Gendered violence impacts women as well as men

Guest blogger: Jackie Hornery. Jackie has been working with Samaritans for around seven and a half years, supporting families experiencing 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 neighborhood. 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 behaviors 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 behaviors 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.

To make a start, you can help by attending a Reclaim The Night event in your local area – these events started as a way for women to protest feeling unsafe on the streets after dark, and in recent years the event represents a stand against gender based violence of all kinds. Here’s some information on the MaitlandLake Macquarie and Newcastle events.

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.