The aftermath of Family Domestic Violence

This is an interesting report done in February 2007. Yet regardless of how many studies occur, in 2015 we are still dealing with ongoing issues associated with Family Domestic Violence. One thing I related to as victims callingthemselves SURVIVORS.

Battle-scars: Long-term effects of prior domestic violence

Dr Ilsa Evans

Centre for Women’s Studies and Gender Research Monash University

Domestic violence (DV) is one of the most serious social issues facing our society and is increasingly recognised as a human rights issue, defined and protected under international law, and as a criminal issue (DVIRC, 2005).

In 2002-2003, the total number of current Australian victims was estimated at 408,100, with an annual cost to the economy of approximately 8.1 billion dollars (Access Economics, 2004: vii).

The majority of victims are women, and the majority of victims eventually leave their abusive relationship (Seddon 1989). Policies and services within Australia have been long established to support women as victims and to assist women to leave abusive relationships.

However, leaving an abusive relationship does not end the impact of DV – instead, a personal experience of DV carries into future experience a range of long-term repercussions that have a continuing impact within the lives of survivors.

This report examines these repercussions for women survivors in terms of six broad service areas: health, justice, income, child support, parenting, and social support services. It does this primarily through the analysis of a comprehensive study of 134 women survivors of violent relationships.

The overall findings are that, in each of the above areas, past experiences of DV have an ongoing impact that needs to be understood if the policies and services currently provided by governments are to be effective. Currently, existing service responses are closely linked to expectations of ‘recovery’, and do not align with the experience of most DV survivors.

In this study, women survivors identified the lack of services and supports that recognise long-term effects for women as resulting in additional and unnecessary trauma for the survivor, increasing the long-term impacts of DV overall. Health In terms of health, study participants reported enduring a range of psychological, physical and sexual abuse during the abusive relationship, and that this abuse had long-term repercussions.

Respondents not only carried tangible scars of past abuse, there was also strong evidence to suggest an ongoing susceptibility to a range of negative health outcomes, such as depression, PTSD, eating disorders, arthritis, early menopause and cancer.

As the women recorded a higher than average long-term GP-attendance rate, however, there exists the opportunity for health professionals to identify such vulnerable patients.

This identification, especially whilst the women are still within an abusive relationship, would enable health professionals to provide information, guidance, undertake appropriate health assessments, including for post-traumatic stress disorder, and provide clinically and psychosocially appropriate treatment and support.

Currently, this rarely appears to be the case. Justice Few of the study participants found their contact with the legal system either beneficial or empowering.

It is a paradox of our legal system that the adversarial conflict that characterises abusive relationships is actually replicated within the pursuit of a judicial decision in contested cases.
This clearly favours perpetrators rather than victims, by providing a context more suited to those skilled in tactics and the exercise of power. This was strongly reflected within this study where, as a result of manipulation and/or intimidation by the perpetrator, most participants had settled for less property than was their entitlement.

Nevertheless, those who accessed legal channels received more property overall than those who elected to negotiate without legal recourse. Overall, the study participants exhibited a lack of faith in dealings with the family court and justice system in terms of child residence and contact.

The majority found that, rather than neutralise the oppositional nature of the relationship, the system potentially provided the perpetrator with a legally sanctioned avenue through which to vent his aggression.

This often led to significant, and ongoing, difficulties for those women with dependent children that made a mockery of expectations of ‘recovery’, and severely compromised their attempts to rebuild, both economically and psychologically.

Income The long-term nature of these consequences was most evident within the areas of income, home-ownership and superannuation, however rather than remaining dependant on social security, most study participants used the welfare system at the time of greatest vulnerability but, over time, made deliberate moves to gain qualifications and/or obtain employment, often in areas where they could draw on their past experiences of abuse.

Child support

The receipt of child support remained a major postseparation issue for most study participants with dependant children, with the large majority receiving little or no support at all. This has an obviously detrimental effect on future financial stability (such as retirement savings or home ownership). For such women, therefore, it is actually impossible to fully ‘recover’ financially, with the costs of raising children likely to continue to impact on their financial security long after the children have become adults.

In addition, many of the women perceived the Child Support Agency (CSA) as an ineffective tool that, in effect, often made their situations more problematic.

Of major concern also is the strong likelihood that a significant number of DV survivors have made a conscious decision not to enforce child support assessments due primarily to either fear of ongoing contact or associated repercussions.

However, as the study participants reported that it is common for women to claim successful receipt in order to avert Battle-scars: Long-term effects of prior domestic violence additional or further conflict with their former partner, survivors who choose this option disappear amongst the CSA statistics as positive outcomes rather than appear as they really are – victims of ongoing abuse.

Parenting As with child support, issues of parenting were a major post-relationship issue for the majority of study participants, and for good reason. Many were in a situation where continuing contact, via child access, was acting as a conduit for the continuation of the abusive relationship itself, with ongoing manipulation and hostility hampering their efforts to rebuild.

Participants considered that elements of the negative parenting exhibited by some perpetrators were, in fact, deliberate tactics used to undermine the survivor’s own parenting and general wellbeing.

The past and ongoing damage severely complicated the survivors’ postrelationship re-building, with most finding that subsequent issues necessitated a continuous investment of time, money and emotion.

Coping with their children’s problems thus created a range of difficulties, which in turn impacted on many participants’ ability to parent effectively, creating a catch-22 with serious consequences.

As a result, the women in this study were strongly in favour of safeguards, such as supervision and compulsory parenting courses, being implemented to ensure emotional and physical safety for all concerned. Social support services

Most study participants had sought some form of postseparation counselling, with a significant minority accessing support groups to assist in the rebuilding process.

The women had found the majority of such contact to be positive and several continued to access support even though it had been a considerable time since the relationship ended. Participants felt strongly that postseparation assistance should continue to be available to provide support as issues arose in a long-term sense.

Findings also indicate that most survivors would benefit from negotiating the rebuilding experience in company with other survivors and from having the example of more experienced survivors before them as an example of what can be achieved over time.

This ‘mutually rehabilitative’ model would give survivors the opportunity to use their experiences in a positive manner that, in turn, goes some way towards validating those experiences.

Few study participants had access to support based on such a model. In a similar fashion, despite an academic and agency trend (for example, Drauker, 1992; Herman, 1992; Matsakis, 1996; Phillips & Daniluk, 2004; Simpson, 2003; Young & Maguire, 2003) away from such usage, most study participants drew empowerment from identifying as a ‘survivor’.

The women spoke of seeing this as part of a forward moving trajectory, complementing the eventual integration of their survivor identity within their overall identity as they progressed.

They considered identification as a ‘survivor’ affirmed their progress away from the abuse without being defined by it, and without fragmentation, and felt strongly that the ‘survivor’ identification recognised the long-term psychosocial and economic impacts on them and on their children. Conclusion Overall, this report demonstrates that the damaging effects of DV have a continuing long-term impact on survivors.

The evolving and expanding nature of such long-term effects led to many participants either criticising, or consciously rejecting, associated ‘recovery’ terminology. This was articulated by the following two women: I do not use the term ‘recovery’ as, for me, it implies that being abused or its consequences constitute an illness from which I can be cured.

(Anna, 55/11/17)2 I’ll never be completely healed, it’s something you live with but doesn’t dominate your life anymore. (Gypsy, 36/7/8) Findings from this study indicate strongly that these responses are much closer to the mark than any assumptions that the past abuse is something to ‘just get over’ and then ‘move on.’ DV is relatively unique amongst crimes in that the victim must come to terms not only with the crime itself, but also often with ongoing contact with the person who perpetrated the crime against them.

Many of the participants in this study had to deal with ongoing threats to their safety. Yet the vast majority of these women had reconnected with their communities, with most establishing careers, raising children, and some returning to further education and/or forming new partnerships.

The major implication of this study is that the consequences for women of DV should be recognised as both long-term as well as in terms of the severity of their immediate impact.

An abusive relationship will reverberate, in a variety of ways and degrees, for the remainder of the lives of most survivors. The challenge for public policy and services now is to formulate responses that take this into account to redress and reduce, as much as is possible, the damaging nature of these long-term effects on families, women and children, whilst supporting the rebuilding efforts of those women and children who have experienced DV.

These three numbers represent the following formula: (age of participant /number of years that the abusive relationship lasted /number of years since separation from the abusive relationshipImplications and recommendations Battle-scars: Long-term effects of prior domestic violence letter of advice (2001) should be adopted by the judicial system as the guiding rule rather than the occasional exception.

This would build on the potential of the court to restore equity and uphold justice in property divisions where a background of DV is established. The recently released Review of Family Violence Laws Report (Victorian Law Reform Commission, 20064) represents the potential for considerable reform regarding the Crimes (Family Violence) Act 1987.

The review makes recommendations on all aspects of the justice system and family violence, including comprehensive changes to the intervention order process. It is strongly urged that all these recommendations, both legislative and non-legislative, be adopted as many are interdependent and interrelated and it is imperative that a holistic approach be taken to reform current law and improve the lot of victims and survivors of DV.

In particular, it is urged that exclusion orders should be given a greater profile within the community and abused women routinely informed of their availability at the point of contact with police.

As recommended within the Review of Family Violence Laws Report (Victorian Law Reform Commission, 2006: 329), there should be a judicial presumption in favour of exclusion orders rather than the reverse. The removal of the victim and children from the home in which the abusive relationship has occurred is an inadequate and frequently inappropriate response to the safety needs of the victim and children.

The accommodation rights of the perpetrator should be subordinate to the best interests of the victim and the children. Whilst this is increasingly recognised in research and policy debate, and is available in practice, developing a comprehensive policy approach to ensure consistency of practice should be given high priority as a matter of urgency.

This would locate service responses to the safety needs of DV victims within “a broader context of social justice, prevention of women’s homelessness, protection of children and making the violent party accountable” (Edwards, cited in Australian Domestic & Family Violence Clearinghouse, 2003: 7).

Child Support Agency (CSA) and child support payments It is strongly recommended that a number of modifications be adopted regarding the way in which the Child Support Agency (CSA) currently addresses cases that involve DV. This study clearly identifies that the current practice by the CSA of the release of personal financial details of one party of a relationship to the other party, particularly exposes women who have left abusive relationships to increased vulnerability and risk.

Given that the CSA may not be informed of, nor be able to confirm, the existence of abuse in a relationship, this practice should be reviewed in recognition of the increased risk of providing perpetrators of DV with their ex-partners’ personal financial details as this empowers the abuser at the expense of the abused. Participants in this study have strongly urged that the CSA commission a study of the potential to provide exceptional provisions for the permanent waiver of child support and

As discussed in Section 4, this letter was sent as a result of the case: ‘In the Marriage of Kennon’ (1997). This review was commissioned by the Attorney-General, the Honourable Rob Hulls MP, in 2002. parental support obligations where ongoing risk of abuse can be demonstrated. Finally, the CSA should immediately address the present situation, identified by women in this study, whereby battered women feel compelled to falsely claim receipt of child support in response to intimidation from, or to avoid contact with, abusive ex-partners.

Curtailing government expenditure should not be accomplished at the expense of an at-risk woman who has been threatened by criminal behaviour. Parenting The Australian Government report The Cost of Domestic Violence to the Australian Economy (Access Economics, 2004) found that there was little data on long-term impacts of DV on children (2004: 74).

This lack of available data was also identified within this report and it is evident that further research should be conducted into the long-term effects of DV on children, and also into the extent to which these effects are exacerbated by continued contact with abusive parents.

The findings presented in this report add weight to research (Bancroft & Silverman, 2002; Levendosky, Lynch, & Graham-Bermann, 2000) suggesting that abusive behaviour in the home should, in fact, be seen as indicative of a perpetrator’s negative parenting attitudes and the limitations of his basic parenting skills.

A system of mandatory parenting education should be considered with sanctions in place for those that do not comply. With regard to perpetrators, it is also recommended that psychiatric assessments and some form of ongoing review of behaviour during contact needs to be implemented to ensure the safety of all concerned.

Further education

This report demonstrates that the majority of study participants actively sought further education postrelationship as a means of bolstering self-esteem and extending employment options. It is recommended, therefore, that research be conducted into ways in which this self-help behaviour can be more fully supported and encouraged as a means of combating the long-term effects of DV.

Religious organisations Members and leaders of religious communities have a particular capacity to contribute to and engage in government and community agency programs and approaches to address DV, and should be included in all government and community programs and approaches to this issue.

Assertions by clerics of all faiths that violence in a relationship is unacceptable, and a criminal act, would contribute to changed community attitudes. Individual clerics should recognise and understand the significant role they can play when confronted by a perpetrator, victim or survivor.

A national strategy to engage clergy should be considered, and this could include use of an Australian teaching curriculum regarding DV, which resulted in a significant increase in clergy awareness, sensitivity, resourcefulness and supportiveness (Dixon, 1995).

Battle-scars: Long-term effects of prior domestic violence Social support agencies

The availability of social support agencies, and their appreciation of the complexities of DV, can be central to the immediate and long-term well-being of DV survivors. This report demonstrates that most study participants actively sought some form of support post-relationship, but that many were critical of expectations regarding short-term ‘recovery.’

The significance of this for the current approaches to women leaving violent relationships should be assessed.

Psychological, sociological and therapeutic interventions should be refocussed to ‘incorporation’ rather than ‘recovery’ and provide an open-ended model of assistance capable of recognising the long-term nature of the impact of DV and anticipating the evolving nature of the repercussions.

Additionally, the benefit to women survivors of the experience and support of other survivors is evident in this study, and the concept of mutually rehabilitative support, with an emphasis on the survivor-perspective, should be included in support services for women who have left violent relationships.

The concept of mutual support for health care consumers from other consumers who have survived or are living with the same health condition is now well recognised.

This model of care and support should be developed for women leaving violent relationships with education and mentoring training for survivor supporters. Involvement of women survivors with other women seeking and needing support would validate survivor knowledge by listening to the voices of the women themselves as a “source of innovative theory and policy development” (Hague, Mullender, Aris, & Dear, n.d.: 2).

To assist the development and implementation of this approach to care and support of women leaving violent relationships, funding should be provided to establish a pilot self-help support program for DV survivors.

The women’s experiences in this study indicate that a self-help and support program would be effective as a community program based on the Alcoholics Anonymous guidelines5, where an open-ended, mutual rehabilitative, non-obligatory, democratic framework bases itself upon the belief that (with regards to alcohol): “the personal, subjective experience of alcoholism [is] something which one alcoholic is able to share with another. We have found that trying to help another alcoholic is good for us, whether or not the alcoholic uses what we offer” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 1972).

One of the strongest findings of this study is the affinity most study participants felt with identifying themselves as ‘survivors’, even after the abuse itself has become a less dominant issue within their lives.

This report therefore recommends that support agencies contemplating the ‘shedding’ of the survivor label should review this in light of the wishes of survivors themselves. This is not to suggest that DV survivors have an addiction, or even a predetermination towards victim-hood. Nor is it to suggest that DV perpetrators have a disease. The AA guidelines are only recommended here because much of their framework draws on the open-ended, mutually rehabilitative credo, and has had considerable success. 

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