NZ Herald

Research shows violence at home can change kids' DNA

WATCHING their parent suffer emotional, psychological, sexual or physical abuse at the hands of a loved one harms more than a child's mind.

It can also affect their DNA.

American researchers have revealed that children who live in homes rife with domestic violence have much shorter protective caps on their chromosomes than children who live violence-free lives.

"Family-level stressors, such as witnessing a family member get hurt, created an environment that affected the DNA within the cells of children," Dr Stacy Drury, director of the Tulane University Behavioural and Neurodevelopmental Genetics Laboratory, said of her 2012 study.


"The greater the number of exposures these kids had in life, the shorter their telomeres (caps at the end of each strand of DNA) were and this was after controlling for many other factors including socioeconomic status, maternal education, parental age and the child's age."

University of Queensland domestic violence expert Dr Silke Meyer said there was little doubt children who experienced domestic violence were more likely to become victims or perpetrators in adulthood.

"We know that statistically girls are more likely to grow up and experience victimisation in their adult relationships," Dr Meyer said.

"They're more likely to accept abuse as normal and boys are more likely to grow into showing violent behaviour."

Dr Annabel Taylor, director of the Queensland Centre for Domestic and Family Violence Research, said there was no escaping the "inter-generational" impact of violence.

"That is the behaviour that individuals have learned from their own family background and what they bring with them to the relationships they enter," Dr Taylor said.


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