Children's Exposure to Domestic Violence in Australia
Richards, Kelly, Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice
Children who live in homes characterised by violence between parents, or directed at one parent by another, have been called the âeuro?silentâeuro(TM), âeuro?forgottenâeuro(TM), âeuro?unintendedâeuro(TM), âeuro?invisibleâeuro(TM) and/or âeuro?secondaryâeuro(TM) victims of domestic violence (Edleson 1999; Kovacs & Tomison 2003; Tomison 2000). Recently, however, childrenâeuro(TM)s exposure to domestic violence, and the effects that this exposure can have, has been increasingly recognised (Humphreys 2008).
The concept of âeuro?witnessingâeuro(TM) domestic violence has, until recently, been only narrowly defined and there has increasingly been controversy about the use of this term. Although the stereotypical view of a child witnessing domestic violence is
a child watching a fight between the mother and a male adult where there is both verbal and physical abuse, and the child is emotionally traumatized by the event (Kaufman Kantor & Little 2003: 346)
The research literature (such as Edleson 1999; Humphreys 2007) demonstrates that witnessing can involve a much broader range of incidents, including the child:
* hearing the violence;
* being used as a physical weapon;
* being forced to watch or participate in assaults;
* being forced to spy on a parent;
* being informed that they are to blame for the violence because of their behaviour;
* being used as a hostage;
* defending a parent against the violence; and/or
* intervening to stop the violence.
The research literature (eg Bedi & Goddard 2007; Edleson 1999; Gewirtz & Medhanie 2008; Kaufman Kantor & Little 2003; Tomison 2000) shows that in the aftermath of a violent incident, childrenâeuro(TM)s exposure to domestic violence can involve:
* having to telephone for emergency assistance;
* seeing a parentâeuro(TM)s injuries after the violence and having to assist in âeuro?patching upâeuro(TM) a parent;
* having their own injuries and/or trauma to cope with;
* dealing with a parent who alternates between violence and a caring role;
* seeing the parents being arrested; and
* having to leave home with a parent and/or dislocation from family, friends and school.
As Humphreys (2007: 12) argues, âeuro?describing this range of violent experiences as âeurooewitnessingâeuro? fails to capture the extent to which children may become embroiled in domestic violenceâeuro(TM). In recent years, a range of terms, including âeuro?being exposed to violenceâeuro(TM), âeuro?living with violenceâeuro(TM) and âeuro?being affected by violenceâeuro(TM) have emerged to describe the experiences of children from violent homes (Powell & Murray 2008).
The extent of childrenâeuro(TM)s exposure to domestic violence
There are a number of difficulties associated with assessing the extent of childrenâeuro(TM)s exposure to domestic violence, including:
* this type of data is rarely collected by police (Gewirtz & Medhanie 2008). This may partly be because children are not usually considered âeuro?idealâeuro(TM) witnesses in court proceedings, for a variety of reasons (see Richards 2009) and because the focus has traditionally been on the primary victim of violence. Despite this, there are some signs that this is changing, in part because of an increased recognition of the impacts of childrenâeuro(TM)s exposure to domestic violence and the increased use of mandatory reporting and interventions with families where adults and/or children are exposed to domestic violence;
* domestic violence incidents themselves being under-reported, resulting in a dearth of data on childrenâeuro(TM)s involvement in such incidents (Gewirtz & Medhanie 2008);
* parents underestimating the extent of childrenâeuro(TM)s exposure to domestic violence (Edleson 1999; see also Brown & Endekov 2005);
* researchers focusing only on those cases known to professional services and therefore providing skewed assessments (Tomison 2000);
* researchers relying only on parental reports of violence (Edleson 1999); and
* under-reporting due to fear of family separation (Clements, Oxtoby & Ogle 2008; Meyer 2010). …