Domestic Violence and Child Protection: Directions for Good Practice

By Cathy Humphreys; Nicky Stanley | Go to book overview

Chapter 3
What Children Tell Us
'He Said He Was Going to Kill Our Mum'

Introduction

Audrey Mullender

It took until 1994 to begin to hear the voices of children speaking directly about domestic violence (Abrahams 1994; Higgins 1994). As in research more generally (Qvortrup 1994), children were not regarded as able to bear reliable witness to their own experience. Parents and professionals had been interviewed in the US and Canada since the 1980s about children living in situations where their mothers were being abused (notably by Jaffe, Wolfe and Wilson 1990), but it took far longer to listen to children.

The first British book on children living with domestic violence (Mullender and Morley 1994) included one chapter of children's own accounts. Later in the same year, a study by NCH Action for Children (Abrahams 1994) featured interviews with seven girls aged between 8 and 17 talking about the abuse they had witnessed and experienced, its effects, their own feelings and understandings, how they had coped and whether anyone had offered them any real help.

Several studies since then have told us more. Violence at home, for a worrying number of children, formed a backdrop to an analysis of calls to ChildLine (Epstein and Keep 1995). Children told ChildLine counsellors either that they felt helpless, anxious and confused or that they were trying to hold the family together or to end the violence. They had called because they could not talk to a frightening father or to a mother they were trying to protect or to anyone outside because the abuse was strictly a family secret. Some who had tried had not been believed, for example at school. Police intervention, where it was mentioned, had

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