Research suggests that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men experience domestic abuse during their lifetime and that annually between 1 in 8 to 1 in 10 women experience such abuse in the UK. That equates to between 3.78 and 3.02 million women per annum who are experiencing abuse. As many victims are repeatedly abused that explains why the British Crime Survey recorded 12.9 million incidents of domestic violence against women and 2.5 million against men.
Domestic abuse results in the deaths of over 100 women per year. Some of these deaths will result in the bereavement a child or children.
Domestic abuse can harm children from the earliest age, 5% of pregnant women in a research study in East London reported miscarriage as a result of domestic violence.
Similarly extreme, Home Office figures in February 2008 showed that 33 children were murdered by parents in the previous year.
Particular forms of domestic abuse against children may impact more in Black and Minority Ethnic communities and may include forced marriage, “honour” killing and female genital mutilation.
Children are harmed by direct abuse which occurs in 40 – 70% of cases where women are being abused. Abuse against children may include sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect or abduction. This abuse may include being forced to take part in verbal abuse of another victim of the domestic abuse, most commonly a mother.
Children who live with mothers who are also abused are more likely to be beaten by their mothers which in some cases is to avoid the perpetrator from exacting stricter punishment.
75% of children on the at risk register live in households where domestic abuse occurs.
The harm of domestic abuse to children cannot be underestimated. The Department of Health in 2002 reported that 750,000 children per annum witness domestic abuse.
Children are harmed by domestic abuse where they are not directly abused themselves but are witnesses to the abuse. They may be caught in the middle of an incident, hear abuse, see injuries, be forced to witness abuse whether physical or sexual or be confined to a room. In families where domestic abuse occurs, 90% of children are thought to be in the same or the next room.
Remaining in a relationship of abuse is harmful to children but leaving may also bring its own difficulties for children including losses of home, father or father figure, their room, friends, family and possessions and also a change of school.
Children are harmed in the long and short term and the response of each child who experiences or witnesses abuse may differ.
In the shorter term, harmed children may display behaviour which is anxious, fearful, antisocial, inhibited or depressed, have problems eating, sleeping or wet the bed, have nightmares or flashbacks, be easily startled, have temper tantrums, experience many minor ailments, behave younger than they are, have problems at school, show inappropriate/over sexualised behaviour, be aggressive or withdrawn, have low self worth/esteem, truant, use drugs or alcohol, self harm, develop or exaggerate an eating disorder.
These behaviours result from emotions which may include anger, guilt, insecurity, loneliness, fear, powerlessness or confusion.
Longer term harm may include repeating the same behaviour as a perpetrator or victim, although research is inconclusive about this. Further these children may grow to display/suffer aggression, depression, insomnia, abuse drugs or alcohol (self medicate), low self esteem, poor/reduced educational attainment through adolescence and into adulthood.
It should be of concern that only 40% domestic abuse is reported to the police. Many of the children harmed are therefore hidden victims along with their carers. It is difficult for children to access help or advice or support. The harm to the children may be amplified where children’s behaviour becomes challenging for their families, education or their community and they are not also recognised as victims as they may be labelled as naughty or even find themselves in the criminal justice system.
For advice and support contact www.womensaid.org