Practice blog

LGBT young people's experiences of domestic abuse

Janice Stevenson is a Development office for LGBT Youth Scotland. In this blog, she writes about the work done by the Voice Unheard project to better understand LGBT young people’s understanding, knowledge and experience of domestic violence. For an audio version of this blog, visit our Soundcloud profile or scroll to the bottom of the page.

The Voices Unheard project was established by a group of young people from LGBT Youth Scotland. Using a peer research approach, the group sought to find out lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people’s understanding, knowledge, and experience of domestic abuse in their families and relationships. The findings of this initial investigation have enabled Voices Unheard to engage with service providers and help them to increase their knowledge and understanding of LGBT young people’s support needs when experiencing or witnessing domestic abuse.

The research highlighted a lack of recognition of abuse amongst LGBT young people. Participants were asked about their experiences of controlling behaviour from partners or ex-partners, and although 52% reported having had experienced some form of abusive behaviour from a partner or ex-partner, only 37% of the young people recognised this as abuse. The media often depicts negative portrayals and stereotypes of same-sex relationships, meaning that LGBT young people are not aware of what a healthy LGBT relationship looks like.

Perpetrators of domestic abuse and people who sexually exploit children and young people can and do use stereotypes and gendered expectations as tools of abuse and control; telling LGBT young people that they are ‘not a real' gay man, lesbian woman, bisexual person etc. if they fail to live up to the stereotype. Young people can feel pressured to engage in certain types of sexual activity or to express their sexual orientation or gender identity in stereotypical ways in order to ‘prove’ their LGBT identity, which contributes to the normalising of abuse within LGBT relationships.

As well as experiencing abuse within their own relationships, young people also described their experience of living with domestic abuse, where 61% of the respondents had witnessed some form of abuse in their families. If a young person is witnessing abuse in their families they are less likely to feel safe and confident within their home, creating additional barriers to ‘coming out’. 79% of the young people who took part in the research believed that someone who had witnessed domestic abuse in their family or home would feel less confident to ‘come out’ as a result. It is therefore vital that services and agencies that work with young people experiencing domestic abuse provide safe and positive places for young people to talk about their sexual orientation or gender identity

LGBT young people also face additional barriers to seeking support. They may not be ‘out’ as an LGBT person to family or friends, making it difficult to utilise their own support network. 47.1% of the young people said that fear of homophobia, biphobia or transphobia from service providers would make them less likely to access domestic abuse support services. They also shared concerns about confidentiality; specifically, concerns about being outed by services to family, or through other referrals.

Transgender young people were concerned that services would not be inclusive of them and recommend that clarity about inclusion of transgender and gender variant young people is made clear in literature, websites and promotional materials.

Following their research, and through extensive engagement with the domestic abuse sector in Scotland, Voices Unheard and the LGBT Domestic Abuse Project have developed some key recommendations to help domestic abuse services to be more inclusive. These include;

  • Be clear that your service is inclusive of LGBT people in literature, website and promotional materials
  • Clarity over what support services offer to LGBT people – particularly transgender inclusion
  • Advertise flexible opening hours to accommodate young people who may struggle to access services during office hours
  • Provide remote services, such as telephone, email and online support
  • Provide clear examples of LGBT domestic abuse in case studies/ stories on websites, in literature and promotional materials
  • Access appropriate training – without the correct training, staff may not be able to support LGBT young people in a way that they need
  • Have clear links with other organisations, including LGBT services,  and be able to make referrals
  • Ensure you use gender neutral language at all times, such as using ‘partner’ rather than husband or wife

Further information and resources are available from the LGBT Domestic Abuse Project: https://www.lgbtyouth.org.uk/domestic-abuse/

Or from Voices Unheard: https://www.lgbtyouth.org.uk/VoicesUnheard

Keep an eye on our Spotlight page for more information and resources around supporting young people experiencing domestic abuse. 

Preventing further harm to children from domestic abuse

Development manager, Di Hunter and Senior Evaluation Officer, Nicola McConnell implement and evaluate services delivered by the NSPCC. In this blog they discuss what they have learnt from this work and also what can be done to prevent further harm to children experiencing domestic abuse, including helping parents to recognise the impact of abuse and providing support to children and the non-abusing parent. For an audio version of this blog, visit our Soundcloud profile or scroll to the bottom of the page.

We welcome SafeLives’ spotlight on children and young people: over and above the increased likelihood that a child who lives with domestic abuse will be injured, the child’s social, psychological, and personal development are also likely to be impacted. Therefore, any responses to domestic abuse must ensure that the safety and wellbeing of the child is prioritised throughout the decision making process.

How are children affected by domestic abuse?

Worrying about family relationships is one of the top three reasons why children contact our Childline counselling service (NSPCC, 2016). It is currently estimated that 1 in 5 children in the UK have been exposed to domestic abuse (Radford et al, 2011). Children in homes where there is domestic abuse are more likely to experience other forms abuse or neglect; and in Scotland, where multiple reasons for holding a child protection case conference are recorded, domestic abuse was a concern for over a third of children on the child protection register (Bentley et al, 2016). Young people can also become involved in their own relationships that are abusive as well as be exposed to domestic abuse within the family home. In both circumstances, the experience can be overwhelming and it can cause long-lasting physical, behavioural, and mental health problems, including an increased risk of experiencing or perpetrating abuse within their own adult relationships. Protecting children from abuse can disrupt children’s social lives in ways that may not be appreciated by adults. For example, moving to safety can result in loss of contact with friends, family members, school and familiar surroundings.  

Helping parents to recognise the impact of domestic abuse on their children

An abusive relationship between parents or carers causes children harm and is in itself child abuse. It is vital that the harm caused by domestic abuse is fully recognised by frontline practitioners, and that this harm is highlighted to parents – who, whether they are a victim or a perpetrator, often assume that if their child is not physically present that they are shielded from the effects of domestic abuse. We found that some fathers attending our Caring Dads: Safer Children services were motivated to improve their relationship with their child’s mother once they understood the impact of their abuse on their child (McConnell et al, 2016). The 17 week programme aims to develop men’s trust and motivation to examine their fathering, develop an understanding of how their behaviour impacts on children and take responsibility for making positive changes.

Support for children and the non-abusing parent

The NSPCC has developed and tested a 10 week programme that helps children and young people aged 7-14 years overcome the effects of domestic abuse - DART® (Domestic Abuse Recovering Together) by improving the parent and child relationship. DART is based on the Talking to my Mum research by the University of Warwick (Humphreys et al, 2006); and is designed for mothers and children who no longer live with the domestic violence perpetrator. It aims to build and develop the mother and child relationship, help them deal with their past, and understand the importance of healthy relationships.  The joint DART group work session lasts two hours. A key feature is that it is divided into two components: the first hour is spent with women and children in the same room doing the same activities together. There is then a break for 10 minutes, after which mothers and children split into separate groups in different rooms where they can focus on discussion and activities specific to their needs, before finally regrouping and sharing learning if appropriate.

Preventing further harm to children from domestic abuse requires multiple approaches: prioritising the needs of children, supporting non-abusive parents, and working with perpetrators to change their behaviour. We also need further investigation of earlier interventions that help individuals to recognise abuse, and if necessary, examine and change their behaviour at an early stage, thus providing safer environments for their children.

Useful resources

The Childline website provides information and advice about domestic abuse for children: https://www.childline.org.uk/info-advice/home-families/family-relationships/domestic-abuse/

You can also find out more information about domestic abuse and DART on the NSPCC website: https://www.nspcc.org.uk/preventing-abuse/child-abuse-and-neglect/domestic-abuse/

NSPCC guide to DART

References

Bentley, H., O'Hagan, O, Raff, A. and Bhatti, I. (2016) How safe are our children? The most comprehensive overview of child protection in the UK 2016. London: NSPCC

Humphreys, C., Mullender, A., Thaira, R. and Skamballis, A., ‘Talking to My Mum: Developing communication between mothers and children in the aftermath of domestic violence’, Journal of Social Work (2006), p. 6, 53–63

McConnell, N., Barnard, M., Holdsworth, T. and Taylor, J. (2016) Caring Dads: Safer Children: evaluation report. [London]: NSPCC

NSPCC (2016) Childline annual review 2015/16: It turned out someone did care. London: NSPCC

Radford, L. et al. (2011) Child abuse and neglect in the UK today. London: NSPCC

Keep an eye on our Spotlight page for more insights, content and resources for working with children and young people experiencing domestic abuse

 

 

Violence in young people’s relationships – Reflections on two serious case reviews

Dr Christine Barter is a Reader in Young People and Violence Prevention in the Connect Centre for International Research on New Approaches to Prevent Violence and Harm, at the University of Central Lancashire. In this blog, Dr Barter reflects on what professionals can learn from two serious case reviews regarding the deaths of two young women aged 16 and 17 years respectively, who were murdered by their partners. For an audio version of this blog, visit our Soundcloud profile or scroll down to the bottom of the page.

In 2016 two serious case reviews occurred due to the deaths of ‘Lucy’ and ‘Jayden’, aged 16 and 17 respectively, who were murdered by their partners. The reviews showed that both young women experienced very high levels of coercive control alongside other forms of intimate violence. The review into the death of ‘Lucy’, who was pregnant at the time, documented a relationship which started when she was 15 and quickly became controlling and abusive, with her teenage partner banning her from going out alone or seeing friends and family, stopping her wearing make-up and telling her how to dress, accompanied by incidents of physical violence. Jayden’s abusive relationship followed a similar path.  

Unfortunately, these are not isolated incidents. We know from national and international evidence that abuse and violence in young people’s relationships represents a substantial problem. A recent evidence synthesis (Stonard et al 2014) which brings together findings from high resource countries, including the UK, demonstrates the magnitude of the problem: 

  • Half of all young people (irrespective of gender) reported emotional abuse, most often being shouted at and/or called names 

  • One fifth (irrespective of gender) reported physical violence – although a greater proportion of females report severe physical violence 

  • A third of adolescent girls and a quarter of boys reported sexual violence through pressure or physical force - higher rates for girls if only physical force is included in the definition.  

  • Between 50-70% of all young people, reported experiencing abuse through new technologies most often controlling behaviour and surveillance through messaging or social networking sites -  although pressured sexting was most commonly reported by girls.  

Research which addresses both prevalence and impact shows that girls more frequently report a negative subjective impact, and more physical injuries, compared to boys. In our interviews with young people, girls repeatedly reported feeling too scared either to challenge the control and abuse or to end the relationship due to the possible repercussions (Barter et al 2009; Wood et al 2010; Barter et al 2015). Boys rarely reported this worry and most stated they would simply end a relationship if their partner didn’t stop.   

However, girls’ fears are not unfounded. At the time of their deaths Lucy was attempting to leave the relationship and Jayden had recently separated from her abusive partner. We know from adult survivors that these are the most dangerous periods. It is therefore imperative that age specific safety plans are in place. The NSPCC and ATL have produced an age appropriate plan which includes discussions with the young person around safe adults and peers.  

The serious case reviews also highlight that Lucy and Jayden experienced additional vulnerabilities and challenges.  However, professionals in both cases failed to see them as children requiring protection with significant risks in their lives and instead positioned them as difficult adolescents. Research has identified a range of risk factors which increases a young person’s vulnerability to relationship abuse including: domestic violence and child abuse; attitudes which normalise violence including gender roles; anti-social peers; psychological factors – including low-self-esteem; bullying; early sex, and alcohol and drug use. 

In addition, US longitudinal studies show that young women victimised in adolescent relationships are significantly more likely to experience domestic violence in adulthood. Some young people also experience specific risk factors including young mothers, young people in same-sex relationships and young people who may be at risk of forced marriage or honour based violence.  

Professionals need to recognise the impact of these risk factors and understand that being in a controlling and abusive relationship will have an impact on a young woman’s ability to recognise the abuse, and affect their decision making.  

These dynamics mean that assessments and practice responses need to respond to the different risk and needs of young survivors. However, practice developed in this area has been slow and although some resources, such as Young People's version of DASH Risk Identification Checklist or the Duluth Teen Power and Control Wheel, are available we remain unsure how effective these tools are.  

SafeLives have produced a useful resource based on their own practice experience with young women which stresses the importance of: building a rapport before entering discussing about what healthy relationships/norms look like; exploring with the young person how their own relationships reflect these components and highlighting professional concerns and their reasoning behind these. Other useful recourses include a web-based tool developed and produced by young people.

We can’t simply dictate to young people what to do, they have had enough of that from their abusive partners. We need to work collaboratively with young survivors over time to break down the barriers their partners have erected around them by supporting survivors to realise this is not ‘normal’ or their fault and by providing new routes to self-esteem away from their harmful relationships.

Keep an eye on our Spotlight page for more insight, resources, and to add your voice to the conversation

Barter, C., McCarry, M., Berridge, D. and Evans, K. (2009) Partner Exploitation and Violence in Teenage Intimate Relationships, London, NSPCC.  https://www.nspcc.org.uk/globalassets/documents/research-reports/partner...

Barter, C., Stanley, N., Wood, M., Aghtaie, N., Larkins, C., Øverlien, C., ... Lesta, S. (2015). Safeguarding Teenage Intimate Relationships. http://stiritup.eu 

Stonard, K., Bowen, E., Lawrence, T. and Price, S. A. (2014) The relevance of technology to the nature, prevalence and impact of Adolescent Dating Violence and Abuse: A research synthesis. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 19 (4), pp.390–417. 

Wood, M., Barter, C. and Berridge, D. (2010) Standing on my own two feet: Disadvantaged young people and partner violence. London, NSPCC. https://www.nspcc.org.uk/globalassets/documents/research-reports/standin...  

Stonad, E.  (2016) The role of New Technology in adolescent Dating Violence and Abuse , PhD, Coventry University

Living with domestic abuse as an ACE (adverse childhood experience)

Dr Kat Ford is a researcher at Public Health Wales. In this blog, she talks about the importance of considering adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) when responding to domestic violence.

For an audio version, scroll down to the bottom or visit our Soundcloud page.

Growing up in an environment where domestic violence and abuse (DVA) occurs is likely to be a traumatic and stressful negative experience. Children growing up in these environments can experience feelings of blame and responsibility, and negative impact on their social development and relationships that can lead to lasting harms such as the uptake of risk taking behaviours (e.g. smoking and alcohol use)[1]. Yet children exposed to DVA may have also experienced other stressful adversities in their lifetime.

An increasing number of studies around the world have identified that certain adverse experiences during childhood can have long-term negative impacts on our health and wellbeing. The term adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) is used to describe these and includes experiences that directly hurt a child (e.g. physical, sexual or emotional abuse) or affect them through the environment in which they live. This includes growing up in a household where: domestic violence, parental separation, mental illness, alcohol abuse, or drug abuse is present, or where someone has been incarcerated.

The early years of our lives are critical for our development, including brain development and how we learn empathy and trust. If children experience chronic stress and trauma, the way their brain develops is altered as they become ‘locked’ into a higher state of alertness in preparation for experiencing future trauma. This can result in: a ‘wear and tear’ effect on their body thus increasing risks of disease; psychological problems such as anxiety; and the adoption of harmful behaviours such as smoking, heavy alcohol consumption and early sexual activity. Children raised in environments where violence, assault and abuse are common will often come to believe this behaviour is normal and therefore find it difficult to establish and maintain healthy relationships.

In 2016 Public Health Wales conducted the first survey of ACEs in Wales. It highlighted that ACEs are common, with almost half the population in Wales experiencing one and 14% experiencing four or more[2] ACEs. Figure 1 shows the prevalence of ACEs among adults in Wales.

FIGURE 1: Prevalence of ACEs in Wales

There is a cumulative impact of ACEs. Compared to someone with no ACEs, someone with 4 or more is more likely to experience a range of negative outcomes in adulthood. For example, they are 16 times more likely to perpetrate violence and 20 times more likely to be incarcerated at some point in their lifetime.

Many people experience ACEs but go on to lead productive and healthy lives. Protective factors (i.e. that mitigate risks), such as one or more stable caring child-adult relationship, feeling you can overcome hardship and guide your own destiny, feeling involved and connected with others, and having the skills to manage your own behaviour and emotions can build resilience, which allows individuals to grow and endure crisis and stress. Enhancing these protective factors, and taking a trauma-informed approach (i.e. understanding and integrating knowledge on the trauma a person has experienced) in response to individuals experiencing ACEs including DVA, has been shown to mitigate and prevent negative outcomes.

Preventing ACEs or reducing their impacts in one generation can also benefit future generations. The Welsh Government has prioritised tackling ACEs, defining them as a major threat to well-being and economic prosperity in Wales[3]. In South Wales a unique collaboration has been developed to use the research evidence surrounding ACEs to develop policies for prevention and early intervention, aimed at reducing ACEs and supporting those affected by them. Public Health Wales, the Police and Crime Commissioner for South Wales, South Wales Police (SWP), National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) Cymru, Barnardos and Bridgend County Borough Council are partners on the Early Intervention and Prevention Project; a two year project funded through the Police Innovation Fund.

By viewing the policies and strategies for DVA through an ACE lens we would be able to not just treat the symptoms, but hopefully break the generational cycle of harm and adversity.
 

Listen to this blog post

 

Useful resources:

Report: ACEs and their association with chronic disease and health service use in the Welsh population

Report: ACEs and their association with mental wellbeing in the Welsh adult population

Report: ACEs and their association with health-harming behaviours in the Welsh adult population

 

Keep an eye on our Spotlight page for more information and guidance on supporting young people affected by domestic abuse.

 

 

[1] Safelives 2015

[2] Bellis, M.A., et al. (2016). Adverse Childhood Experiences and their impact on health-harming behaviours in the Welsh adult population. Cardiff: Public Health Wales NHS Trust. Available from http://www.wales.nhs.uk/sitesplus/888/page/88504

Understanding disabled women's experiences of domestic abuse

Dr Ravi K. Thiara is a principal research fellow at the Centre for the Study of Safety and Wellbeing, University of Warwick. In this blog she discusses how the concept of intersectionality can help us to understand the ways in which disabled women experience domestic abuse, and how services can help to remove barriers to access. 

Gender and disability affect the risk of domestic violence and abuse (DVA) and how it is experienced in our society. Research in the UK, albeit limited, and elsewhere makes the consistent suggestion that disabled women are more likely to experience DVA and that they endure DVA which is more severe, more frequent and lasts for longer periods. They are also subjected to DVA in additional ways, where disability specific abuse leads to increased power and control, which multiplies the vulnerability and isolation they are likely to experience. These factors combine to create greater barriers to escape. According to Public Health England (2015), 15.7% of disabled women had experienced DVA in the last year compared to 7.1% of non-disabled women (8.4% of disabled men had experienced this compared to 4% of non-disabled men).

It is often said that the way in which we understand an issue affects the solutions we seek for it. In explaining DVA in disabled women’s lives, both the ‘social model’ and the concept of ‘intersectionality’ are particularly helpful.

The ways in which disability is defined and explained remain highly contested. However, the social model, developed by disability activists to contest the medical model which held sway for many years, argues that disability is socially constructed and the problems experienced by disabled people result from socially disabling attitudes and practice, which aggravate the impact of a person’s physical condition. Thus, disability is the interaction of the impairment with social and environmental restrictions and the way that society is organised, not the impairment itself, excludes disabled people from full participation in society.

Intersectionality refers to a way of understanding the interconnected nature of the social categories of gender, race, class, age, and dis/ability, which create unique and complex experiences of oppression and discrimination and of power and privilege. This intersection is key to understanding both the positioning of groups in society as well as individual experiences, which are complex and contradictory.

For example, knowing that a woman lives in a sexist society is not enough to describe her experiences and we have to also consider her race/ethnicity, dis/ability, class etc, along with societal attitudes toward each of these, to fully understand her position within society. Intersectionality allows us to examine how both power and marginality operate, as relational processes, across the major social categories and systems of domination and also within each one.

For example, without being too simplistic, if we look at white men across race and gender systems, they generally have power over black men and over black and white women; black men are marginal to white men and white women but have power over black women. Of course, factors such as class and dis/ability further complicate this. What this suggests is that the re/production of power and privilege and of marginality is not a simple linear process but complex and contradictory. It is also reflected at the material and discursive levels (how we ‘speak’ about these), which in turn is reflected in policies and practices. Thus, as noted at the start, the ways in which gender and disability are structured in society impact the risk of DVA and how it is experienced. 

A study involving women with physical and sensory impairment found that they experienced multiple forms of violence across the life course from multiple perpetrators. For women, being disabled significantly worsened the abuse they were subjected to and abusers commonly used women’s impairments to perpetuate particular kinds of abuse, including ridicule and insults about the woman’s condition. Abuse was especially acute where the abusive partner was also the carer, and increased power and control over women as well their neglect.

Disabled women spoke about how abusive partner-carers presented themselves as ‘caring heroes’ to outsiders but in fact used this to exert greater damage, also making it harder for women to ‘name’ abuse and to do anything about it. A woman described the collusion of agencies and professionals thus: “People pity him because he is taking care of you… people are reluctant to criticise this saint or to think he could be doing these terrible things.” The representation of abusive partner-carers as ‘caring heroes’, combined with the dominant construction of disabled women as asexual, serves to reinforce abuse in women’s lives.

Disabled women in this study gave the following tips for improving responses to their experiences of DVA:

  • Be informed about disabled women’s needs.
  • Take advice from / consult disabled women.
  • Provide accessible well-publicised DV services that disabled women know about:  tell women about them!
  • Do not threaten women with institutionalisation.
  • Develop disability equality schemes with input from disabled women.  Write us into the strategies.
  • Take disabled women seriously and do not patronise us.

Given the widely reported barriers encountered by disabled women experiencing DVA in accessing support, services can address this through:

  • Address lack of knowledge and understanding about disabled women’s experiences and needs to better recognise and respond.
  • Training on the issues for all professionals.
  • Improve accessibility through internal scrutiny.
  • NICE guidelines – introduce strategy to overcome barriers; better screening by health and social care and referral to specialist support services.
  • Integrated response across major service providers – increase opportunities for disclosure, referral and support.
  • Involvement of and engagement with disabled women.

Keep an eye on our Spotlights page for more content and guidance around supporting disabled victims of domestic abuse.