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How it feels to be a child dealing with family violence

Source: Stone RF

There have been calls to include children more in the narrative around family and domestic violence. For this man, he only wishes someone had asked him about the horrors of what he was dealing with when he was as a child.

Slightly less than 50 years ago a beautiful woman died as a result of domestic violence. That woman was my mother and I was just 14 years of age.

When domestic violence ends in death I can assure you that it didn’t come ‘out of the blue’. My family and I suffered years of physical and mental abuse at the hands of someone (I will not, and cannot give them the honorific title of father or parent) who was supposed to be there to nurture and protect us.

My mum - who was, and still is, my hero - tried her best to protect us. Of course, that meant it was she who took most of the blows and the kicks. In the end, her body and mind could no longer keep going.

I watched on in horror as her final night on earth was spent being brutally and repeatedly assaulted. She died the next day on her 47th birthday.

The trauma never leaves you

Speaking only for myself, experiencing family violence as a child is horrific. When I think back to that time I think of the fear.

Fear is the overriding emotion. Every day you walk on eggshells waiting for the explosion you know will come. You try your best to ‘behave’. You try not to be the ‘trigger’ that sets off the violence.

When the explosion comes, what follows is paralysis. Your limbs cease to respond to your commands. You know you should run but you cannot move and are too small to fight. The brain ceases to function and you become ‘someone else’. The pain must be being inflicted on some other child because no one who cared for you would do these things.

It is this other child who is the naughty one, the one who is stupid and useless. After all, you have been told this is the case over and over again until you finally come to believe that is who you really are. And that belief lives with you your whole life unless you are lucky enough to find your own way, with help, out of this psychological nightmare.

But your body never forgets. Even as an adult, when confronted with similar circumstances, one’s heart rate accelerates, the sweating begins and the body readies its muscles for flight or fight even before one is consciously aware that it is happening. This is called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

No acknowledgment

Associate Professor, Silke Meyer, has researched what happens to the children of domestic violence situations. She writes about them being the forgotten victims.

I felt forgotten at the time of the abuse, and still do to this day.

My family and I were failed at every level. The abuse happened in the 1970s, a time when everyone turned a blind eye – from friends, to police, to the courts.

As a child I remember that when the abuse got so bad that even the neighbours couldn’t stand the screams and begging any longer, the police would be called. They would take this perpetrator aside and simply tell him to calm down and go sleep it off. That was it!

After my mother died and we were taken out of the care of this man, for reasons other than the family violence, I remember being shuffled into courtrooms and feeling like I was a non-entity. No one really wanted to hear about what I went through, it seemed they couldn’t wait to get us out the door as quickly as possible.

Since those days I’ve never once received an apology from anyone who was in a position of power. The government has never acknowledged the wrongs that were done.

We had the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse, and so we should have, but there would be hundreds of thousands of children who were failed by the very institutions that were supposed to protect them.

Where is our apology or acknowledgment from the government about their failures?

What needs to change

While there have been many changes since the 1970s, women and children are still dying or are left psychologically and physically shattered by domestic violence. I often find myself wondering how far we’ve really gotten.

I hear our Prime Minister talk about wanting to keep Australians safe but their funding makes me think otherwise. While women and children are being turned away from refuges that are full, the government is spending billions of dollars on submarines.

At least some small part of that money should go to women's refuges which are in huge demand but lacking in supply. Without them there are often no other places women and children can run to when they need to flee.

We also need an increase in funding for mental health services for troubled youngsters. These children often act out and display anti-social behaviour. They get kicked out of school, they wind up in and out of juvenile detention and then jail, and they often turn to drugs. Their upbringing is rarely looked at in depth so the family violence many of these children witness or experience is overlooked and they’re not given the support they need. They fall through the cracks of our system and become forgotten.

I know this because I work with some of these kids. Kids who are deemed too difficult to deal with, so society turns away from them. We need to offer these children better mental health support and we need to better understand their trauma.

So the next time you want to condemn someone ask yourself, “what is their back story, their lived experience” before you condemn them because I too was that child.

For support call the national domestic violence crisis line on 1800 737 732.

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