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Child Abuse Negl. 1998 Apr;22(4):319-30.

Potential mediators of post-traumatic stress disorder in child witnesses to domestic violence.

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Department of Psychology, University of New England, Armidale, NSW, Australia.



The aim was to examine variables that might mediate the incidence of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in child witnesses to domestic violence. These variables included age, gender, locus of control, self-blame, perception of threat, active versus palliative coping style, maternal emotional health plus aspects of the violence witnessed (intensity, frequency, age of child when first witnessing violence, and time since the last violent episode).


Following screening for other PTSD inducing experiences, a sample of 20 child witnesses to domestic violence, 15 matched control children, and their mothers were assessed using the following tools: The Straus Conflict Tactics Scale; the Child Post-Traumatic Stress Reaction Index; the Nowicki-Strickland Locus of Control Scale; the General Health Questionnaire, and a Screening Questionnaire designed to elicit qualitative information from both children and mothers including data about any other potential PTSD inducing stressor the subject child may have been exposed to.


None of the factors under examination were found to contribute significantly to the severity levels of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in relation to witness status.


The small sample size of the study necessitates that the results be interpreted with caution. Nevertheless the findings indicate that the impact of witnessing domestic violence, in terms of PTSD, is not mediated by factors such as maternal emotional well-being, age and gender of the child, or the child's style of coping with parental conflict. Evidence that variables specifically related to the violence witnessed did not mediate the impact suggests that all domestic violence may have severe and long-term impact on child witnesses.

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