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Research Reveals Disturbing Teenage Views of Domestic Violence

Originally Published 5 June 2000

New research undertaken by a team from the Universities of Warwick, (and Bristol, Durham and North London) reveals worrying attitudes to domestic violence by school age boys.

The research, funded by the ESRC, explored the understanding and attitudes of over 1,300 children aged 8 to 16 to domestic violence and revealed disturbing trends that suggest work in schools to address this issue must start at a very early age. Teenage boys in particular had worrying attitudes. Over 75% of 11-12 year old boys thought that women get hit if they make men angry, and more boys than girls, of all ages, believed that some women deserve to be hit. Boys aged 13-14 even were less clear that men should take responsibility for their violence. Boys of all ages, particularly teenagers, have less understanding than girls of who is at fault, and are more likely to excuse the perpetrator. Most children knew that domestic violence is common and considered fighting between parents to be wrong. The majority felt it was worse for men to hit women as men are stronger. Most, especially older children, considered threats to be as bad as actual violence. 75% of all children thought children living with domestic violence could do something practical, i.e. calling the police or telling someone.

The team interviewed in depth 45 children who had witnessed domestic violence first hand. These children demonstrated a far greater understanding of violence as they had seen their mothers being intimidated and abused. Most were clear that the abuser was responsible for what had happened.

Although these children clearly described a great deal of distress and disruption as a result of living with domestic violence, it would be wrong to think of them as passive victims. Their coping strategies are wide-ranging and often remarkable, ranging from trying to keep themselves and other family members safe, seeking help and offering their mothers emotional support, to directly intervening in violent incidents - even when they recognised that this could be dangerous.

Nor was everything negative in the lives of these young people. Safety and freedom from fear, as well as an increased ability to form positive relationships with their mothers, were notable gains for many after leaving the violence, however a worrying number continued to live in fear of the abuser. Despite the strengths they had shown and the understanding they had developed, the children reported that adults did not take them seriously or involve them in decisions. With the exception of refuge workers, most professionals, they said, either ignored or disbelieved them. This made it hard to confide or ask for help.

There were further complications for minority ethnic children who tended to anticipate racist reactions from white professionals. Overall, however, children made it clear that they want to be consulted and involved in decision-making about these painful matters which affect them.

"What was very clear from our research was that children want to learn more about the impact of domestic violence and to be involved in making decisions. They want to be listened to by family, friends and professionals and to have their own views and opinions taken seriously", says Professor Audrey Mullender, from the University of Warwick. "What we need to learn from this is that the perspectives and understanding of young people themselves should inform the development of appropriate policy and practice in health, welfare, education and the criminal justice systems as well as in specialist services for women and children".

For further information contact:

Professor Audrey Mullender,
Department of Social Policy & Social Work,
University of Warwick,
Tel 024 76522353 (office),
01926 858242 (home)