Far too often, domestic abuse remains a crime hidden behind closed doors, with little public knowledge of the true, devastating impact it has on those who experience it. Even less so when those who have experienced it are children, unable to process or voice the trauma they have faced.
These aren’t children who are oblivious to what is happening around them at home, as they grow up and develop. These are children who are fully aware of the violence and control being exerted on them, their parent and siblings. Their wellbeing, development and future prospects are stifled as a result.
In my role as Victims’ Commissioner, I have spoken to many victims of Domestic Abuse who were children of a violent relationship themselves. They fear their own children will simply be sucked into the cycle themselves.
This stays with them. Not just until the violence stops or until they reach adulthood. The catastrophic consequence of domestic violence can stay with these children for the entirety of their lives, affecting both their mental and physical health and well-being.
The same study indicates that exposure to domestic violence can increase the number of children with conduct or hyperactivity disorders by up to 100,000. It’s estimated that the long-term cost to the UK taxpayer of supporting children these children is up to £1.4 billion. This startling figure equates to £2,900 per child, and reminds us that tackling domestic abuse requires social consciousness and awareness, but also the fundamental procedures and legislation in place to support the most vulnerable people affected.
Research on the topic is scarce, however, and the issue extends far deeper than this. The study only looks at children who have been exposed to severe violence, and have developed a behavioural disorder as a result. Other forms of domestic abuse such as coercive control are absent from the report’s findings, alongside other ways this abuse and violence may damage children.
As a society, we don’t think about how domestic abuse can shorten a child’s life expectancy, or reduces their chances of getting a job.
Too often, it’s easy for us to remove ourselves from situations that don’t directly touch us. But the reality is that we are all paying the price for the silence that still surrounds the effect that domestic violence is having on children.
The draft Domestic Abuse Bill, published by the Government in January of this year, has been long awaited and is a vital piece of legislation. The draft Bill and accompanying consultation response offer a commitment to recognising the impact of domestic violence on children. This is positive, but I would like to see a commitment to children enshrined in the Bill, ideally one that attracts support from across all parties. This is essential if we are to be able to intervene early and protect children who are exposed to such trauma.
For example, given the clear impact an abusive parent can have, I believe this presumption of shared parenting should be reversed when one parent has a conviction for domestic abuse. I believe this will be a small step towards reversing the cyclical nature of domestic abuse.
Hestia’s national domestic abuse and sexual violence campaign UK SAYS NO MORE is calling for the Domestic Abuse Bill to ensure child survivors have protected status for NHS services, including children and mental health services (CAMHS).
I’ve heard harrowing accounts from some of the families Hestia supports. One little girl, who had sadly developed a problem with her speech development, was unable to gain access to a speech therapist due to the fact she did not have protected status on the NHS waiting list, and kept having to move from borough to borough, and GP to GP.
Another saw a young boy who had experienced domestic abuse develop behavioural problems as a result of Complex Trauma, leading to him being expelled from school. Domestic abuse had stripped him of his childhood, its impact lasting long after the perpetrator had left the family home.
The Domestic Abuse Bill is a golden opportunity to change this. It’s an opportunity to put children at the heart of society’s response to domestic abuse. And by breaking the cycle of Domestic Abuse, we can ensure that in the long term, it is no longer such a huge burden on our public services.
If the Domestic Abuse Bill is to truly help end domestic abuse and violence once and for all, we have to look at the impact on all victims, children included – otherwise, we’re failing a generation.
I personally will be doing my bit to ensure this is recognised as the Bill makes its way through parliament. I urge you to find your voice to say UK SAYS NO MORE.
- The National Stalking Helpline is run by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust 0808 802 0300
- Refuge runs a freephone 24-hour national domestic violence helpline 0808 2000 247 in collaboration with Women’s Aid.
- Men’s Advice Line is a national helpline for men who experience domestic abuse from partners or ex partners 0808 801 0327.