Research Nugget

SA Adolescents Exposed to High Levels of Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is a serious social problem in South Africa. Research suggests that the proximity of exposure to violence contributes to subsequent increases in violent behaviour. Thus, considering exposure to all violence that happens in proximity of children and adolescents, especially within the context of their homes, is important.  

Research by Professor Shahana Rasool from the University of Johannesburg investigated children’s exposure to adult intimate partner violence (IPV) and family violence (FV), together referred to as domestic violence, in their homes.  The cross-sectional survey was conducted with adolescents in their first year of high school in Johannesburg. The study, partly funded by the NRF, found that:

  • High levels of exposure to domestic violence, which is comprised of intimate partner violence and family violence, were reported by adolescents. Adolescents reported witnessing, on average, more than two incidents of domestic violence.
  • Almost two thirds of adolescents reported having witnessed emotional domestic violence either among family members or intimate partners, respectively.
  • Many adolescents also witnessed physical domestical violence in their families. Approximately twenty percent of the adolescents reported witnessing family members being physically violent toward each other as compared to adult intimate partner physical violence.
  • Approximately 29% of adolescents reported witnessing sexual violence among intimate partners, with higher numbers (38%) reporting witnessing sexual violence among adults.
  • There are gender differences in the types of violence adolescents are exposed to. Girls were more likely than boys to report witnessing physical and emotional domestic violence and boys were more likely than girls to report having witnessed sexual domestic violence.

The study highlights that the gender differences in the type of violence adolescents are exposed to could be attributed to the likelihood that boys normalise some types of emotional and physical domestic violence and that girls do not recognise some acts as sexual violence because of the high levels to which these behaviours are considered normal when perpetrated against that gender. According to the researcher, this suggests that there is a need to increase knowledge on what constitutes physical, emotional, and sexual violence, and to challenge cultural norms that normalise abusive behaviour, to improve pathways to seeking help and ending domestic violence. 

To address the impact of the high levels of violence that adolescents are exposed to, the study recommends efforts need to be made to prevent domestic violence to increase the safety of children in the home and to assist those with the trauma associated from witnessing violence.  In addition, intervention, and prevention programmes in various spheres, especially schools, are crucial to prevent the inter-generational cycle of violence.

Access the full paper published in the journal Gender Issues here.