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Dublin: 17°C Wednesday 27 October 2021

'Daddy bit Mummy's face - I was scared': Report gives voice to kids in abusive homes

A report today highlighted the devastating impact living in an abusive environment can have on every part of a child’s life.

If I had one wish it would be that he didn’t have a key – child, nine years old.
Daddy says he wants to kill himself – is that a feeling? – child, six years old.
I’m scared Dad will come back to the house and break the glass – child, five years old.
Daddy bit Mummy’s face. I was scared. I told him to stop – child, four years old.

LIVING IN A household where domestic abuse occurs can cause lifelong damage to a child.

Children who witness abuse suffer from anxiety, they act out, they blame themselves and they can become violent.

“It is, simply, a form of child abuse”, Barnardos CEO Fergus Finlay said today, as his charity launched a new report focusing on the impact domestic abuse has on children.

Many children are referred to the charity’s services because of their behaviour. It is only after a few sessions that support workers realise that domestic abuse is the root cause.

One boy began mirroring his father’s treatment of his mother and was shouting at her.

“They’re getting mixed messages about the situation they’re living in,” project worker Karen Hughes explained. “They get the message that you need to use violence or aggression to get your own way, or that’s how you communicate.”

Children growing up witnessing violence are more likely to become violent or victims of violence themselves.

Cormac’s story

A 10-year-old boy, named in the report as ‘Cormac’, told support workers: “I don’t want to be like Dad”.

The boy’s parents are recently separated but his father still has access to the family home and visitation access with him and his older brother.

He told the charity about his last birthday when his father still lived at home. Cormac had a party in a local restaurant with his mother, brother and cousins. His father didn’t come and later when he came home, he said his mother had not told him the right time.

The boy’s mother said she must have made a mistake and his father pulled her to the ground and kicked her.

Cormac said he wished his mother had got the time right, but he also felt guilty because it was his party that had caused her to get hurt. He was very anxious about his birthday.

‘It’s Mammy’s fault’

Children like Cormac, who live in abusive homes often blame themselves or the parent who is the victim, whether that is their mother or father.

I know it’s my fault when Mammy and Daddy fight. I can be naughty sometimes – child, four years old.

One child said the violence was “Mammy’s fault”.

“She makes him angry. She says so herself,” the girl told workers.

Living in a household where domestic abuse occurs impacts on every part of the child’s life. Some miss school or have trouble concentrating, others exhibit bad behaviour or find it difficult to make friends with other children.

The teacher keeps giving out to me because I’m late. They don’t know it’s because Mam is too embarrassed to drive me to school with her bruises, so I have to walk – child, aged 10.

Source: BarnardosIreland/YouTube

A girl who suffered from terrible anxiety was wetting the bed at 13. She spoke of being afraid of going to friends’ houses for sleepovers in case it happened there. Now they have stopped inviting her.

“They’re trying to make sense of the world they’re living in but it’s very hard for them to put understand it or make sense of it,”Hughes said. Children love both their parents. This means they are often caught up in the abuse. They try to intervene to protect the parent who is the victim, they are forced to pick sides, they are used by the abusive parent to pass on nasty messages or spy.

My mum loves him, but he doesn’t love her because he makes her cry. He loves me and I love him. – child, eight years old.

‘Shameful in their cowardice’

“We have a problem and we have a problem dealing with it and facing up to it,” Fergus Finlay said today.

He said the issue is “enabled by secrecy” and as a country, we need to “get it out from behind the locked front door of homes.”

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald had a strong message for abusers, describing them as “weak” and “shameful in their cowardice”.

“They seek to derive false strength by preying on vulnerable people in their own homes.”

There are no innocent bystanders here, she told the crowd gathered at today’s launch. “When we turn away, we are complicit”.

If you think you may have witnessed or experienced domestic violence or abusive behaviour, you can access advice and support services for both women and men at whatwouldyoudo.ie.

The Women’s Aid 24-hour National Freephone Helpline is 1800 341 900.

Amen provides a confidential helpline for male victims of domestic abuse. It is open Monday to Friday, 9.00am to 5.00pm and can be reached on 046 9023718.

Read: ‘Being a domestic violence victim is nothing to be ashamed of’>

Read: ‘Her strength will live on’: Mother and sister of Clodagh Hawe start Women’s Aid fundraising page>

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