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The sleeper effect of intimate partner violence exposure: long-term consequences on young children's aggressive behavior


  • Conflict of interest statement: No conflict declared.



Children who have been exposed to intimate partner violence (IPV) experience a wide variety of short-term social adjustment and emotional difficulties, including externalizing behavioral problems such as aggression. While children are affected by IPV at all ages, little is known about the long-term consequences of IPV exposure at younger ages. Because early experiences provide the foundation for later development, children exposed to IPV as an infant or toddler may experience worse negative outcomes over time than children never exposed.


Using the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (NSCAW), latent growth curve modeling was conducted to examine whether early IPV exposure occurring between birth and age three (= 107), compared with no exposure (= 339), affects the development of aggressive behavior over 5 years. This modeling allowed for empirical exploration of developmental trajectories, and considered whether initial social development trajectories and change over time vary according to early IPV exposure.


Children who were exposed to more frequent early IPV did not have significantly different aggressive behavior problems initially than children who were never exposed. However, over time, the more frequently children were exposed between birth and 3 years, the more aggressive behavior problems were exhibited by age eight.


Results indicate a long-term negative behavioral effect on children who have been exposed to IPV at an early age. An initial assessment directly following exposure to IPV may not be able to identify behavior problems in young children. Because the negative effects of early IPV exposure are delayed until the child is of school age, early intervention is necessary for reducing the risk of later aggressive behavior.