How domestic violence affects the families we serve

Oct 22 2014

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month and of the 21 new cases we’ve been appointed to by the middle of this month, 10 of those families (representing 22 children) have issues with domestic violence as one of the reasons the children have come into care. Statistics indicate that during an episode of violence children are at high risk of injury or death. Additionally, without intervention, children tend to repeat the behavior they have learned from their parents and those around them. We asked Shellie Ryan, Prevention Advocacy Manager at SafePlace, to talk with us about domestic violence and how we can best help these children and families:

Domestic violence is something that’s often underreported, and the reality is that it is very difficult to leave a relationship that is violent either physically, emotionally, sexually or psychologically.

There are a lot of reasons why a domestic violence survivor may stay in a relationship and not report it, especially when they fear their children will be removed from their home. Sometimes it has to do with wanting to keep providing a two parent home for their children. Some women may have grown up in homes without their dad and they don’t want their child to suffer the same loss. There are a lot of things that a survivor takes into consideration when they are considering leaving: the emotional connection with the individual who is harming them, religious beliefs, financial cost of leaving and still being able to provide for their family. Not to mention possible threats that the survivor has experienced from their partner about the consequences if they do leave.

When the person who is hurting you is also someone you really care about, it can be hard to set a clear boundary. It’s often more challenging to set that boundary with someone you know than with a stranger because you have that emotional investment.

Sometimes it has to do with what the parent experienced growing up. As a child their own home may not have been very different, and the violence they’re experiencing may not be seen as wrong or bad – it may be seen as normal and familiar.

A child’s safety is of primary concern and a lot of times someone will advise a survivor to leave to keep the kids safe. That advice may actually be creating a more dangerous situation with escalated violence. It’s important to know that when someone leaves a violent relationship, the level of danger increases at that moment. This is called separation assault. What we’re looking at with a perpetrator of domestic violence is someone who wants to have a sense of control over another person. When a survivor tries to equalize the relationship by making the big stand to leave, that threatens the level of control the perpetrator has which can just increase the violence.

There are of course some situations which are absolutely unsafe and a family needs to get out right away because they’re in serious danger. In other situations, though, it may be more beneficial to support the children, the survivor and even the perpetrator with services to help them heal. The reality is that most perpetrators have been a survivor of trauma themselves. This does not mean that we don’t hold people accountable for their actions, it just means that we are empathetic with their experience, knowing that they too may have experienced similar trauma in a relationship or even witnessed abuse growing up.

It’s important to create an environment that is nurturing and healing for all individuals involved. The whole family needs help and needs a safe environment created for them instead of judging the perpetrator for their actions or judging the victim for their choice to stay. I really like Dr. Phil’s phrase: “Stop judging and start helping.” If we can offer help to families in a non-judgmental way, they’ll be much more open to receiving that help.

Even if parents don’t want help or don’t want to access these services, we can still offer them to children. The services they receive as children will help them heal and process what they’ve experienced and will hopefully help discontinue the cycle of violence. We need to offer children a safe space to express what they’re feeling about what they’ve been through and witnessed.