The trauma of domestic violence stays with children into adulthood, highlighting the need to stop treating them as mere witnesses to abuse, a children’s charity says.
Children should be acknowledged as victims and survivors of domestic and family violence, rather than onlookers, a report by Barnardos Australia says.
Australian Human Rights Commission’s national children’s commissioner Anne Hollonds, launched the report in Sydney on Wednesday, saying it recorded the experiences of adults “who were not listened to, or heard as children”.
Their heartbreaking accounts further highlighted domestic and family violence was not a single incident.
“It’s a pattern of behaviours that goes on usually for a very long time and has devastating effects,” Ms Hollonds said.
Barnardos said of the 149 respondents surveyed, 85 per cent were women, and 83 per cent reported the abuse stemmed from a father, stepfather or other male carer, with 37 per cent reporting more than one perpetrator.
Through analysis of other public data, Barnardos estimates around 2.5 million adults experienced physical or sexual abuse before they turned 15, and about 2.1 million over that age had experienced violence from an intimate partner.
Women were more likely to have experienced abuse in both categories.
Ms Hollonds said children need to be a national priority.
Basic support systems are fragmented and failing to meet the needs of people needing help.
“Urgent cross portfolio reform is needed across health, education and social services, including housing, to ensure that these basic systems are fit for purpose.”
One victim, Tegan, found trouble getting proper support for her five children after fleeing abusive coercive control.
Public systems were full and private ones did not meet her needs.
“Some services told me ‘children are resilient, they’ll get over it’ … it’s not that simple,” she told reporters on Wednesday.
Barnardos’ Robert Urquhart said survey respondents did not know where to go for support, feared making the abuse worse, and sometimes considered the abuse “normal”.
“Adults in their every day life failed to notice the signs of abuse and intervene.
“Respondents who were brave enough to report abuse say they were not believed, discredited or punished further,” Dr Urquhart said.
Tegan says more support programs need to be tailored towards children.
When she took her daughter to a school counsellor and another outside program, “both therapies targeted building resilience”.
“What she needed was a place to express and heal from her trauma,” Tegan said.
Medicare should also provide more than 10 therapy sessions a year.
“This is not enough, the trauma that we experience cuts deep and has a way of bubbling back up.”
“Children need a long-term solution with long-term outcomes. Children need accessible therapies,” she said.
The NSW government committed funds to criminalising coercive control this year and could introduce a bill to parliament by December.
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