By Yvonne Sam
October has silently slipped into the shadows of the almanac, carrying with it Domestic Violence Awareness Month, but also giving rise to the arrival of Family Violence Protection Month www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/health-promotion/stop-family-violence.html
Almost daily, we mourn the loss of lives (and rightfully so) to domestic and family violence — a situation that has reached epidemic proportions, and still appears to be spiraling out of control. Canada has a domestic violence crisis.
It is impossible to calculate the number of women and girls experiencing violence at the hands of an intimate partner, spouse or relative. The majority — more than 80 percent, according to one Statistics Canada (StatsCan) estimate — go unreported. www.macleans.ca/news/canada/we-are-the-dead/
Domestic abuse is different from other crimes, like robbery or stranger assault, because it’s ongoing, never a one-time event.
Currently, domestic violence affects one in four women. However, while much talk and efforts are being made to rid the country of the scourge, even to the point of male violence awareness programs etc., it is evident that there is no coherent plan, policy or program for the true victims of domestic violence — the children. Yes, I reiterate, children, for they are also victims of domestic violence. Seeing that one or both parents are dead; for the children a bleak future lies ahead.
Research has shown that although they may not be the direct targets of the violence, children experience the direct consequences. Picture a child growing up in a home, where he/she sees his mother and father constantly quarrelling/fighting, or see his/her mother being beaten up by the father.
Imagine lying awake, night after night, listening to the hostile communication, replete with foul invectives, coming from the lips of the individual, called father or mother. Imagine just being a kid, afraid, unable to properly process it all and feeling utterly helpless.
The mother is struggling to survive and is usually not as present as should be, while the father is so consumed with controlling everyone, that he is also not present. As a consequence of these circumstances, children feel physically, emotionally and psychologically abandoned.
It is the belief, held by most experts, that children, who grow up seeing their mother being abused, especially by their fathers, or significant male others, grow up with a very sick view of intimate relationships, where intimidation and violence is used by one person against the other in order to get their way.
They also learn that violence is a productive way to settle conflicts, and may even simulate the violence they witnessed, as children in their teen and adult relationships and parenting experiences.
Boys who witness their mothers’ abuse are more likely to batter their female partners as adults, than boys who are raised in non-violent homes. Could this fact be in some way attributable to the current spate of domestic violence beleaguering the nation?
For girls, adolescence may result in the belief that threats and violence are the norm in relationships. Children from violent homes have higher risks of alcohol/drug abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, and juvenile delinquency.
Plainly stated have the chickens come home to roost, due to the government and governmental agencies neglect to fully recognize the social welfare concerns of the invisible victims of domestic violence — the children at an earlier age and stage. www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/en/intimate-partner-violence-and-abuse
In 2000, Drs. Claire Sturge and Danya Glazer, two child psychiatrists, submitted a report to the advisory board on Family Law in London, England. Their conducted research findings showed that “threats to the guardian, on whom the children are dependent, possess more serious psychological consequences for children than attacks on children themselves…Violence, whether experienced by children as observer or as direct victims, causes immense long-term harm. Children may suffer post-traumatic anxieties or symptoms, including persistent memories of the violence” www.researchgate.net/publication/283360415_Contact_and_domestic_violence_-_The_experts'_court_report.
Research also conducted by Dr. Toby Goldsmith, psychiatrist of Emory University Hospital, in Florida, found that “children, who witness or are the victims of violence, may learn to believe that violence is a reasonable way to resolve conflict”. www.losangelesduiattorneyblog.com/searching-root-causes-domestic-violence/
If the issue of domestic violence is to be taken seriously, with the goal being towards total eradication, then given the enormity of the issue, a new approach must be taken immediately, as we know very little from the viewpoint of the smaller victims.
Newspapers have frequently reported that the police were called to the home of the abuser and abused-on, several occasions prior to their eventual demise. If there are children in the home, who are exposed to the ongoing abuse, then the Children Protection agencies should be notified on the first occasion and appropriate measures taken.
Educational authorities should also be signaled and an investigation conducted as to the child/children’s in-school performance, classroom behavior etc. From the point of view of the legal system, the family judges and magistrates should also be made aware of the social background of the perpetrator, particularly as it relates to the children being exposed and the duration of the exposure.
Thus far, children, who have been exposed to domestic violence, have been little regarded as victims and, to a lesser extent, as subjects in their own lives. Little have been reported, (perhaps not investigated) as to their coping strategies, to distance themselves from the episodes of abuse and violence. We also know little about their reasons for interceding or not, the way in which they understand what is going on around them, the words they use to describe it, as well as their understanding and the meaning they attribute to the violence.
Skilled personnel should be assigned to use the children as informants and listen to their individual voices, thereby forming the basis of our comprehension as to what it is like to grow up in an environment with domestic violence.
Domestic violence must stop, and in order to stem the flow, then one must go to all involved in the scenario. The invisible victims also have a tale to tell, and must not be left out, but instead listen very well. Helping the children to heal is a major step in stopping the vicious cycle of abuse.
Yvonne Sam, a retired Head Nurse and Secondary School Teacher, is Vice-president of the Guyana Cultural Association of Montreal. A regular columnist for over two decades with the Montreal Community Contact, her insightful and incursive articles on topics ranging from politics, human rights and immigration, to education and parenting have also appeared in the Huffington Post, Montreal Gazette, XPressbogg and Guyanese OnLine. She is also the recipient of the Governor General of Canada Caring Canadian Citizen Award.