Almost daily we mourn the loss of lives (and rightfully so) to domestic violence—a situation that has reached epidemic proportions, and still appears to be spiraling out of control. . Currently, domestic violence in Guyana, affects one in four women, accounting for one-third of the murders in the country, making it one of the countries with the highest per capita rate for women being murdered as a result of domestic violence. 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 them 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 sees his/her mother being beaten up by the father.
Imagine lying awake night after night listening to the hostile communication, replete with foul invectives. Imagine just being a kid, afraid, unable to properly process it all and feeling 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 become 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, grow up with a very sick view of intimate relationships, wherein 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, the chickens have 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.
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”.
Research also conducted in 2004 by Dr. Toby Goldsmith, psychiatrist of Emory University Hospital, 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.”
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 Child 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 behaviour 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 has 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 cease, 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 we listen very well. Helping the children to heal is a major step in stopping the vicious cycle of abuse.
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