Background & Context
Historical Perceptions of Children
Children are not a homogenous group, they experience and respond to violence differently and in a multitude of ways, including, but not limited to or by; age, gender, stage of development, severity or type of violence, frequency of violence etc. (Bagshaw and Chung, 2001; Humphreys, 2007). Children’s experiences of violence in the home are often framed in a very negative light. The impacts of domestic and family violence can be extremely detrimental to children. However there has been a shift, from viewing children as passive victims of violence, towards recognising how children utilise coping strategies and respond to violence (Heugten & Wilson, 2008; Humphreys, 2001a; Humphreys 2001b). It is vital to consider the broad contextual factors when responding to violence in order to avoid reactive responses that may compound the impacts of violence and not consider the uniqueness of children’s responses (Edleson, 2004). The recognition that children are not passive victims is vital in challenging the deficit discourses surrounding children experiencing DFV and recognising them as unique and valued (Buckley, Holt & Whelan, 2007) instead of forcing them yet again to occupy the position of the invisible victim (Eriksson, 2009).
Contemporary Perceptions of Children
The rise of the ‘new’ sociology of childhood (Eriksson, 2009; Holloway & Valentine, 2000) has provided opportunity to recognise children as social agents, constructing their own realities, and expressing opinions (Kelly & Mullender, 2000). This perspective has enabled a paradigm shift to concepts such as resistance (the capacity to actively respond to adversity), protective factors and coping mechanisms (Heugten & Wilson, 2008; Humphreys, 2007; Margolin & Gordis, 2004). This focus on resistance and recognition of autonomy is working towards a more comprehensive review of children’s experiences of violence, and research involving children in their own right (Buckley et al., 2007). It is this contemporary understanding of children and young people’s strengths in resisting violence that have helped to formulate these guidelines and drive the message that children and young people are in fact clients in their own right while living in Refuge.
Violence has been defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) (2002, p5) as:
“The intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment or deprivation.”
It is important to note that in this definition of violence it is viewed as an intentional act which involves planning and premeditation to harm. This definition is at odds with perpetrator responses to their own violence as “blind rage” and as having spontaneous outbursts of violence towards others. Violence is calculated and in the case of domestic & family violence, is often patterned.
The often patterned nature of domestic and family violence has historically been defined by a well know theory: The Cycle Theory of Violence (CTV) (Walker, 1979) (see Fig). The CTV describes how perpetrators create a ‘tension building phase’, explode with aggression, then try to show forgiveness, drawing the victim back in, during the ‘honeymoon phase’. The perpetrator then goes on to create more tension and cyclical process continues.
Figure. The theory of violence that explains the ongoing cyclic nature of violence between a perpetrator and their victim, but is void of social context.
The CTV, which is commonly referred to as simply the cycle of violence (as if it is fact) has been criticised for its inaccurate depiction of the characteristics of the perpetrator and the victim, and the way it is used as a metaphor to describe a process of violence, as it is seemingly natural and normal (Coates & Wade, 2014). In the CTV, the term “cycle” elicits connotations that violence occurs in accordance with natural rhythms, hormones, and sex/orgasm and is unchanging, inevitable, right, and good. In this theory, the cycle becomes the perpetrator and yet again, the focus is on the victim (Coates & Wade, 2014).
In one example, Ciraco (2001, p179) describes the CTV:
“During the first stage, the batterer engages in minor verbal abuse. At this time, the woman tries to calm the abuser and often changes her lifestyle to avoid angering the man. This usually sets a precedent of submissiveness by the woman building the gateway to future abuse. The second stage consists of an “uncontrollable discharge of tensions that have been built up during phase one”. . . . During the third stage, the abuser acts remorseful and apologetic, usually promising to change. As a result, many women grant abusers multiple opportunities to repent and thereby fall into a cycle of abuse.”
This explanation of the CTV is representative of the ways in which Western Australian society predominately views the victim and the perpetrator, as often displayed in the media and court rulings. The perpetrator commits an “uncontrollable discharge of tensions” while the victim “sets a precedent of submissiveness” and gives their abusers “multiple opportunities to repent”. Here, it seems as though the discourse is communicating that victims learn to become helpless and passive in the face of violence, when in fact they are always resisting abuse, even in the most subtle ways.
Ciraco’s (2001) descriptions of events, mirrored by other contemporary attitudes of violence, are not accurate; they abdicate any responsibility for the perpetrator’s deliberate use of violence and seek to disenfranchise victims furthermore by insinuating that abuse was deserved or ‘granted’. While perpetrators use of violence is often patterned, the violence should not be conceptualised as a natural process or cycle that women will inevitably “fall into”. The CTV also is void of any mention of the perpetrator negotiating the use of violence and the positive social response received by the victim (Wade, 2014). The CTV This has serious implications for the way females and males perceive themselves; females are construed as helpless victims and males as animals that cannot control their anger.
The WHO’s (2002) definition of violence states there is an “intentional use of physical force or power”. This understanding of violence is paramount and has implications for the way Western Australian society will respond to instances of violence, from practitioners who work with children and young people that have experienced violence to magistrates and legislatures. When considering the intentional nature of violence, it is also very important to understand that violence is always unilateral. That is, there is always an abuser and there is always a victim. For example; to say that couples are in an “abusive relationship” implies that they are mutually violent towards each other and that there is no one individual to blame for the abuse – this is incorrect (as outlined by the WHO’s definition). It is more accurate to state that “she was in a relationship where her partner abused her and her children”.
 This is an example how cases of interpersonal violence are misconstrued by mutualising language such as; “abusive relationship”. It is essential to avoid mutualising language in case notes and other documents describing the victim and their circumstance (Coates & Wade, 2007).
Aboriginal Family Violence
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers have been critical of feminist theories of violence, as they do not consider the position of the non-white, non-Western female (Chung, 2014). Aboriginal scholar Kylie Cripps (2008) argues that there is no single causative factor for family violence, but there are numerous factors explaining the higher levels of family violence in Indigenous families. Cripps (2008, as cited in Chung, 2014) suggests two categories containing factors contributing to family violence for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples:
Group 1 Factors:
These factors have been commonly experienced by Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander people and thier communities:
policies and practices
dispossession and cultural dislocation
dislocation of families through removal
Group 2 Factors:
These factors are seen as contributing to high levels of distress and can occur separately or in multiples in any population, impacting on one's experience of violence:
marginalisation as a minority
direct and indirect racism
past history of abuse
destructive coping behaviours
health and mental health issues
low self-esteem and a sense of powerlessness
Violence & Language
Children and young people are not affected by violence, they actively respond to and resist violence. This distinction must be drawn when working with young victims of abuse to highlight their strengths in the face of adversity and avoid labelling them with psychopathological illnesses i.e. depression, anxiety etc.
When children and young people are thought to be “affected” by abuse, this implies:
lack of control
no power to change the circumstance
Other terminology that implies these points includes; subjected to violence, exposed to violence, impacted by violence etc.
When children and young people respond by resisting violence, this implies:
frames the child and/or young person as resisting the oppression
Children and young people’s responses to abuse involve a dynamic series of social and psychological mechanisms which exist within a context of resisting abuse. While some children and young people do experience abuse, they also have an innate drive to preserve their personal dignity by responding to the abuse in a number of different ways;
avoiding eye contact;
orientating their bodies away from the abuser;
kicking and hitting;
‘sacrificing themselves’ to protect their younger sibling or mother; and/or
thinking of something else while experiencing violence.
As previously noted, language is more often than not used to minimise and misrepresent violence and its impacts (Coates & Wade, 2007). Mutualising language acts to obscure and mitigate the perpetrator’s responsibility for the abuse, it is associated with reduced jail sentences, implies the victim’s consent to abuse, depicts the victim as co-agent and co-responsible for the abuse, conceals the victim’s resistance, blames and pathologises the victim and influences descriptions in diverse settings (e.g. Courts) (Coates, Richardson & Wade, 2010). When practitioners working with children and young people (or anyone else who has experienced oppression) are writing case notes and documenting the victim’s experiences, mutualising language must not be used. What should be used instead is non-mutualising language that describes the abuse against the victim. Alongside the non-mutualised account of violence against the victim, there should also be ways in which the victim has responded to each of instances of abuse against them.
Some examples of mutualising compared to non-mutualising terms are listed (see Table). These non-mutualising terms should appear in the notes of crisis accommodation staff who are working with clients, especially children and young people, who have experienced violence to more clearly and accurately document their experiences.
Table. Mutualising vs. Non-Mutualising language (Coates, Richardson & Wade, 2010)
Legal & Political Context
Legislation and policy plays a significant role in our understanding and framing of violence, and can work to challenge the position of the invisible victim (Murray & Powell, 2009; Tomison, 2000; Webster, 2007). Policy responses have been influenced by competing discourses surrounding domestic and family violence, the impacts, causes and solutions (Murray & Powell, 2009). Children experiencing violence potentially sit at the intersection of domestic and family violence responses (i.e. Refuge services, counselling), child protection responses and family law responses (Powell & Murray, 2008). These responses are based on differing assumptions and definitions of violence, leading to confusion, and competing discourses underlying various policies surrounding children experiencing violence (Taylor, Cheers, Weetra & Gentle, 2004; Murray & Powell, 2009; Murray & Powell, 2007).
Domestic and family violence is considered to be a human rights violation. However, in Australia there is no Commonwealth legislation to protect basic human rights. Australia has no Bill of Rights in a single document. Instead they are expressed in the Constitution, common law or through Acts. In the Constitution, the law in which the Commonwealth operates, there are five explicit individual rights, none of which concern the protection of children and young people.
In Australia, each state and territory is responsible for their own laws surrounding domestic violence and child protection, family law however falls under federal jurisdiction, this can exacerbate competing discourses and conflict between responses (Powell & Murray, 2008). Further to this, the legislative context of domestic and family violence under the Howard government shifted from a broad women’s rights issue, to a narrow individualistic notion of family dysfunction (Philips, 2006; Webster, 2007). This shift de-gendered the issue, and undermined the progress that had been made in developing understandings of domestic and family violence throughout the 1990’s (Webster, 2007). While many states and territories retain policy that situates domestic and family violence within a gendered framework (Murray & Powell, 2009), the competing discourses of gendered and de-gendered understandings of violence remains a site of conflict and can potentially impact on responses and services for children and young people experiencing domestic and family violence.
Child protection laws are state based in Australia, whereas family law is federal. The family law court has no jurisdiction over child protection (Powell & Murray, 2008). This results in the possible involvement of children in multiple court and legal settings, such as family courts dealing with divorce separation and access, criminal proceedings and child protection action (Powell & Murray, 2008) which can be at the very least, uncomfortable for a child.
Further to the legislative issues, are funding issues surrounding children experiencing domestic and family violence (Powell & Murray, 2008). Of particular concern is the fact that children were only recognised as clients in their own right when presenting to Supported Accommodation Assistance Programs (SAAP). Despite this much anticipated and needed recognition no additional funding to specifically support children in these services has been secured, despite the widespread recognition of the impacts of violence and the clear opportunities for positive intervention accessing these services provides (Humphreys, 2007).
On the 7th June 2012 there were amendments made to the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) in relation to family violence. The definitions of the terms "abuse" and "family violence" were changed. This has had implications for what the Family Court takes into account when determining the best interests of children.
On 5th October 2013 parallel changes were made to the Family Court Act 1997 (WA) following the amendment of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) to ensure that the definitions of the terms "abuse" and "family violence" were included as considerations when determining best interests for children for West Australian children born from de facto relationships, same sex relationships or from people who had a short relationship or were never married (Legal Aid Western Australia, 2013). So, while legislative changes are now the same for married and unmarried couples in WA, parties that commenced proceedings before the changes came into force will still have their matters determined by the old definitions and law. The Family Court places significant importance on protecting children from abuse, so much so, that this may override the need to have a meaningful relationship with a parent/s.
In July 2013 the Law Reform Commission of Western Australia (LRCWA) reviewed the terms of reference from the Attorney General, the Hon Michael Mischin MLC, to review the laws concerning domestic and family violence. The reference directed the LRCWA to review the operation of the Restraining Orders Act 1997 (WA) and to consider whether there would be benefits in having separate legislation governing domestic and family violence restraining orders, or separate legislation that only deals with domestic and family violence (Williams, 2014). These changes have not been announced yet, but they could influence outcomes for perpetrators of crime against children and young people and the wellbeing of children and young people themselves.
In 2013, The Restraining Orders Act 1997 (WA) was amended which subsequently lead to the amendment of the Children's Court of Western Australia Act 1988. The Restraining Orders Amendment Bill 2013 allowed for the amendment of Section 25 and Section 64 of the Restraining Orders Act 1997 (WA).
 These are the right to vote (Section 41), protection against acquisition of property on unjust terms (Section 51 (xxxi)), the right to a trial by jury (Section 80), freedom of religion (Section 116) and prohibition of discrimination on the basis of State of residency (Section 117) (Australian Human Rights Commission, 2006).
 Joint federal state program providing accommodation for those homeless, or at risk of homelessness funding body for domestic and family violence Refuges
 "Best interests" has a particular meaning in family law when making arrangements for children. It is the most important thing to think about when making decisions about children. Family law considers children's best interests are met by:
Protecting children from physical or psychological harm, abuse, neglect or family violence (including being exposed to those things)
Ensuring that children have the benefit of both of their parents having meaningful involvement in their lives to the extent possible within the best interests of the child
Ensuring children receive proper parenting to help them reach their full potential
Ensuring parents fulfil their responsibilities for the care, welfare and development of their children.
“Best interests” focuses on the responsibilities of parents for their children (Legal Aid Western Australia, 2014).
 If parties are or were married and started their Family Court proceedings after 7th June 2012 , or parties were in a de facto, same sex, short relationship or never in a relationship with the other party and started their Family Court proceedings after 5th October 2013 they come under the new changes (Legal Aid, 2013).
Unwanted oral sex
Fight, conflict, argument
War, fighting, historical relationship issues
Forcing their mouth onto the victim
Forced penile penetration into the victims vagina &/or anus
Forced penile penetration into the victims mouth
Assaulting your partner
Beating, attack, assault
International child rape
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