A Voice for the voiceless victims of domestic violence and abuse – what Women and Children Post Domestic Violence need everyone to understandA Voice for the voiceless victims of domestic violence and abuse – what Women and Children Post Domestic Violence need everyone to understand https://thejaneevans.com/wp-content/themes/corpus/images/empty/thumbnail.jpg 150 150 Jane Evans https://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/1b06bd036211b82cdba19b095bacdad4?s=96&d=mm&r=g
For over 2 decades I have worked, sometimes knowingly, and at other times, unknowingly with women and children living with, or beyond domestic violence.
I have worked with a very few male victims so I don’t feel I can really be their voice as I don’t have the depth of experience but hopefully they will add comments below.
These are recurring themes and needs which any and every one whose work brings them in to the lives of family’s needs to know and to remember in times of stress.
It is also important for family and friends who have a key supportive role in the children and woman’s lives to understand too:
- Any presenting behaviours – how ever difficult – need to be looked beyond.
- If a parent presents as irrational when talked to about a minor incident at school – there is a great deal of ‘shaming’ that goes on for those who have lived with domestic violence so it may have triggered that response
- If a parent always avoids staff and never comes to parent’s evening – they may find crowds and the noise too much, or feel embarrassed that you know they are living in refuge, or have experienced domestic violence – they do care about how their child is doing
- If a woman breaks the rules of refuge/safe place living by drinking, becoming aggressive, or even letting a perpetrator know the address then, understandably they may need to be re-housed immediately to keep others safe. It should never be presented to them as a ‘consequence’ or a ‘lesson’, as they will be feeling terrified and deeply ashamed anyway and do know it wasn’t acceptable, but it’s the best they can do at present
- The move out should be done with great dignity and compassion. Irrational, difficult, unpredictable, seemingly ‘ungrateful’ behaviour comes from deep trauma and high anxiety and must be seen as such.
- Trauma will begin to emerge once there is a ‘sense of safety’ which refuge living, or living with a ‘safe person’ may offer:
- Loss and long buried emotions may come to the forefront
- Communal living with other deeply traumatised people may be very stressful and triggering
- Being away from the perpetrator may be more frightening, as it is less predictable and familiar, than being with them
- Caring for children’s emotional needs may be the last thing on the list as the woman is deeply in her own trauma and loss
- ‘Seeing’ the children’s emotional needs may be very hard as the focus is on practical needs – housing, an income, schooling, safety etc.
- Refuge staff/friends/other professionals may become ‘attachment’ figures for the women and children who have complex attachment needs so it can be ‘messy’ – alternatively demanding attention then withdrawing and need to be ‘found’ and persuaded to come and accept support
- Drinking, drug use, erratic outbursts, self-harm may emerge as they struggle to deal with the pain of loss and their trauma
- May shadow their mother everywhere for every moment, or take themselves away from her and ‘seem’ oblivious to the chaos around them
- Any slight change in atmosphere, environment or circumstances may elicit a dramatic reaction as they are hyper-vigilant and deeply fearful
- Being exposed to repeatedly hearing the ‘retelling’ of trauma as their mother and others share experiences and trauma, or because she has to retell her story to professionals and the children are present
- Playing and socialising with other children may be complex as they are all stressed and easily upset, there may be frequent squabbles and mini-fights and fallouts
- Children need adult presence as much as is humanly possible at a time when their mother may be deeply distracted (see above)
- Children may bed –wet, go back to soiling, eat continuously, or be drinking sugary drinks, maybe overly friendly with professionals (a survival mechanism), or withdrawn and lack any pleasure in daily life
- Bedtime and sleep will be difficult as night time is when ‘bad things’ happen
- Children need calm, emotionally available adults around them as often as is possible
3. Child Contact
One side of child contact
Women can feel the fathers/perpetrators ‘should’ see their children as it is their right, sometimes they still have contact with the perpetrator’s family, friends or directly with them.
It can be hard to persuade a woman that there is no rush for this as it is VERY common for perpetrators to demand contact as a way of continuing the abuse of the woman primarily, but also the children.
Family members and ‘friends’ may also convince the woman that the children still need to see their Dad, viewing the violence and abuse as a ‘couple’s problem’.
The other side of child contact
The court system is predicated on shared contact for the children and, whilst domestic violence is meant to be a mitigating factor against it, the court officials, and sometimes CAFCASS, still are taken in by perpetrators and adhere to the idea of not ‘if’ there will be contact, but ‘when’.
The Children Act states that the needs of the child are paramount. Yet, a lack of informed, professionals for whom all research on the impact of living with domestic violence from pre-birth onwards, for both the woman and the children, often results in children being made to see the person they fear most, or custody of them being handed over to them far more regularly than anyone would believe.
I have supported, and still support, an alarming number of women who have had their children removed because as a family post domestic violence, they have not received the right support.
Women are all too easily portrayed as ‘unstable/mentally ill/alcoholic/drug dependent/irrational’ the list is a long one. This happens because they either go for mental health and/or substance dependency support and receive medication and sometimes counselling, so are clearly ‘Ill’ and incapable, or they don’t so they are neglectful and irresponsible!!!
4. What women and children need from EVERYONE post violence and abuse
A good working knowledge of what living with daily fear, threat and ongoing trauma does to the nervous system is essential.
A good working knowledge of what complex attachment looks like in the child-parent’s ability to relate to each other is essential.
A clear understanding of how lasting trauma is in an individual’s body, behaviours and emotional capacity is essential.
Simple body-based practices to help access moments of calmness – therefore clarity and hope are ESSENTIAL!!
5. Trauma from domestic violence and abuse IS complex and messy
If we are present in the lives of children and women post domestic violence we are very privileged indeed. They are remarkable people who have survived unimaginable fear and horrors within their own home and family life, they deserve our greatest respect.
We show this by letting them have a voice. We listen, we hold emotions, we are fully present in their journey as best we can and see their trauma as part of it but not all of who they are.
Their potential will be immense but it may take time and great compassion and patience which they fully deserve every step of the way as they move forward.
To find out more about supporting those impacted by trauma, join Mike Armiger and I in Cardiff, May 13th.
For young children impacted by domestic violence, my simple story book and guide, How are you feeling today Baby Bear?
Thank you so much for sharing this you have shone a light on a very important issue that many people do not understand. It is fantastic to hear such a positive analysis. Far too often the crimminal justice and social care services criminalises women who have been domestically abused. The abuse is as much psychological as it is physical and feelings of guilt and shame surface for a very long time even after the violence has ended. Recovery is a long hard road but with people like you Jane it becomes so much easier. I wish I could have come across you sooner. Better late than never. This article has me in tears, knowing that someone else understands what ive been through and am still recoverong from and hearing your views has put so many pieces of the puzzle back together.