Thirty per cent of domestic abuse begins during pregnancy, a meeting of Mid and East Antrim Policing and Community Safety Partnership (PCSP) has been told.
Speaking at a remote meeting on Wednesday evening, Fran O’Boyle, Women’s Aid ABCLN, was addressing the impact on children and young people.
Fran said that despite being upstairs, children can still overhear raised voices scaring them about what is going on in their home. For some, school becomes “predominantly their safe place”.
She went on to say children and young people can try to stop the abuse.
She spoke of two boys, aged eight and ten years, who talked about standing together in front of their mother in their belief they would be “bigger and stronger” together, and teenagers who intervene to try to protect their mother.
“Children can also be used as pawns to further abuse the mother with children and young people actively encouraged to call their mother names or be physically violent towards her,” Fran continued.
Speaking of the effects of domestic violence on children and young people, she said they can feel shame, sometimes take the blame, feel angry, tension and try to guess what is happening.
Feeling unable to talk about it, she says children and young people can become secretive and silent and talk about a sense of hopelessness, confusion and emotional turmoil and have “mixed loyalties” towards their parents.
Sometimes, they become “advanced in maturity” and show a greater sense of responsibility and experience disruption to their education, said Fran.
They can also experience a sense of shame, fearing what is happening at home will become public knowledge and behaviour at school can become challenging. They may even try to be “the perfect child”.
One young boy said he did not feel happy and did not trust anyone and another said he felt “tense and knotted inside”, she recalled.
PCSP members also heard about the Women’s Aid White Ribbon campaign which was started by male Canadian students following the massacre of 14 female engineering students. It was launched in Northern Ireland in November 2021 with the goal of ending violence against women and girls.
Women’s Aid says conversation is “needed for change and everyone has a role to play as it is no longer okay just to stay silent”.
Rhonda Lusty, of Men’s Advisory Project, reported that one in three victims of domestic violence is male. During the last two years in Northern Ireland, eight women and six men were the victims of domestic homicide.
She reported the organisation has been working with clients aged from 18 to 86-years-old. Male victims of domestic abuse, she commented, can feel “a great deal of shame”.
“We have seen an increase in younger men especially from those facing abuse from within the family.”
Signs can include: isolation; change of behaviour (distancing themselves from others); damaged property; physical abuse; jumpy, limited access to funds and constantly checking in with a partner.