A new report, Children’s exposure to domestic violence in Australia,  released by the Australian Institute of Criminology, says that children who see domestic violence in the home are actually being subjected to child abuse.

The report urges the Gillard Government to begin reforms to the family law system to protect children who are at risk. Growing up in a violent household is not acceptable.

 “The study finds that there is growing local and international recognition that hearing or seeing domestic violence is damaging to children and constitutes abuse. The report also looks at measures to better assist children who have grown up in violent household,” said the Minister for Home Affairs and Justice, Mr O’Connor.

“The report shows that children who are exposed to domestic violence at home can suffer many problems including acting violently themselves, as children or as they grow up.

“Domestic violence is a criminal offence, but it’s also a social problem that has long lasting effects on victims, their families and communities across Australia,” Mr O’Connor said.

Acting Senior Research Analyst at the Australian Institute of Criminology, Dr Kelly Richards says “The concept of ‘witnessing’ 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.”

Research such as that carried out by Edleson in 1999 (Children’s witnessing of adult domestic violence) and Humphreys in 2007 (Domestic violence and child protection: Challenging directions for practice. Issues paper 13)  shows that children who witness domestic violence can also be exposed to:

  • 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.

 Attorney-General Robert McClelland said the Government’s Family Law Legislation Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Bill 2011 contains key measures to create a safer and fairer family law system and prioritise the safety of children.

“The Family Violence Bill prioritises the safety of children, encourages people to bring forward evidence of family violence and child abuse, and helps families, professionals and the courts to better identify harmful behaviour through new definitions of ‘family violence’ and ‘child abuse’,” he said.

“There are clearly serious, and often long-term, negative effects of exposure to violence on a child’s physical and social development.  In recognition of this, the Family Violence Bill expands the definition of child abuse to include a child’s exposure to family violence.”

Exposing children to domestic violence can have far reaching effects including psychological, behavioural, health and socio-economic effects, as well as the link with the intergenerational transmission of violence and re-victimisation.

For more information about the affects of exposing children to domestic violence, please go to Dr Kelly Richards study Children’s exposure to domestic violence in Australia. 

Writer Helen Splarn. Editor Dr Ramesh Manocha
Source: Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC)