Domestic Violence Is a National Crisis Leaving Children Without a Voice

Not every act of domestic violence will end in injury or death, but every act of domestic violence will have a traumatic impact on the children who bear witness to it.

What you need to know
  • On average, one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner, according to the most recent analysis of homicide statistics in Australia.
  • One in three Australian women has experienced physical violence, since the age of 15.
  • One in five Australian women has experienced sexual violence.
  • One in four Australian women has experienced physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner.

Do you have fond memories of your childhood?  Mine was filled with hanging out with friends, playing football or cricket in the backyard and riding our bikes around the streets while planning a quick trip to the shops to buy some lollies. 

But what if, instead of mucking around, you had to help “patch up” your mother after a violent fight?

What if the bruises and scrapes on your knees weren’t from games, but because you got in the way?

What if sleepovers weren’t just fun, they were an escape?

What if instead of watching police arrest bad guys on TV, you watched them do it in your home?"
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Witnessing domestic violence can range from a child 'only' hearing the violence, to a child being forced to participate, or being used as a pawn in the abuse. Getty Images

In Australia, domestic violence statistics continue to reflect a national crisis and children are so often voiceless, powerless bystanders. One in six Australian women have experienced physical violence by a partner.  Domestic and family violence is the principle cause of homelessness for women and their children.  An ABS study found that of women who had experienced partner violence and had children in their care during the relationship, 59 percent reported that the violence had been witnessed by children.

Not every act of domestic violence will end in injury or death, but every act of domestic violence will have a traumatic impact on the children who bear witness to it.

These children live in an environment that is unpredictable, filled with tension and anxiety and dominated by fear. Instead of enjoying their childhood years, they’re forced to worry about the future; to predict what will trigger the next bout of violence and walk on eggshells to avoid it. They have all the stresses of an adult, but only the capabilities of a child to navigate them.

With all this going on, what time is left to just enjoy being a kid?

Research has shown that children who witness violence in the home display similar behavioural and emotional problems to physically abused children. In fact, being exposed to domestic violence has been increasingly recognised as a form of child abuse, both in Australia and around the globe.

Witnessing domestic violence can range from a child 'only' hearing the violence, to a child being forced to participate, or being used as a pawn in the abuse. We know there are psychological and behavioural impacts, health and socio-economic impacts, and the potential to form into a cyclic transmission of violence and re-victimisation. We know that children are sponges; they are vehicles of learning. They model what they see and hear.

In a recent survey conducted by community services provider BaptistCare, on average 67 percent of Australians were able to recognise a range of signs that a child may be witnessing or experiencing domestic violence. But 6 percent admitted they wouldn’t know or recognise the signs at all and 9 percent wouldn’t know what to do if they suspected a child was witnessing domestic and family violence.

Aggression, hyperactivity, depression and low self-esteem are just some of the impacts for child survivors of domestic and family violence.  If not addressed early and holistically they can become issues that change a person forever.

In my role as a journalist and broadcaster, I am well aware of the continuous reporting of abhorrent domestic abuse.  Sadly, it’s a regular ingredient in our nightly News bulletins.

Our Watch - Facts and figures

Violence against women is now recognised to be a serious and widespread problem in Australia, with enormous individual and community impacts and social costs. 

  • One in four Australian women has experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner.
  • Women are five times more likely than men to require medical attention or hospitalisation as a result of intimate partner violence, and five times more likely to report fearing for their lives.
  • Of those women who experience violence, more than half have children in their care.
  • Violence against women is not limited to the home or intimate relationships. Every year in Australia, over 300,000 women experience violence -- often sexual violence -- from someone other than a partner.
Early intervention is vital

If we want to break the heinous cycle of abuse which sees child survivors grow up to be victims and perpetrators as adults, we need programs to help children move beyond trauma. Programs that teach young survivors how to deal with feelings -- particularly anger -- and to understand and appreciate the importance of healthy relationships.

Frontline services and support groups like the ones BaptistCare provides, and so many other worthy organisations like 1800Respect; Lifeline; Kids Help Line and Relationships Australia need to be easily accessible and front-of-mind for not only those women, men, and children experiencing domestic and family violence, but also for the wider community, so that no suspicion is left unreported and no child is dealt a lifetime of trauma to navigate without support.

Greater awareness of the impacts of domestic violence on children needs to filter through all levels of the community, and be recognised and understood as long-term trauma that can carry on long into the adult years.

Children, who are so often voiceless in the family violence equation, deserve more.

Let’s give them more.

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, dial 000. If you need help and advice, call 1800Respect on 1800 737 732, or Lifeline on 13 11 14. A range of domestic and family violence resources based around the country can be found here.