Domestic Violence

EFFECTS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ON CHILDREN

Children are individuals and they will react differently to being brought up in a home with a violent person. Some children will be affected by tension or may be distressed by witnessing arguments, abusive behaviour or assaults. They may feel angry, guilty, insecure, alone, frightened or confused (from Women’s Aid – Domestic Violence and Children pamphlet). Maurie Ryan of Women’s Aid said ‘It is frequently underestimated how much even very young children can be affected by witnessing and experiencing domestic violence, and of the long term damaging effects on children and young people.’

At the end of 2002, an amendment to the Children Act required courts to consider any harm the child might suffer as a result of witnessing the ill treatment of another person. The Children Act also states that Children are at an increased risk of physical/sexual abuse when exposed to domestic violence.

Research has shown that the emotional abuse caused by witnessing violence can be serious enough for a child to be placed on a child protection register or protected legally. Children can suffer symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in response to witnessing abusive or violent behaviour. This may obviously have long lasting consequences. There can be effects on a child’s school attendance and achievement due to lack of sleep, worry and lack of concentration. Children may feel the need to stay at home to protect the abused parent. This again will have long lasting effects.

WHY IS IT NECESSARY TO HAVE SERVICES TO PROTECT PEOPLE SUFFERING DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

Domestic violence accounts for ¼ of all recorded violent crime, one in four women experience some form of violence from their husband or partner throughout their lifetime and every week two women die as a result of such violence (from Home Sec’s Statement on Domestic Violence 18 June 2003).

In November 2002, the APPG on Domestic Violence called for more specialist services that help women and their children to deal with their experiences. On of these services is Barika Project in Tower Hamlets. It provides the essential service of helping to prevent the breakdown of relationships between women and their children that have experienced domestic violence. The APPG on Domestic Violence has strongly suggested that there needs to be more than refuge support for women and their children, as 1/3 of women murdered are already separated from their abuser and over 90% of women are stalked prior to being murdered. The APPG therefore recommended more support to advocacy and outreach services.

The London Domestic Violence Forum’s annual report of 2002 recommended that there should be support services available to children that provides them with information on the fact that the violence they have seen/experienced is wrong, both legally and morally. Furthermore, it stated that children should be provided with the necessary knowledge and skills required to build future relationships based on respect and mutual understanding with shared commitment to non-violence.

On 18th June 2003, the Home Secretary made a statement on domestic violence in which he stated that ‘It is necessary to increase understanding of the nature of domestic violence to ensure that the response of professionals is the correct one. This includes teachers, doctors, social services, and the court and police services.’

The Home Office has recently published a white paper outlining new proposals to tackle domestic violence, including possible legislation. The proposals are out to consultation at the moment. The proposals in the paper include: 1)working to prevent domestic violence through education, awareness raising and getting information to victims, 2)providing stronger legal protection for victims through extending the use and enforcement of restraining orders and 3)providing more refuge places as a result of £19m of new investment this year.

A number of European countries have enacted laws which specify that criminal assaults between partners should be an aggravating factor in sentencing. This is important because the event which prompts a woman to contact the police is not necessarily the most serious of offences committed by that partner in legal terms, it may not even be a criminal offence at all. The new law in Sweden recognises this by creating a new offence of ‘gross violation of a woman’s integrity’, thus looking at the whole offence rather than individual parts.

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE SERVICES IN TOWER HAMLETS - BARIKA PROJECT

In July 2003, I helped to launch the Barika Project, a charity that aims to prevent the breakdown of relationships between women and their children who have experienced domestic violence.

The services that Barika provide includes individual sessions, family sessions, group work, outreach work and making contact with a families network (including health visitors, teachers, community workers and legal representatives).

For more information on the Barika Project please telephone: 020 7364 6230.

Another useful number is Women's Aid: 07000 782 539