“My ‘relationship’ with my Dad? I don’t have one….I feel like I am a pebble at the bottom of a stream and my Dad is this angry stream bashing me against all the other pebbles.”
Domestic violence is a key marker for child abuse and neglect. Stephanie talked about the combination of fathers’ emotional absence on the one hand, and physically abusive presence on the other. She particularly focused on the context of ‘coercive control’, which limits someone’s freedom of movement and expression.
Being different, feeling powerless, and being scared were core themes for the children:
“I felt that I had a neon sign that told everyone what was going on in my family… I felt I wasn’t on the same wavelength as people…I thought that they were all happy families or whatever and I was kind of like the outcast”
“He shouts and curses and calls my Mum really, really mean names. I would say ‘stop Dad’, but he doesn’t listen.”
Stephanie showed that even very young children were able to convey experiences with domestic violence.
The children also talked about the pervasiveness of domestic violence. It was with them from early morning til late evening, even when there were no ‘incidents’:
“….you[re] just getting over what happened before and then it hits you again and you feel…you’re like spinning the whole time. If it’s not happening, you’re waiting for it to happen. When it’s happening it’s almost a relief because, here it is, what I’m waiting for. And then when it’s not happening you’re waiting for it again. “
Can abusive partners be good enough fathers? Stephanie talked about the prevailing assumption that maintaining contact with the father is beneficial for children, and challenged it.
Abusive partners are less likely to be involved parents, more controlling and authoritarian, less likely to allow freedom of expression (she talked about the lack of artwork of children in the home as a marker), and showing more difficulty empathising with their child.
Stephanie’s stories made me wonder what ‘child-centered’ decision making about contact with a violent parent really is. When have we taken enough care to understand a child’s stance and how do we decide what’s really good for them, rather than the expected or the easiest?
Afterwards, Katie Lamb showed impressive digital stories by young people living with domestic violence in Australia. These are absolutely worth watching and sharing; they make excellent education material:
On a different but related note: next Thursday, our first international research article on the circumstances of children bereaved by domestic homicide will be published. Hopefully it will spur reflection in countries other than the Netherlands where we conducted the study.
And finally, I’m starting an experiment to rally support for the Trauma Recovery Lab. I’m curious what your thoughts are; might this work? Would you have any suggestions?
- Buckley, H., Holt, S., Whelan, S., Listen to Me! Children’s Experiences of Domestic Violence, Child Abuse Review, 16, 2007, p296 – 310.
- Holt, S., Buckley, H., Whelan, S., The impact of exposure to domestic violence on children and young people: A review of the literature, Child Abuse & Neglect, 32, 2008, p797 – 810.
- Holt, S., Domestic Abuse & Child Contact: Positioning Children in the Decision-Making Process, Child Care in Practice, 17, (4), 2011.