Intimate Partner Violence Survivors’ Reports of Their Children’s Exposure to Companion Animal Maltreatment: A Qualitative Study

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Graduate School of Social Work


Animal abuse, Children, Domestic violence, Trauma.


Children living in households where intimate partner violence (IPV) is present are at increased risk of being exposed to concomitant maltreatment of companion animals. Recent research suggests that childhood exposure to maltreatment of companion animals is associated with compromised socioemotional well-being in childhood and adulthood. To date, there is a dearth of qualitative research examining how children experience animal maltreatment in the context of IPV. The current qualitative study explored the following research question in an ethnically diverse sample of IPV survivors: How do maternal caregivers convey the ways in which their children experience animal maltreatment in IPV-affected households? Sixty-five women with at least one child (age 7-12 years) were recruited from domestic violence agencies and described their child(ren)'s experiences of animal maltreatment in the home. Template analysis was used to analyze interview data (KALPHA = .90). Three themes emerged related to children's experiences of animal maltreatment: (a) direct exposure to animal maltreatment and related threats, (b) emotional and behavioral responses to animal maltreatment exposure, and (c) animal maltreatment as coercive control of the child. Results suggest that children's exposure to animal maltreatment is multifaceted and may exacerbate children's risk of negative psychosocial outcomes in the context of co-occurring IPV. Intervention programs designed to assist children exposed to IPV should consider the extent of children's awareness of the abuse of their pets and their strong and deleterious reactions to it.

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