one or more episodes of sexual harassment. UNICEF reported that in Kenya the level of violence against children has reached very high levels, in particular sexual violence. However, there exists a lack of consistency in study methods, study designs, and analyses of results in sexual violence studies that makes comparison across specific geographical contexts different. Kenya has 42 communities with varied understandings of sexual abuse that make research problematic (Kilonzo, 2008).

3)  Psychological and emotional abuse

Psychological/emotional abuse includes behaviour that is intended to intimidate and persecute, and takes the form of threats of abandonment or abuse, confinement at home, verbal aggression and constant humiliation (Chebogut & Ngeno, 2010). Because psychological violence is harder to capture in quantitive studies, a full picture of the deeper and more insidious levels of violence defies quantification. Victim survivors report that ongoing psychological violence-emotional torture and living under terror-is often more unbearable that the physical brutality, with mental stress leading to a high incidence of suicide and suicide attempts. Children respond to violence in different ways and understanding the immediate, medium and long term psychological effects of violence is essential (UNICEF, 2000). There has been limited research on the mental health outcomes of sexual violence for survivors and the consequences for their partners and families in Kenya. There is limited knowledge on the mental health and social needs and requirements of survivors, factors that impact on recovery and the long-term outcomes. This means that these needs are unmet for survivors and that the justice system does not have the capacity or mechanisms to utilize psycho-social consequences to impact on justice outcomes (Maternowska, 2009).

2.2 When does it begin?

Our knowledge about domestic violence comes from the accounts of survivors and to a lesser extent from the accounts of perpetrators of domestic violence and witnesses (Dobash et al. 2000). Many people have suggested that domestic violence-at least to the degree it is observed today, is a recent phenomenon. Yet violence between intimates has long been a part of family life. Dutton (2006) refers to domestic violence as “hidden crime” because for too long, it has been a private problem and must be made a public issue. Although domestic violence can begin at any time during a relationship, most studies show that violence tends to start early on- particularly once the relationship has become ‘formalised’ through the couple living together or through marriage (Hester & Radford, 1992; Kelly, 1988). In Kenya, domestic violence is experienced mostly by people living in the capital city though the poorer areas have greater representation. It was further noted that sometimes abuse starts in the first year of marriage, but it takes five years for most of the women to visit the shelter for help. The police, church, community elders as well as the local administration were the choice of place for the reports of the violence (Njenga, 2007).

It has also been noted that many women experience violence from their husbands or male-partners at the time of pregnancy, or when the children are small. From these accounts, the perception of the perpetrator and that of the woman he has abused often differ. Perpetrators may not see their behaviour as abusive or controlling as the person on the receiving end. They are likely to deny and cover up their abusive behaviour and therefore, appearing as quite different people in public than at home. As Hester et al (2007) mentions, many women have described their violent partners as appearing very ‘charming’ at work, to the police, in court and so on, but generally aggressive at home. It is easy to assume that once a domestic violence perpetrator is no longer living with his wife or partner, then the violence will stop. However, that is unlikely to be the case. It has to be recognised that violent male partners are likely to continue to abuse and harass their ex-partners and will use any situation where both are present or in contact with each other (e.g. via contact arrangements for the children) to do so (Radford & Hester, 2006).

2.3 Data on domestic violence

Experts are divided over statistics that show domestic violence is on the rise. Domestic violence in the UK is very common. Research shows that it can affect one in four women in their lifetimes and it accounts for between 16% and one quarter of all recorded violent crime. It is estimated that 3 million children experience domestic violence in their homes each year (Walby & Allen 2004). The survey explores non-sexual domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking and includes aspects of domestic violence that are frequently hidden, such as financial and emotional abuse, isolation, threats and intimidation. Regardless of the way these estimates of children’s exposure are derived, it is likely that this exposure occurs more than once and may be present over the course of a child’s development.

According to the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey, 39% of the women surveyed said they were abused by a husband or partner. But a 2008 report by the Federation of Women Lawyers of Kenya (FIDA), says almost 75% of women they surveyed reported being beaten. This has contributed to the drastic increase of numbers affected from about 299 in 2006, then to 412 in 2007, then in 2008, it went to another 400 and over (Chebugot & Ngeno, 2010).

Domestic legislation with respect to children and protection of their rights

The absence of legislation on domestic violence has complicated matters in Kenya still further. There is no legal framework to address this issue. The current practice is to criminalise the offence under the penal code as assault/battery, but this usually does not take into account violence that is perpetrated in the home (FIDA, 2002). The legal services constantly control their inability to help in the face of an inadequate law and untrained, unsympathetic law enforcement agents. Law enforcement normally uses the fact that domestic violence is not specifically criminalized as an excuse for not intervening. The situation is further complicated by Kenya’s failure to translate into domestic law the international conventions that the government has ratified, such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (Turshen, 2000). How then is it possible to win the war against domestic violence, against women and children? Domestic violence is still not treated with the same gravity as other cases when they are reported. Often the victim reporting the case is asked what she did to provoke the violence and is encouraged to resolve the issue at home (OMCT, 2008).

The adoption of the Domestic violence (Family Protection) Bill has been pending since 2002. This Bill attempts to deal comprehensively with all aspects (physical. Psychological and sexual) of violence within domestic settings and would be the only statute in Kenya that recognises domestic violence as a crime. The Bill also provides counselling and psychological treatment for the victims of domestic violence and provides safe houses for victims who are deemed unsafe to remain in the violent situations. It will enable provisions for protection orders against perpetrators including denying them access to the matrimonial homes, provides for a ‘friend’ to make an application for protection for protection orders on behalf of another and provides rehabilitation and setting up fund for domestic violence victims. Once the Bill is passed, it will also help protect children from violence at home (OMCT, 2008).   A draft constitution presented to the public last year addressed a number of issues that the domestic violence bill would have dealt with however, the draft was rejected during a referendum (Maternowska et al, 2009).

The enactment of legislation aimed at promoting and protecting the rights of the child are the Children’s Act of 2001 (Cap 586 of the laws of Kenya) and the creation of the National Council for Children’s Services (Achilihu, 2010). The Act establishes statutory structures to facilitate the administration and safeguards of children’s rights. Actual on-the-ground translation of policy into practice has been challenging. There are fewer gains in the legal and social services. According to most national NGO’S, the Children Act has resulted in a great improvement in the promotion and protection of the children’s rights. However, there are several gaps which should be addressed by the government to ensure that every child in Kenya enjoys full legal protection of his/her rights. In this regard, the Kenya Law Reform Commission (KLRC) whose mandate is to review laws in the country commenced a review of the Children Act in 2006. However, to date the exercise is yet to be completed. Kenya is one of the African countries in the world where the rights of the child are still a mirage. The sad reality for many Kenyan children is that violation of their rights is not seen as a serious problem resulting in severe consequences for children even beyond their childhood (OMCT, 2008). 

The turning point in the UK came when police policy started regarding domestic assault as a crime like any other crime and men as responsible for their own abusive behaviour (Adams et al. 2002). The Children Act 1989 redefined child care law and introduced new measures for the working with children and families in both public and private family law. It was the first child care legislation to take into account the child’s religious, ethnic and cultural background. It adopted a new approach to working with children, underpinned by the principle that the child’s welfare is paramount. The children Act 1989 does not fully acknowledge the context of domestic violence in which many children live. Despite the fact that the Act is accompanied by ten volumes of guidance, there is none on the issue of domestic violence, nor any recognition that domestic violence is a key factor in the breakup of many relationships. Until very recently, the concept of risk of violence to one parent figure from the other parent figure (or from another family member), and the possible impact of this on the first parent’s ability to protect and care for children, was not identified as a factor requiring consideration. In the light of better understanding, since the Act’s implementation, an amendment to include the risk of domestic violence within the welfare checklist or elsewhere might now be timely (Hester et al, 2000).

The need to minimise the risk of violence during family proceedings was highlighted during the passage of the Family Law Act 1996, and was recognised as one of the key principles of parts 2 and 3 of the Act (divorce, legal aid and mediation). The recognition by Parliament that this principle was needed was due, in part, to greater awareness following the Home Affairs Select Commitee Inquiry into Domestic Violence in 1992, and to subsequent publicity about the extent and nature of domestic violence. This was accompanied by growing concerns about the unfortunate effects of its absence within the Children Act 1989 itself, particularly in relation to section 8 orders (private arrangements for children after relationship breakdown).


Before analysing the impact of domestic violence on children, let us turn to a systematic consideration of the factors that contribute to domestic violence in Kenya and the UK. As we review both countries, we hear references to social stereotypes, tolerance of violence, inherent aggressive tendencies of men, provocation by partners and the cultural bias regarding domestic violence as a minor or private matter that others are helpless to do anything about. Despite our knowledge about contributing factors in the UK and Kenya, the fact remains that the problem of domestic violence is very complex. Indeed, a definitive explanation of its cause still eludes us. It is sad commentary that violence-whether on the part of teens or adults in the home- reflects the social, economic, moral, and ethical problems in the larger society. (Summers & Hoffman, 2002).

Cultural- Expectations of roles within relationships:

One must take into account the vast cross-cultural differences that exist when defining domestic violence. By examining comparative data from a diverse group of cultures, perhaps cultural factors and social structures can be defined to help us gain a better understanding of factors that contribute to domestic violence. Throughout this review, it is evident that culture has an influence on domestic violence in different countries. Each country’s particular culture reflects societal norms that affect the laws of the land, its social policy and ultimately the attitudes and behaviour of its people (Summers & Hoffman).

In the UK, where violence is viewed in the context of beliefs about women’s and men’s roles and status within the family, a complex picture emerges of the relationships between poverty, frustrated masculine identities, and violence in intimate relationships. Various studies have noted that a typical effect of macro-social changes on poor urban households is men’s loss of the position of sole breadwinner. This may undermine their status and their authority within the household and outside it. This may in turn lead to men using violence to try to impose their authority on the family. Many writers believe that men’s violence against women is facilitated by men’s domination and that any reduction in this violence will occur only when gender inequality is reduced and when human social bonds are more caring (Summers & Hoffman, 2002).

In Kenya, domestic violence is deeply engrained in the beliefs about gender roles and marriage which have encouraged the practice. In a patriarchal society, domestic violence is actually recognized as one way of disciplining one’s wife. In fact, even the society socializes you as a woman to anticipate this discipline (Chebogut & Ngeno, 2010). As almost every article about domestic violence in Kenya points out, women are still formally regarded as akin to property in most customary law traditions. Bride price- in many places, a certain number of cows-is paid by a man’s family to the woman’s family upon her marriage, for example. This not only makes it appear that she has been ‘bought’ by the man and has thus become his property, to do with as he likes, but also makes it more difficult for women to return to their families of origin to escape domestic violence since their families may be either unable to return the bride price. In short, marriage is still a property transaction in traditional communities in Kenya. Moreover, it is a relationship not just between the individuals involved but between the two families (Bowman, 2003). As regards women, the persistence of certain cultural norms, traditions and stereotypes, as well as discrimination regarding their role in society, perpetuates violence against women and children in Kenya. As a result, it has denied women and children an independent legal and social status. In this respect, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against women (CEDAW). expressed concern that the Kenyan government has not taken systematic action to modify or eliminate stereotypes and negative cultural values and practices (Trochu-Grasso & Varesano, 2009).

Economic-women’s economic dependence on men

The position of women in society has allowed domestic violence to prevail, as women have been economically dependent on men throughout time. Childbirth and child rearing have enabled men to control women, keeping them subordinate and dependent. As Summers & Hoffman (2002) states, this material dependency forces women to stay in violent relationships not because they enjoy pain, or are pathologically disturbed, but because they have very little choice. They often do not wish to uproot or upset their children, and they conceal the evidence for the children’s sake. As a result, the parent-child relationship is deeply affected when a mother must cope with the physical and mental health aspects of having been battered (Wolfe, et al 1985). In addition, parents who realise they may not be able to protect their children from violence are likely to feel anxious, frustrated, and helpless. Such parents who are constantly fearful, may well have difficulty being emotionally available and responsive to their children (Osofsky & Fenichel, 1994: Augustyn, et al 1995).  A mother subjected to domestic violence may become preoccupied with safety and survival that she cannot be mindful of her child’s needs. She may become depressed or numb to the violence around her, so that she is unable to be empathetic toward her child. Others may become overprotective or, if extremely traumatized themselves, they may expect their children to protect them. Unfortunately, children raised by such parents may fail to develop the sense of basic trust and security that is the foundation of healthy emotional development which will be discussed in the next chapter (Osofsky, 1995).

In Kenya, confilcts over decisions about money and food are a source of violence within poor households (Oudenhoven & Wazir, 2006). In contexts where violence against women is permitted or condoned, it is always exacerbated as a result of unstable working conditions, unemployment, financial insecurity and the resulting difficulty of providing household necessities. Conflict intensifies in situations of acute poverty. The UN has recognised that conditions of underdevelopment, poverty, and poor housing produce stress that result in high levels of domestic violence (Connors, 1999). Violence is unacceptable, whether it is perpetrated in pursuit of wealth, on sporting field, in the schoolyard, or inside the family (Morris, 2008).

According to Marxist analysis, deteriorating economic conditions and decreased welfare support are responsible for undermining the family. However, evidence relating to family violence with economic factors is complicated (Miles & Stephenson, 2000).  A study by Fuchs and Reglis (1992), suggests that when economic growth has slowed down, government expenditure on family welfare has risen, thereby mitigating to a degree at least, the economic impact on families. What is clear is that income generation cannot in itself be assumed to reduce violence. Not all men who are poor are violent and not all violent men are poor. Therefore, more research is needed to find out why increased economic hardship may lead in some instances, to great co-operation between household members and in others, to greater conflict and violence.


This section summarizes some of the similarities of the impact of domestic violence on children in the UK and Kenya. When talking about the impact of domestic violence on children, we are considering the effects on children living in a home where spousal abuse is occurring. Domestic violence within families continues over long periods, and its effects are likely to increase with severity and duration and can be devastating to children (Walby & Allen, 2004). There is a growing body of literature that has examined both the short and long term problems associated with children’s witnessing of domestic violence. Studies reveal that children who have lived in the context of domestic violence may have more ‘adjustment difficulties’ than children from non-violent homes. It has to be recognised that there is no uniform response to living with domestic violence. Children’s responses vary enormously with some children being affected far more than others, and children within the same family can be affected differently. It is, therefore, important to find out exactly what each child has experienced in order to gain some understanding of what the possible impact of these experience might be, rather than to think in terms of a simple checklist of indicators. Even so, it can be hard to discern the specific impact of living with domestic violence on children, especially as some of the resulting behaviours also occur in children experiencing other forms of abuse or neglect (Hester, 2000). Each child and each child’s experiences and reactions are unique.  Review studies in both the UK and Kenya, report a series of childhood problems statistically associated with a child’s witnessing of domestic violence. These problems can be grouped into three main categories examining effects of recent witnessing.

1)     Cognitive functioning and attitudes.

2)     Behavioural and emotional functioning.

3)     Physical functioning and a fourth category that examines long-term effects.

Each of these four categories are reviewed in more detail below.

Cognitive functioning and attitudes: A study by Westra and Martin (19991), have measured the association between cognitive development problems and witnessing domestic violence. Prolonged and/or regular exposure to domestic violence can have a serious impact on a children’s development and emotional well-being, despite the best efforts of the non-abusing parent to protect the child(ren). This can include seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of others. Children experiencing domestic violence are seen as children in need and a referral to Children’s Social Care must be considered (Jaffe et al, 1990).

 Emotional and physical problems

Children who witness violence at home display emotional and behavioural disturbances as diverse as withdrawal, low self -esteem, sleep disorders (insomnia, nightmares, bedwetting), self blame and aggression against peer, family members and property (Peled at al, 1995). Many develop physical symptoms including frequent colds, headaches, or upset stomachs. In addition, a child may perform less well at school and become extremely protective or dependent of their mothers and worry about their own safety second or not at all (Bradley, 1994). The parent-child relationship roles are reversed as children assume the physical and emotional care of their parent and younger siblings.

All aspects of children’s lives are vulnerable. Their health and development may be negatively affected as parent’s capacity to meet basic needs is impaired. This is frequently exacerbated as domestic violence impact on family functioning, housing, income, and social intergration. Parents may experience difficulty in controlling their emotions and severe mood swings can frighten children and leave them feeling uncertain, anxious and over vigilant (Cleaver et al, 2008).

Children from homes with domestic violence, typically suffer guilt, feeling that something is wrong with them or that they are responsible for the violence. They also struggle with conflicting emotions and are often very confused about how they could love and hate a person at the same time (ref). These feelings of helplessness and confusion often lead children to attempt a copying strategy of denying that the violence is occurring. These children may be able to express their feelings only through play, art and writing. School-aged children are likely to understand more about the intentions behind an act of violence. School-aged children who witness domestic violence often show a greater frequency of externalizing (aggressive, delinquent) and internalizing (withdrawn, anxious) behaviour problems in comparison to children from nonviolent families (Ref).

Another aspect of the effects on children is their own use of violence. Social learning theory would suggest that Children who witness violence may also learn to use it Considerable evidence indicates that children who are exposed to domestic violence,  are at much higher risk of becoming perpetrators and victims of violence (Bell, 1995). Imitation and modelling appear to play significant roles in this process.

Whenever a child’s behaviour raises anxiety of any kind, or where there are child protection concerns, it is important to bear in mind the possibility that the issue of domestic violence may be an important (and key) aspect of the context for the child. This may be particularly so for children who are presenting with emotional or behavioural difficulties (Hester et al, 2000).

Infants and Toddlers

Domestic violence episodes can begin or escalate during pregnancy. Domestic violence can pose a threat to an unborn child(ren), because assaults on pregnant women frequently involve punches or kicks directed to the abdomen, risking injury to both mother and unborn child(ren). Although very young children may be partially protected from exposure to a traumatic incident because they do not fully appreciate the potential danger (Drell et al, 1993; Pynoos, 1993), it is important that we do not ignore or de-emphasize their reactions to violence. Living with domestic violence can also directly affect Infants and toddlers, with negative developmental, social emotional and behavioural consequences, excessive irritability, immature behaviour, sleep disturbances, fears of being alone and regression in toileting and language (Buchanan, 2005). At a time of rapid neurological growth, an infant’s development may be compromised by exposure to ongoing violence, whether or not they are the target of the violence (Rossman, 2001).

“Exposure to trauma, especially family violence, interferes with a child’s normal development of trust and later exploratory behaviours, which lead to the development of autonomy.  Erickson (1963), held that the development of trust is the initial step in forming healthy relationships. Trust develops early and is primarily contigent on the infant’s relationship with his or her care-giver. If this first psychosocial stage of trust building is successfully resolved, the infant will learn to trust others, which will then help with later relationship building. Mistrust in contrast, can result from a single trauma or from chronic environmental stress. If parents are emotionally unavailable, for instance, or are inconsistent, continually negative, or abusive, the infant or child may fail to develop basic trust (Egeland & Erickson, 1987). In light of this theoretical perspective, one must ask how growing up in a violent family may interfere with a child’s developing trust. For far too many children, those very relationships on which the development of trust and trusting relationships are built may be limited or changeable. Preschool children may develop enuresis and speech disfluencies such as stuttering.

Studies carried out in Kenya articulate that preschool and kindergarten, do not understand the meaning of the abuse they observe and tend to believe that they ‘must have done something wrong.’ Self-blame can precipitate feelings of guilt, worry, and anxiety. Young children do not have the ability to adequately express their feelings verbally. Consequently, the manifestation of these emotions is often behavioural. Children become withdrawn, non-verbal, and exhibit regressed behaviours such as clinging and whining.

School-aged children

As they grow, children in the UK who are exposed to violence may continue to show signs of problems. School-age children may have more trouble with school work, and show poor concentration and focus. They tend not to do well at school (UNICEF, 2006). Some studies suggest social development is also damaged. The aggression children have witnessed also affects their relationships with other children. As Bancroft and Silverman (2002) states, their perspective on relationships is so skewed that they have no idea how to share or cooperate and others lose their ability to feel empathy for others. Others feel socially isolated, unable to make friends as easily due to social discomfort or confusion over what is acceptable.

In Kenya, more than half of the school-age children in domestic violence shelters show clinical levels of anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder. These children are at risk for delinquency, substance abuse, school drop-out, and difficulties in their own relationships (Graham.

Whether in the UK or Kenya, witnessing domestic violence can interfere with a child’s healthy development.  Children who witness violence early in life may view the world as unpredictable, possibly dangerous or chaotic. The basic attachment of the child to the adult is at risk. This early relationship development is profound and life-lasting (Ref) Dysfunctional-violent families where interparental abuse occurs, also tend to represent failures of secure attachment, and increased risk of direct physical and emotional abuse of the child (Geffner et al, 2000).


For adolescents, particularly those who have experienced violence exposure throughout their lives, high levels of aggression and acting out are common, accompanied by anxiety, behaviour problems, truancy, and revenge seeking. Although some adolescents who witness domestic violence may be able to overcome the experience, many others suffer considerable scars. Some report giving up hope, expecting that they may not live through adolescence or early childhood. They may become deadened to feelings and pain, with resultant constrictions in emotional development. Or they may attach themselves to peer groups and gangs as substitute family and incorporate violence as a method of dealing with disputes or frustration (Parson, 1994).

Literature from Kenya suggests that adolescents have greater ability to externalise negative emotions since they verbalize. They exhibit sleep problems, eating disturbances and nightmares. They also show a loss of interest in social activities, low self-concept, withdrawal or avoidance of peer relations, rebelliousness and oppositional-defiant behaviour in the school setting. It is also common to observe temper tantrums, irritability, frequent fighting at school or between siblings, lashing out at objects, treating pets cruelly or abusively, threatening of peers or siblings with violence. They seek to gain attention through hitting, kicking, or chocking peers and/or family members (Chebogut & Ngeno, 2010).

Long-Term effects

Living with domestic violence can take a lasting toll on children. Nationwide, it is estimated that between 3.3 million and 10 million children are at risk of witnessing domestic violence each year. The long term implications of childhood exposure to domestic violence are substantial. Children learn from witnessing violence in their homes, and what they learn may become precursors of later violent adolescent and adult behaviours. It is not just that the child sees aggression, it is that he or she is learning about “conditions under which aggression may be applied in intimate relationships” (Margolin, 1995: 34). Thus, children may come to view violence as an acceptable way, perhaps the only way to resolve conflicts and they may learn to rationalize the use of violence-they know nothing else.

Many researchers in Kenya have found a connection between witnessing violence in childhood and using violence as an adult. A study by Onyango and Kattambo (2001), showed that boys who had seen their fathers attack their mothers were three times as likely to become batterers as boys raised in non violent homes. In contrast, (ref) states that witnessing violence is not sex specific and that, children who witnessed either parent hitting the other became more violent regardless of their gender.

Moreover, the risk of domestic violence for women is nearly doubled if there are children present in the household (Krug et al, 2002). The impact of violence is also felt indirectly, as its effects compromise survivor’s ability to care for any children they may have. In addition to the constraining effect that violence may have on women’s livelihood strategies, research in Kenya suggest that the children of women who suffer domestic violence receive less food because men’s violence adversely affects women’s bargaining position in marriage (Rao & Bloch, 1993 cited in Heise, 1995a).

Similar with the UK, children of battered mothers in Kenya have high rates of emotional problems like depression and sometimes show delays in learning. Some researchers have attempted to isolate the particular cause of children’s behavioural and emotional difficulties (e.g. Jaffe et al, 1990) and conclude that the impact of witnessing the violence alone is sufficient to cause the children’s disturbances (Silvern & Kaersvang, 1989). While few would disagree that witnessing the assault of their mother is a very disturbing experience, it is important to address the entirety of children’s experiences and not focus on particular incidents of physical violence, which are often extreme. It is extremely important that recognition is made of the ongoing controlling behaviour that children and women are subjected to as part of their everyday life. This is particularly so when children may not, in fact, witness the direct physical assaults on their mother but will be very aware of other forms of abuse (Hanmer et al, 2000). Children must hear it re-affirmed that domestic violence is wrong. They have to see alternative role models in order to grow up with a positive idea o f the future. School-based programmes can reduce aggression and violence by helping children to develop positive attitudes and values, and a broader range of skills to avoid violent behaviour (UNICEF,2006).

Viewing domestic violence from a developmental perspective provides a context for recognising that the problems of family violence do not arise anew in adulthood but are the result of many factors that influence children’s and adolescents’ development. There are numerous potential lessons for children who grow up in families in which there is family violence. First, they may learn that it is acceptable to be abusive and that violence is an effective way to get what you want. Children may learn that violence is sometimes justified –particularly when you are angry at someone. They also learn about the traditional power imbalances between men and women (Beckett, 2007) Children who bully move through adolescence into adulthood, they will be at risk for committing other forms of abuse such as sexual harassment, family violence, child abuse. The psychological effects can be even more difficult to deal with than physical injury, partly because they are so hidden and therefore difficult to manifest.


A systems approach that focuses not only on the child but all the interlocking layers that link the child and society has offered a useful theoretical framework for understanding the effects of violence on children. This approach is also useful in informing us of the prevention and intervention strategies aimed at addressing the problem in this chapter (Osofsky, 1995). Children who are exposed to violence in the home are denied their right to a safe and stable home environment. Many are suffering silently with little support. Children who are exposed to violence in the home need trusted adults to turn to for help and comfort, and services that will help them to cope with their experiences. Far more must be done to protect these children and to prevent domestic violence from happening in the first place. Children must have places to go that are safe and supportive, whether it be with extended family or at a domestic violence shelter. Studies suggest that providing interventions to abused mothers can also have benefits to children, especially where these efforts take into account the specific needs of children. Children who are exposed to violence in the home need to know that things can change and that violence in the home can end. Children need hope for the future. Public education and awareness-raising campaigns on domestic violence should focus more on the impact on children and specific ways to address this hidden problem. Governments and other public institutions should speak out about the impact of violence in the home on children (UNICEF, 2006).

Domestic violence requires changing attitudes that permit such abuse, developing legal and policy framework to prohibit and reject it. Often, domestic violence is under-reported due to fear and feelings of shame. By its nature domestic violence is often hidden from public view, and opportunities for intervention depend largely on victims telling others about their experiences (Veneman, 2007). Domestic violence is a health, legal, economic, educational, developmental and human rights problem. Strategies should be designed to operate across a broad range of areas depending upon the context in which they are delivered (UNICEF, 2000).

In Kenya, individuals and community-level institutions can potentially play a crucial role in intervening to stop violent events. However, even when the commitment to support survivors is there, the ability of friends and relatives to do so will vary according to many factors, such as the proximity of parents and friends, and the legitimacy of offering assistance. Women who support their relatives or friends against violence may be faced with serious reprisals, including violence directed at them. Further, with the limited understanding of societal responses and the extent and nature of survivors needs, interventions are not well understood in Kenya, are sporadic and therefore often un-coordinated (Maternowska et. al 2009)

In the last few years, many positive steps have been taken to combat domestic violence. Government aid, legal reforms, shelters for battered women, women’s rights organisations, empowerment programmes for women and awareness training for police officers, medical professionals and judges, are examples of these positive steps. Compared to the status of the fight to eliminate domestic violence just ten years ago, great strides have been made. Unfortunately, due to the tremendous amount of work that still exists, those positive steps have sometimes been overlooked (Subrata, 1999).

Government Aid

An obvious result of the lack of resources in Kenya is an inability to afford the kinds of extensive services now available to domestic violence in United Kingdom. Given that shelters are expensive, NGO’s in Kenya are hard-pressed to provide shelter for victims, and focus instead on providing legal advice and psychological and social support (UNICEF, 2000). However, psychological services are rarely available, and where they are, they are beyond the means of most women. Also, high levels of unemployment make it difficult for a woman to leave her husband and support herself outside the home.  (Bowman, 2003). Ensuring adequate protection for women and children from ill-treatment and other abuses remains a challenge in Kenya. For that reason, the Government should take concrete steps to address human rights violations concerning women and children, and to protect them from all forms of violence. Furthermore, the Government should also commit to training both the police and the judiciary on women’s and children’s human rights and insist that violence against women and children is unacceptable (Annabel, 2004).

The police, in an effort to crack down on sexual and domestic violence against women and children, converted one of the city’s oldest police stations, Kilimani, into an all-female station in 2004, exclusively handling cases of sexual assault on women and girls. The idea is to have the station manned by female police officers with special training in dealing with gender based violence.

Legal reforms

Many activists in Africa have tended to focus on obtaining remedies from the state, most notably, legal reform. But African states are often without the resources to implement many of these reforms if they are passed, the capacity to reinforce its provisions may not exist-there are simply not enough police, nor are they well enough trained or paid to carry out the law. Many of these remedies described are infact very costly and may be beyond the means of a country such as Kenya that has suffered from unfavourable terms of trade, the effects of Structural Adjustments Programs imposed by the World Bank and corruption (Bowman, 2003)

All individuals who come into contact with children, including those working in day-care centres, schools, law enforcement agencies, and parenting education groups, should be well-informed about all aspects of domestic and other violence exposure and children, from its precursors to its detection and treatment, and also be versed in alternative conflict resolution strategies (Osofsky, 1995).

Working with perpetrators

Groupwork with the perpetrators of domestic violence also remains in short supply in the UK, although it is spreading-undertaken most often by the probation service or in the voluntary sector and typically based on cognitive behavioural techniques. It can certainly form one part of an active response to domestic violence, requiring abusive men to take responsibility for their own behaviour and attitudes, although completion rates are low and evaluation to date equivocal (Mullender & Burton, 2000). Men’s programmes need long-term monitoring, with feedback from partners to ensure that men are not simply using more subtle abuse tactics or claiming to have changed in order to preserve their relationships. In order to be successful, groups need to be based on clear recognition of domestic violence as an endemic crime. Anger management, for example, is not an appropriate response because men who abuse women are not out of control-they choose the time, place and victim.

Anti-discriminatory practice

Hague et al (1996) found that many forums had not begun to deal with issues of diversity concerning race, religion, sexuality and class. There were examples however, of some forums beginning to address such issues, especially in relation to race, racism and disability, and of attempts being made to integrate these into the practice of inter-agency work. The main focus of this, however, would appear to relate to women rather than there being any specific consideration of the needs of children. Such anti-discriminatory practice include: developing projects for specific groups of women and children. It is important in multi-agency work to promote anti-discriminatory practice and address equal opportunity issues. This will include a recognition of the relative power positions of the different agencies involved, and active involvement of Women’s Aid and other community based groups, including those from ethnic minorities.


After clearly demonstrating to the author the nature and context of domestic violence both in Kenya and United Kingdom, I reach a number of conclusions. This literature has attempted to expand common definitions of how children witness adult domestic violence by showing how children not only see violence but also hear it occurring, are used as part of it, and experience the its aftermath. It has brought to light that domestic violence is a global epidemic that kills, tortures, and maims-physically, psychologically, sexually and economically. It is one of the pervasive of human rights violations, denying women and children equality, security, dignity, self-worth, and their right to enjoy fundamental freedoms. The article has also attempted to convey a sense of the contributing factors of domestic violence. Primary attention has been given to reviewing the complex effects on children. The complexity involves not just problems associated with exposure to violence but also various mediating factors and coping strategies that children utilize (LOOK BACK IN THE LITERATURE)

Domestic violence is tantamount to a societal plague that victimizes thousands of women and children and, to a lesser degree, men. This paper has demonstrated the violent nature of the Kenyan society as well as the serious nature of the problem. It is here suggested that poverty reduction as well as legislation such as a Children’ Act and Domestic violence Act may be some ways of addressing the traumas experienced by Kenyan women and children. Public education and other measures of achieving attitudinal change as well as police training might be useful additional ways of addressing the problem. Much of the work to be done simply continues and expands upon what is already being done by activists and NGOs in Kenya. However, an infusion of governmental or international funds is critical in order to carry out many of the more ambitious projects, such as widespread educational campaigns, training of police officers, establishment of shelters offering multiple services ‘including therapy’ to women and their children, and dedication of resources to prosecution of crimes of violence against intimates.


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Category: Free Essays, Social Science