Project Report

Understanding Agency and Resistance Strategies (UNARS): Children's experiences of domestic violence



Callaghan JEM & Alexander JH (2015) Understanding Agency and Resistance Strategies (UNARS): Children's experiences of domestic violence. European Commission. Northampton.

This report focuses on children’s experiences of domestic violence, in families affected by domestic violence. Our report is concerned with children’s experiences in situations where the main perpetrator and victim of violence would be legally defined as two adults in an intimate relationship (not where the child is involved in ‘dating violence’). Research and professional practice that focuses on children as damaged witnesses to domestic violence tends to describe children as passive and helpless. Our study, based on interviews with more than a hundred children across four European countries, recognises the significant suffering caused to children who experience domestic violence. However, it also tells a parallel story, about the capacity of children who experience domestic violence to cope, to maintain a sense of agency, to be resilient, and to find ways of resisting violence, and build a positive sense of who they are. Our project highlights the implications of policy and professional discourses that position children as ‘damaged’ and as ‘witnesses’, but that do not recognise children’s capacity to experience domestic violence, make sense of it, and respond to it in ways that are agentic, resilient and resistant. Describing children as ‘witnesses’, ‘exposed to domestic violence’ and ‘damaged by it’ erodes children’s capacity to represent their experiences, and to articulate the ways that they cope with and resist such experiences. By focusing on children’s capacity for conscious meaning making and agency in relation to their experiences of domestic violence, we highlight the importance of recognising its impact on children, and their right to representation as victims in the context of domestic violence.

domestic abuse; children; resilience; agency; resistance; UNARS

FundersEuropean Commission
Publication date31/12/2015
Publication date online01/07/2015
Publisher URL…omestic-abuse_en
Place of publicationNorthampton

People (1)


Professor Jane Callaghan

Professor Jane Callaghan

Director Child Wellbeing & Protection, Social Work