Child Abuse and Exposure to Domestic Violence - Definitions

Statutes that define child abuse to include allowing a child to witness domestic violence are problematic. Although it may be harmful for children to witness domestic violence, statutes without such provisions should be adequate to address crimes of domestic violence. Such provisions remove the discretion system actors need to determine risk soundly and best design responses to meet the needs of children and families. They may also unfairly penalize a domestic violence survivor for acts committed by her abuser. [1]

This chart lists state statutes that define child abuse to include allowing a child to be exposed to domestic violence. Statutes analyzed include both child welfare and criminal definitions. Statutes that merely define child abuse to include failure to protect a child from abuse directed at that child are not included, for two reasons. First, such provisions are relatively ubiquitous; and second, the focus of this chart is on exposure to domestic violence, not child abuse.

Provisions that define child abuse to include psychological abuse are also not included (e.g. Ala. Code § 26-14-1(1)). A definition of child abuse that includes psychological abuse does risk punishing a domestic violence victim for exposure. Studies indicate that witnessing domestic violence may actually cause psychological harm to a child, which could arguably lead to a failure to protect on the part of the victim. Such provisions are not included because the risk posed is relatively attenuated – it’s unclear whether courts would actually interpret the law that way – and because direct exposure to DV laws are more directly problematic.

White states have no relevant provisions in their state laws, either child welfare[2] or criminal child abuse[3].

Click here to download a complete table with each state's provisions.


  • White: No Relevant Provisions
  • Grey: Relevant Provisions

[1] See National Council of Juvenile & Family Court Judges, Effective Intervention in Domestic Violence & Child Maltreatment Cases: Guidelines for Policy and Practice 21 (1999).

[2] Ala. Code § 26-14-1, Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 300, Del. Code Ann. tit. 16, § 902, D.C. Code § 16-2301, Fla. Stat. § 39.01, Ga. Code Ann. § 19-7-5, Haw. Rev. Stat. § 350-1, Idaho Code Ann. § 16-1602, Ind. Code § 31-34-1-2, Iowa Code § 232.68, Kan. Stat. Ann. § 38-2202, Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 600.020, La. Child. Code Ann. art. 604, Me. Rev. Stat. tit. 22, § 4002, Md. Code Ann. § 5-701, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 110, § 2.00, Mich. Comp. Laws § 722.622, Minn. Stat. § 626.556 (note that Minnesota law contains other relevant provisions, listed below), Miss. Code Ann. § 43-21-105, Mo. Rev. Stat. § 210.110, Neb. Rev. Stat. § 28-710, Nev. Rev. Stat. § 432B.020, N.H. Rev. Stat. § 169-C:3, N.J. Stat. Ann. § 9:6-8.21, N.Y. Soc. Serv. Law § 371, R.I. Gen. Laws § 40-11-2, S.C. Code Ann. § 63-7-20, Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 33, § 4912 (includes exposure to meth lab, but explicitly tied to harm to child), Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 14-3-202.

[3] Ala. Code §§ 26-15-3, 26-16-2, Alaska Stat. § 11.41.434 et al., Ark. Code Ann. § 5-27-205, Cal. Penal Code § 11165.1 et seq., D.C. Code § 22-1101, Fla. Stat. § 827.03, Haw. Rev. Stat. § 709-906- DV, Haw. Rev. Stat. § 709-903.5, Idaho Code Ann. § 18-1501 et al., 720 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/12C-5 et al., Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 508.100, La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 14:80 et seq. (Lousiana law includes other relevant provisions, listed below), Me. Rev. Stat. tit. 17-A, § 254, § 207-A [DV], Md. Code Ann. § 3-602.1, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 265, §§ 13B, 13J, et al., Minn. Stat. § 609.377 (Minnesota law contains other relevant provisions, listed below), Mo. Rev. Stat. § 568.060, Mont. Code Ann. § 45-5-622 (drug labs – but no allowing language; “permits” only with respect to exposure to the drugs), Neb. Rev. Stat. § 28-707, Nev. Rev. Stat. § 200.508 (with reference to 432B.020), N.H. Rev. Stat. § 639:3, N.M. Stat. Ann. § 30-6-1, N.Y. Penal Law § 260.10 (New York law contains other relevant provisions, listed below), 18 Pa. Const. Stat. § 4304 (very general, but could be read to incorporate other statutes re: duty of care), R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 11-2-1, 11-5-14.2 (Rhode Island law contains other relevant provisions, listed below), S.C. Code Ann. §§ 63-5-70, 80, S.D. Codified Laws § 22-22-7 et al., Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 39-15-401, 402, Tex. Penal Code Ann. §§ 21.02 et al., 22.04, 22.041, Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-371.1, Wash. Rev. Code § 9A.42.010 et seq., et al., W. Va. Code § 61-8d-1 et seq., Wis. Stat. § 948.01 et seq., Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 6-2-503 (with reference to § 14-3-202).


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