Breaking the cycle of violence. It’s everyone’s business.

Author: Samaritans CEO, Brad Webb

At a glance

  • Reducing violence against women and children is everyone’s business and we all have a role to play[1].
  • Samaritans employee, Jackie Hornery, details what it’s like on the frontline working with families experiencing violence and the impacts it has on children of all genders.
  • We are in the “16 Days of Activism”; 25 November to 10 December. This is a period to speak up and advocate for an end to gendered violence.
  • If you see something, speak up: Tips and Tricks from Our Watch.
  • Download the app that empowers you to be a voice against abuse: http://www.oiapp.org.au/

[1] Read more on what’s happening at a government level in the Fourth Action Plan, an Australian Commonwealth, State and Territory initiative to reduce violence against women and their children https://www.dss.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/08_2019/fourth_action-plan.pdf

Full blog

I’m sure you’d agree that that as a society we want children to live in an environment where they can thrive as they grow.

All children deserve to live in a safe household free from violence. In a perfect world, this would be the case.

While safety is not the norm for all children, we have a chance to act to change that. This week we head into the 16 Days of Activism; a chance to do something toward the goal of ending violence against women and their children. Reducing violence against women and children is everyone’s business and we all have a role to play.

Violence against women starts with gender inequality, gender stereotypes and sexist structures – this video from Our Watch (below) makes for great viewing to explain this concept further.

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Children of all genders face the impacts of violence against women. Jackie Hornery, Coordinator of the Brighter Futures program at Samaritans, captured this in her guest blog recently, and I encourage you to read it below. Jackie has been working with Samaritans for more than seven years to support families facing various hardships.

As a woman and – please don’t be scared – a feminist, I am profoundly appreciative that the issue of violence against women so long held silent, is now being heard, legitimised and supported.

As a society, we have become more aware of the negative and immediate impacts of gendered family violence and we are now very clear that women are disproportionately affected.

Gendered violence happens at all levels of society and also happens in “good homes”.

As a society what we sometimes miss for children of all genders as a result of exposure to gendered violence is the ongoing impacts throughout the child’s lifespan; in their relationships, their mental health and how they socialise.

It is for this reason I’m writing here to discuss gendered violence and the inter-generational impacts of domestic and family violence on the children subjected to this, regardless of gender.

Children exposed to family and domestic violence either directly or indirectly, and regardless of the gender they identify with, will often show impacts in their relationships, mental health and behavior as they grow.

These impacts can last a lifetime.

One little boy, 4 years old, was so affected by the family’s violence that he was suspended from preschool. When meeting him he presented with the facial, physical and vocal mannerisms of a man you might meet in a tough neighbourhood. This little boy was unable to sit in one mood state for more than 4 or 5 minutes; he might listen to a story for a short time and without provocation, begin to scream, swear and hurt his mother or siblings. He would appear to change physically and might jump fences or run onto the road. He could be a scary boy and was so armed with skills to survive that I at times was unnerved in his presence. These behaviours were learned, and just a method of coping.

When meeting this child a year after being removed from this environment, he looked physically different; his face and body appeared relaxed and he now looked like a little boy. He was also coping with school and was doing much better in his social relationships.

Children growing up in violence can internalise these behaviours as ‘the norm’, and I have noticed their threshold for the tolerance of violence in future relationships is much higher than those never exposed. Like the woman who described her first memory of being a toddler and watching her dad hit her mum with a bottle; a few years later she remembers seeing him trying to strangle her mother with washing from the line – this was just before a friend came for a sleep over. The friend never knew, nor did her friends family. This little girl went on to have a series of unhealthy adult relationships.

Women that grow up in violence will often enter violent relationships and leave and return to them sometimes many times before they make a final break. Often, they will begin a new relationship with another person who uses violence. My experience shows me this happens more often for women who have experienced childhood violence, than for those who haven’t.

Boys growing up in violence are equally affected. I once met a man in my work who had been in and out of incarceration from his early adult life, he was scary to look at – tattooed face, out of work, addicted to heroin. He said he hated men; his experience with his mum’s violent partners had led him, he said, to make violence part of his life, but never against women. In a way, he spent many years using violence against other men as a way of trying to protect women; what he couldn’t do for his mum as a little boy, and sadly himself.

Unless there is a holistic targeted intervention, the cycle will continue. We must support all people affected by gendered violence, the victims and those who use violence and at all stages of the cycle of violence, when it is still occurring, when children are forming  friendships, when teens are forming romantic relationships, when a woman is having her first child, when a young man is about to become a dad, in sporting teams, at work, when a young man or woman has thrown their first punch.

There is no best approach, no magic wand or silver bullet, it will take intervention at all life stages to really make a change. I believe we can do it.

Further reading/ideas on how to take individual action during the 16 Days of Activism:

If this article has raised concerns for you or for a loved one, you can call Lifeline 13 11 14, or the National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling service 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732, or Relationships Australia 1300 364 277.