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Second Hand Abuse in Children and Teens

By: Madison Duarte- Writing Intern

January 27, 2023

Second hand abuse is not a term easily defined. This form of trauma can look vastly different from person to person and is not always seen as important as people who experience abuse first hand; however, studies have shown that second hand abuse can be just as damaging and learning to heal from second hand abuse is incredibly important.

Second hand abuse is defined as abuse and trauma experienced from witnessing abuse or violence between others. Children and teens are most often the victims of second hand abuse, witnessing abuse most often between parents, as well as siblings or other family members. Children and teens living in homes where domestic violence and abuse are present experience emotional neglect and unmet needs. Oftentimes, “both parents…risk poor emotional attunement with their children and, consequently, a decreased capacity to recognize stress and danger, protective factors which might increase a child’s resiliency” (Edwards). Children experiencing second hand abuse are most often neglected emotionally and mentally, sometimes physically as well.

The effects of second hand abuse are often varying due to “age, race, sex, and stage of development” as well as the nature of the abuse itself (We Break Free). However, there are some telling signs that appear in most children and teens experiencing second hand abuse such as increased anger and fear, “insomnia, bed wetting, learning difficulties, depression, anxiety, and self-harm” (Edwards). Children, especially younger children, are prone to developing verbal, motor, and cognitive issues while teens are more likely to develop “higher rates of pro-violence attitudes, rigid stereotypical gender beliefs involving male privilege, animal abuse, bullying, assault, property destruction, and substance abuse” (Edwards). Children and teens experiencing second hand abuse are also more prone to developing post-traumatic stress disorder and are at an increased risk for premature death.

If you or someone you know is a victim of second hand abuse, there are ways to help.

  1. If you know or think you know a victim, if possible, find a time and safe place to talk to the victim. Express concern and let them know it is okay to open up and validate their feelings. Offer support and let them know that they are not alone.

  2. If you are the victim, if possible, reach out to a trusted adult. You can do this in person, on the phone, or through a note, email, or letter.

  3. If you’re a teen ages 13-19 and wanting to connect with a tribe to assist you on your healing journey feel free to join DOVES Network Virtual Peer Groups weekly at Tuesdays 4:30pm (Arizona) / 6:30pm (EST). Sign up here.

  4. Resources: If possible, call or text the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 800-422-4453 or visit their website at You can also reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline by calling at 800-799-7233, texting START to 88788, or visiting their website at

  5. If there is immediate danger, call 911. Be sure to give as much information and detail as possible.


  1. “Children / Second Hand Abuse.” We Break Free, 21 Oct. 2019,

  2. Edwards, Blake Griffin. “Secondhand Hurt: The Impact of Domestic Violence on Children.” Therapy Blog, 21 Sept. 2017,

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