Today, 25th November, has been designated by the UN as an international day for the elimination of violence against women.
“Violence against women and girls is a human rights violation, public health pandemic and serious obstacle to sustainable development. It imposes large-scale costs on families, communities and economies. The world cannot afford to pay this price.” — Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General
In my work in the field of child abuse, I have increasingly become aware of the huge tragedy of violence against women, the awful scars it causes to the women themselves, and to their children. It is also a scar across the whole of humanity – something Elaine Storkey has explored in her powerful book, Scars Across Humanity. We must do more to stop it.
Violence against women harms their children too.
In the three years from April 2011 to March 2014, Local Safeguarding Children Boards in England carried out a total of 293 Serious Case Reviews (SCRs) (1). Each one of these concerned a child or children who had died or been seriously harmed as a result of abuse or neglect. In a review of these SCRs, we found that in 54% of cases, there was documented evidence of domestic violence in the parents’ relationship. This included 70 children who had died within a context of domestic violence in the family.
It is now abundantly clear from research that living with domestic abuse is always harmful to children. This was emphasised in a recent special issue of the journal Child Abuse Review (2). At its extreme, this may result in the death of a child, the risks for which may continue even after separation. However, far more children continue to live in households where domestic violence is a part of ‘normal’ family life. The myth that because the children are in a different room and so don’t witness any actual violence, they aren’t harmed by it, has been very clearly shown to be a myth. Children pick up on the stress their parents feel; they experience the fear and terror when their mother is being hit or shouted at; they suffer from the controlling, threatening behaviour, the isolation and intimidation that are imposed on their mothers (for the reality is that, in most of these cases, it is the mother who is the victim).
Over the past few years, there has been huge progress in how we as a society, and as child welfare professionals, recognise and respond to domestic violence, including a growing recognition of the impact on children of living with domestic violence. However, there is still much to do. In our research we identified the importance of police, health and social care professionals carefully considering the needs of children in a family whenever there is evidence of domestic violence; of recognising that domestic violence should not be seen solely in terms of violent incidents, but also within the context of ongoing coercive control and the impact of this on the parent and children; and that controlling behaviour may continue to pose risks to mothers and children, even following separation.
By recognising these risks, and taking action to protect women and children from domestic violence, perhaps we could prevent some of those 70 deaths and many more of the cases of serious harm and children and women living in fear.
The full research report, Pathways to harm, pathways to protection, is freely available for download from Research in Practice: http://seriouscasereviews.rip.org.uk
The special issue of Child Abuse Review is available via the BASPCAN website: http://www.baspcan.org.uk/child-abuse-review/
- Sidebotham P, Brandon M, Bailey S, Belderson P, Dodsworth J, Garstang J, et al. Pathways to harm, pathways to protection: a triennial analysis of serious case reviews 2011 to 2014. London: Department for Education; 2016.
- Humphreys C, Bradbury-Jones C. Domestic Abuse and Safeguarding Children: Focus, Response and Intervention. Child Abuse Review. 2015;24(4):231-4.