Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Children and domestic violence

We often hear the shocking statistics about domestic violence – that on average over two women are killed by an ex or current partner every week in the uk, and that one in four women will experience domestic violence at some point in their lives. But it is perhaps not until we have direct or indirect experience of the issue in our own lives that the true horror of those statistics really dawn on us.

When I was at primary school, my mother looked after a girl who was in the year below me. She came to our house for lunch and after school, until her mother picked her up. I got on well with this girl, A, and I think we enjoyed playing together because we were both ‘only’ children. We found we had a lot in common, not least of all that we were in what were often unhappy marriages. Not our own, of course – that of our parents.

A and I would hold regular ‘meetings’ to discuss the state of our parents’ marriages. These would take place in top-secret locations (I recall one under the dining table and one behind the garden shed). We would report on recent explosive arguments, recent scoldings we had received (verbal, physical) and whether we thought our parents would divorce - I always rather hoped mine would, though they never did! It really helped to have someone to discuss these issues with, I realise now.

Then, aged 8, I was sent to a different school, and I never saw A again.

I never knew what had happened to her, until in recent months when she has been featuring in the press for a terrible reason. It turns out that her parents never divorced either, and that in February this year her father had killed her mother in a savage attack. He has escaped being given a life sentence because of mental health problems and has instead being charged with culpable homicide.

A never told me about any physical violence that took place towards her mother in her household, but I wonder now what horrors she, as a child, was a witness to. Not much is said about the children who survive these situations, and how it affects them in later life.

So today I am thinking of children in that situation – there must be thousands, millions – and hoping that they are not irrecoverably damaged by their far from ideal upbringings. Much is made of ‘staying together for the sake of the children’. Perhaps ‘splitting up for the sake of the children’ would be more appropriate for many warring couples.

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