What is proxy violence?

Gender-based violence is one of the scourges that still rages in today’s society. So far this year, at least seven women have lost their lives at the hands of their partners, The first of them a few hours after the start of 2017.

Abuse and domestic violence take their toll on both the physically and mentally assaulted person, whether male or female. But the violence does not only affect the members of the couple.

When there are children in the middle, they suffer both from observing the abuse of their loved ones and, in many cases, direct or indirect violence against them. Some of them are even physically or psychologically assaulted with the aim of harming the other component of the relationship. What these children suffer from is called proxy violence..

What does “vicar” mean?

The concept of vicar refers to the replacement or replacement of an individual by another in the exercise of a function or in the experience of a situation. An easy-to-understand example can be seen in proxy learning, in which one learns from observing the actions of other people and their consequences.

Understanding the concept, it is understood that vicarious violence will be defined as situations in which he will carry out some type of aggression on one person or in substitution for another, which would be the real objective, Or collaterally.

Vicarious violence: what is it and why

Vicarious violence is a type of domestic violence that includes anything that is done knowingly to cause harm to another person, exercising a secondary exercise to the main one. This violence is a form of child abuse that can range from seeing and witnessing by the child of an assault by one of his relatives to another or the suffering of direct assault as a method of causing harm. .

In many cases, the son or daughter is used in an instrumental way in order to undermine the real purpose of the violence., The couple. The aggressor takes advantage of the fragility of minors by violating and altering their physical or psychological integrity in order to psychologically harm their partner, arousing in them suffering, pain and guilt by not being able to defend the most loved ones by the victim.

Vicarious violence or the threat thereof is also used as a mechanism of coercion and control towards the adult victim: faced with the knowledge of what the aggressor is capable of, the spouse or the minor is forced to give in to the claims and the desires of the other and also faced with the fear that minors will be attacked, the adult victim has fewer options to report, ask for help or do something that puts them in danger.

This type of domestic violence can occur in multiple ways, both in terms of psychological violence, deprivation of basic needs, physical violence and even sexual violence. In some cases, this type of violence can lead to the death of the child.Whether in the form of homicide or premeditated murder.

Profile of the abuser

While the trigger for the assault can be very different depending on the case, in many cases, behind proxy violence is a deep sense of inferiority and a lack of self-esteem, Which generate in the aggressor a frustration which is dissipated aggressively by violence on others. As with other forms of domestic violence, these are usually males between the ages of 20 and 50, although there are also cases in which the perpetrator is female.

For the most part, the abuser tends to seek domination and the exercise of power through the submission of both his partner and the children, feeling himself an authoritarian figure and enjoying obedience and control. situation with which we try to compensate for their insecurities. Sometimes violent behavior can be aggravated or triggered during intoxication states or alterations in consciousness.

Effects on the child

The suffering of this type of violence will generate a series of physical and psychological effects on the child. which will deeply mark the vast majority of vital areas, causing a series of serious damage to its development.

First, one of the most immediate effects can be seen when the abuse occurs on a physical level. The aggression that the child may suffer can lead to serious injuries that may require hospitalization and even lead to disability (depending on the injured areas) or even death.

Psychologically, self-esteem and self-concept can be severely damaged. Typically, there is a deterioration in the ability to pay attention and concentration, a decline in academic performance, and a high level of demotivation. Post-traumatic stress disorder is common, reminiscent of aggression, avoidance of situations reminiscent of abuse, and a high level of physiological activation. It is not uncommon for anxiety or mood disorders such as depression to also appear. Fear and anhedonia are common symptoms that can even alert the social environment that the child is suffering from some form of abuse. Suicide attempts at some point in the life cycle, including childhood, are not uncommon.

On an emotional level it greatly hinders the acquisition of social skills, the emergence of empathy and self-control issues. In this way, the appearance in the future of various psychotic disorders or of antisocial, aggressive and psychopathic behaviors is also favored.

Socially, these minors tend to develop attitudes of great mistrust in their interpersonal relationships, which results in more complex emotional ties with third parties. All this results from the violation and the abuses to which they were subjected, made worse in particular by the fact that the aggressor is an important and close figure. The fact that there is an emotional connection makes it more difficult for them to report or take other types of action. It is also possible that the abuse visualized or experienced is dissociated from the rest of the experience, maintaining a relatively normal social life outside the home as a compensatory mechanism. It is not uncommon for overprotective attitudes to develop with the most important people in order to prevent them from suffering the same sufferings as them.

Finally, the vicarious violence to which they have been subjected can lead the minors concerned to acquire the patterns of behavior that they have observed, generating a vicarious learning of the situation in which, in the long term, they can reproduce the behavior. abuse by being accustomed to seeing violence in the family and partner as normal behavior.


The treatment of this phenomenon must be approached from a multidisciplinary perspective, in which social, health, educational, administrative and judicial services work together. To this end, various action protocols have been drawn up in the event of child abuse within the family.

Current legislation must ensure that children who suffer or who witness abuse have the right to care services. that they respond to the needs arising from the situation of violence, being in both cases victims of domestic violence and needing the prevention of new situations that could lead to physical or psychological damage. In this aspect, the detection and reporting of cases of ill-treatment is fundamental, which is why different observation protocols have been put in place in institutions such as hospitals and schools.

On the psychological level, it is necessary to work from a psychological point of view with victims of assault, both with affected minors and adults, whether they have been witnesses or also victims of assault. The need to explain the situation will produce a deep frustration that they must be able to express, being necessary to work more with the cognitions and emotions caused by the abuse.

Collaborate in dealing with the situation suffered, encourage and promote a realistic self-concept, avoid behavioral avoidance and eliminate typical self-blame a large number of victims are common therapeutic targets, that they validate the feelings of individuals and accept them unconditionally.

With regard to the abuser, in addition to the legal consequences of his acts and the preventive measures imposed (such as the prohibition order), various rehabilitation therapies have been created which aim to modify his abusive behavior and improve the management of the abuser. frustration, through behavior modification techniques and other cognitive and emotional techniques.

Bibliographical references:

  • God of Man, MI (2016). Sons and daughters victims of gender-based violence in the city of Ceuta. Granada: University of Granada. [http://hdl.handle.net/10481/43005]
  • Holt, S .; Buckley, H. and Whelan, S. (2008). The impact of exposure to domestic violence on children and young people. A review of the literature. Child Abuse and Neglect, 32, 798-810.
  • Save The Children (2006). Support for children victims of gender-based violence. Analysis of the care of the sons and daughters of women victims of gender violence in the women’s protection system. Madrid: Save the Children Spain.
  • Sepúlveda, A. (2006). Gender-based violence as a cause of child abuse. Quaderns de Medicina Forense, 12, (43-44), 149-164.
  • Vaccaro, S. (2015). Proxy violence: Sons and daughters who are victims of violence against their mothers.

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