Vicarious Violence: What Is It and How Can You Avoid It?

Vicarious violence is one of the types of gender violence in which children are used to harm women. Learn more about it here
Vicarious Violence: What Is It and How Can You Avoid It?
Maria Fatima Seppi Vinuales

Written and verified by the psychologist Maria Fatima Seppi Vinuales.

Last update: 23 May, 2023

There are different ways to harm and “punish” a person. Within the category of gender violence, there’s a type of abuse known as vicarious violence, which is usually done by a man – partner or ex-partner – when he can’t get what he wants.

In other words, the victimizer tries to change his partner’s behavior and looks for other “fronts” to attack her. In particular, it’s usually the woman’s children or loved ones who suffer collateral damage. Let’s take a closer look at what this is all about.

What is vicarious violence?

Vicarious violence is a form of pressure on another person by attacking his or her weak points. This abuse is not exercised in a “direct” way on the person involved, but on people around them.

This is perhaps one of the most painful forms of abuse and the lowest blow that a person can give when they want to hurt another person. It’s considered a form of gender violence, since it’s a frequent motive in those cases in which a man seeks to harm and dominate a woman.

To this end, he tends to use his sons or daughters as instruments. Although using them is the most frequent, it can also be against their parents, siblings, or a loved one.

Sometimes, there are prior signs, ranging from threats to harm to children to other similar threats. For example, this may occur when they return to the mother’s house with damaged belongings.

¿Qué es la violencia vicaria?
Vicarious violence is a form of gender-based violence. Paying attention to its signs is extremely important to avoid fatal outcomes.

Some of the characteristics that make it possible to recognize it are the following:

  • The goal is to harm the woman. For example, when the father is with his children, he has no interest in sharing quality time with them, but focuses on criticizing and insulting the mother.
  • This is based on patriarchal violence, because through his actions, he seeks to give a message to show who has the power and what happens when she does not comply or does not give him what he wants.
  • The sons and daughters are hostages or objects – they are the means through which he will cause harm to the woman. He also uses them to get information about the mother, such as where she is or what she does.

We think you may be interested in reading this, too: 6 Forms of Verbal Abuse from Your Partner that Should not be Tolerated

The consequences for children

Without a doubt, the consequences for children are serious. The extreme cases of violence culminate in homicide, but there are other intermediate and no less serious consequences.

Among them, we find the “brainwashing” about what their mother is and how she behaves, manipulation, and the situation (not always explicit) of putting them to choose between one parent and the other.

In this way, an instrumentalization of these children, who are deprived of all rights, is created, and they’re involved in a toxic conflictive context that should really be resolved between adults.

Thus, the feeling of security and protection that should give to stay with the parent, becomes torture and a permanent discomfort. As a result, the physical and psychological health of the children begins to suffer.

Lawyer Peral López invites us to make vicarious violence even more complex, conceiving it as triple violence. In this sense, it’s not only that the children are used to cause harm, but that they themselves are protagonists and subjects of the harm.

They experience it in their own flesh and are also witnesses to the mistreatment of their mother.

¿Qué es la violencia vicaria?
In vicarious violence, the children are often instrumentalized to manipulate or violate their mother.

Like this article? You may also like to read: How to Help a Woman who Has Been Abused

Vicarious violence: What to watch out for and what to do

Vicarious violence is one of the many forms of violence experienced by a woman in a hostile and aggressive relationship. The tip of the iceberg, which in this case is physical abuse and even suicide, is only one of the visible faces of this complex phenomenon.

A woman who’s a victim of gender-based violence must be supported and accompanied, in a systemic way and through multiple actors and institutions.

When her children have become the “tools” of an abusive father, multiple alarms and measures that should have guaranteed rights have failed.

So, what are the signs that should draw our attention?

For example, when a father who never took care of his children suddenly insists on claiming a visiting regime, this is something to be wary of.

Of course, here it will be argued that this is a right, but it’s very important not to lose sight of the fact that we’re talking about a unique context and a case on which he’d never before shown any interest. In this case, the risks and danger must be considered.

In this sense, a crucial “sign” that must be taken into account are the desires and intuition of the children, what they feel, in what state they leave, and in what state they return from their parent’s home. Children have rights, and to choose and allow them their opinion is extremely important.

Let’s not wait for one more case to be counted or for years to pass until some action is taken. As a society, we have a collective duty to commit ourselves to the eradication of violence in all its forms.

Change is the sum of individual wills and actions. Therefore, perhaps our grain of sand begins by not laughing at jokes that objectify women or not normalizing the partners who demand to read the messages we receive on our cell phones. The key is that we start somewhere, because it’s going to take the efforts of us all to end violence against women.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Pacheco E, Bártolo A, Pereira A, Duarte JC, Silva CF. The role of fear in the relationship between vicarious violence at work and work ability in nurses: A cross-sectional study. Nurs Health Sci. 2022 Mar;24(1):132-139. doi: 10.1111/nhs.12904. Epub 2022 Jan 3. PMID: 34783132.
  • Bárbara; LÓPEZ-ANGULO, Yaranay. Violencia vicaria en el contexto de la violencia de género: un estudio descriptivo en Iberoamérica. CienciAmérica, [S.l.], v. 11, n. 1, p. 11-42, ene. 2022. ISSN 1390-9592. Disponible en: <>. Fecha de acceso: 19 abr. 2022 doi:
  • López, M. D. C. P. (2020). Responsabilidad pública en materia de violencia de género (Especial referencia a las hijas e hijos de madres maltratadas). FEMERIS: Revista Multidisciplinar de Estudios de Género5(2), 166-182.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.