It can be stated plainly that children are seriously affected by witnessing domestic abuse. However, seventy percent of primary aggressors also directly abuse children in the home. Primary aggressors and survivors often share a belief that the abuse does not reach the children. This is a myth stemming partly on desensitization to power and violence, and partly to the primary's aggressor strong use 'the con' to mis-characterize his actions as 'discipline' or 'education'.
Children naturally affiliate with the most powerful parent, even sometimes when they are being directly abused themselves by that parent. Primary aggressors attempt to use this fact to deny the nature of the abuse in the relationship. They will force children to be 'character witnesses.' They may enlist the children in directly punishing or shunning the survivor.
Much power behavior using children involves the bind of making the survivor responsible for the results, but undermining her authority. This includes criticizing the survivor in front of the children, changing the rules to make her look bad, blaming the survivor when the children misbehave, over-indulging the children when they are with the primary aggressor, withholding or wasting money and then blaming the survivor when the kids' needs are unmet, telling the children that the survivor is unfair to them, or changing the rules because the children complain to the primary aggressor. The resulting chaos both exhausts the survivor and sows self-doubt about her abilities.
Custody battles are also about power. It is disingenuous to insist that children are 'not involved' in a parental struggle. The only way to 'protect children' from a power struggle is not to have one. However, most survivors must participate in a power struggle to protect children from very real dangers. Often when there is a separation, the misuse of children increases because it is the only to 'get to' he survivor. Abuse in this situation includes: questioning the children about the survivor's activities, refusing to pay full child support, blaming the survivor for the separation, divorce, or the financial consequences, threatening to take children, interfering with any new relationship the survivor may have by alledging sexual abuse, or asking the children who they would rather live with.