Domestic abuse affects many thousands of households in this country. It’s often a silent scourge, because a lot of families feel embarrassed and ashamed to talk about what is happening.
However hard couples try to shield children from abusive behaviour, most youngsters will be aware of what is going on – even if they don’t actually witness Dad hitting Mum.
There are two women I know who are being physically abused by their husbands. Both have young children and, in both cases, the children have witnessed the violence. Also in both cases, the women have chosen to do nothing about the situation because they think the children will suffer more if they leave their partners and become single parents.
I was discussing the subject of domestic abuse with a friend recently. He said he can still remember his father beating up his mother when he was just six years old. “The terror has never left me,” he said. “What I witnessed fractured my relationship with my father.”
Such behaviour can fracture all kinds of relationships in the future. Some men – and women – who witnessed one of their parents abusing the other grow up to become abusers themselves.
Thus, the argument I’ve heard put forward by some women – that young children won’t remember seeing or hearing physical violence in the home – is wrong.
Although children will react in different ways, the bald fact is that they will be affected by domestic abuse. Some will be scarred forever.
Just because a youngster doesn’t display obvious signs of distress or fear, it doesn’t mean they are not deeply upset, confused and afraid. Symptoms of emotional turmoil can range from disturbed sleeping patterns to developing an eating disorder. Many children will blame themselves for what is happening around them – and as a result suffer from low self-esteem.
If children are older, they may try to intervene in their parents’ fights – desperate to protect their mum (or dad) from being battered and bruised. This can lead to the perpetrator lashing out at them, too, and it can also cause the child a devastating amount of guilt and anguish if they are unable to stop the abuse.
Sometimes, though, the intervention of a child can finally make a wife or husband see the brutal truth of what is happening: the 15-year-old daughter of another woman I knew, whose married life was blighted by her husband’s drunken rages, stepped between them one day. Her mother described it to me as “like a light bulb going on in my head – I realised that my daughter had put herself in considerable danger in order to protect me. That was when I knew I had to leave”.
What I always say to clients who say they have been assaulted by their partners is this: The first time it happens, you might be able to do something about it or it might, just might, have been an aberration. The second time it happens, you know it’s a pattern of behaviour – and you walk away.
At Benussi & Co, we recognise that “walking away” is a lot more complicated and difficult than it sounds. That is why we guide clients towards seeking help from agencies such as Women’s Aid, and we also help them to make arrangements for the children to stay in contact with the other parent wherever possible.
Strange though it may sound, men, in particular, who are violent towards their wives, become better parents to their children once the marriage has broken up. Some come to realise for the first time how bad their behaviour was and how it affected both their wife and the children. In a different situation, they start acting differently – often for the better.
So, if you’re reading this and saying to yourself “oh, my husband only hits me occasionally, and only when I’ve asked for it, so there’s no need for me to worry about either me or the kids,” please, please book a consultation with a dedicated divorce lawyer now.