Human Resources

Invisible behaviours mothers of domestic violence adopt to protect their children – new Australian study

Health Industry Hub | July 6, 2020 |
[Total: 1    Average: 5/5]

As emerging data shows an alarming rise of domestic violence during the pandemic, researchers at the University of South Australia are urging practitioners to look beyond clinical observations and focus on the strengths that mothers exercise to protect their children from domestic abuse.

It is important for each of us to understand the magnitude of this crisis, how common it is in our organisations and networks, and act by providing support and resources through our organisations.

The call follows UniSA research that upends the perception that abused women are unable to adequately protect their children, instead revealing the ways that women think and act to shield their children from abuse, often at the expense of their own personal safety.

In the past 12 months, more than 243 million women and girls (aged 15-49) across the globe, were subjected to sexual or physical violence by an intimate partner. In Australia, one in six (or 1.6 million women) have experienced physical or sexual violence with 80 per cent experiencing coercive control by a current or previous partner since the age of 15. More than a quarter of the women said that children in their care had witnessed this violence and abuse.

One in four women have experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner since the age of 15.

Lead researcher and experienced social worker, UniSA’s Dr Fiona Buchanan, says practitioners need to recognise mothers’ protective behaviour if they are to work towards increasing safety for women and children living in abusive environments.

“Far too often, women are perceived as passive victims of domestic abuse, who while enduring unconscionable abuse, are unable to protect their own children,” Dr Buchanan says.

“But what many practitioners don’t realise is that these women are protecting their children in many unseen ways, that hope to reduce the likelihood of an abusive partner lashing out.

“The mothers in our research talked about the things they did to avoid conflict with their partners, things like controlling the home environment – making sure dinner was ready and on the table; ensuring the children were clean and quiet; and by making sure the house was neat and tidy.

“By trying to pre-empt abuse, they sought to limit their partner’s aggressive outbursts, effectively managing his mood and behaviour to safeguard their children’s wellbeing.”

The study also showed that mothers intentionally tried to ‘keep the peace’ by purposely avoiding conflict with aggressive partners.

“Protective behaviours could span anything from keeping the children out of harm’s way when they thought an assault was likely to occur, to putting themselves physically close to their abuser to try and placate him,” Dr Buchanan says.

“In this instance, despite wanting to put distance between them and their violent partner, they placed themselves closer to the danger, arguably increasing risk to themselves in order to reduce the risk to the children.”

Using interviews and focus groups UniSA’s Dr Buchanan and Professor Nicole Moulding explored the lived experiences of 16 women who had mothered children in domestic abuse, hoping to better understand their thoughts, feelings and actions during that time. Each of the women had left their abusive partner at least one year prior to participating in the study.

Dr Buchanan warns that practitioners who rely on attachment theory (the observed emotional bonds between children and caregivers) in child protection practice are at risk of overlooking invisible acts of protective agency. 

“Despite the popularity of attachment theory in child protection, it does not offer much guidance about supporting women and children living in abusive home environments, especially as it categorises the child-mother relationship without context,” Dr Buchanan says.

“Clinical observation downplays the protective role of mothers in abusive relationships and promotes a notion of ‘bad mothering’.

“There is no evidence to assume that abused women are worse mothers.

“Instead of identifying deficits and assigning blame, practitioners should seek to understand the invisible behaviours that women engage in behind closed doors to protect their children from abuse.

“A strengths-based approach is essential if we are to move towards more positive and empowered practices of safety and protection.

“Sadly, we cannot remove women and children from these terrible scenarios without taking a good look at the society which tolerates domestic abuse and blames women for being victimised.”

Inquiry into family, domestic and sexual violence

On 4 June 2020, the House Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs adopted an inquiry into family, domestic and sexual violence. The inquiry was referred by the Minister for Women, Senator the Hon Marise Payne, and the Minister for Families and Social Services, Senator the Hon Anne Ruston.

Through this inquiry the Committee will seek to inform the next National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children.

Make a submission as an individual or an organisation.

Submissions close:  Friday, 24 July 2020

Other Domestic Abuse Statistics

  • One in four women have experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner since the age of 15
  • Almost 40 per cent of women continue to experience violence from a partner while temporarily separated
  • Indigenous women are 32 times more likely to be hospitalised due to family violence than non-indigenous women.
  • Violence against women and children is estimated to cost the Australian economy $22 billion a year.

About the author

About the author

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Nam luctus finibus scelerisque. Nunc bibendum ipsum sed augue fringilla fringilla. Nullam at consectetur leo. Praesent viverra rutrum porta. Quisque vitae mi vel purus vulputate tincidunt. Class aptent taciti sociosqu ad litora torquent per conubia nostra, per inceptos himenaeos. Suspendisse et mi quis nisi rhoncus feugiat at ac tellus. Sed aliquam sodales nulla ac auctor. Sed pretium lobortis purus accumsan ullamcorper. Phasellus sodales vel odio in lobortis. Duis maximus sagittis bibendum. Interdum et malesuada fames ac ante ipsum primis in faucibus. Nunc dictum tincidunt ipsum in vestibulum. Donec ut sem consectetur, aliquam quam vitae, pharetra orci. Nam egestas non velit eu rhoncus. Duis congue neque non lacus tincidunt porta. Vestibulum ultricies pulvinar sem, molestie congue dui aliquet non.
  • Ut imperdiet leo id lorem fermentum consectetur.
  • Ut vitae orci et dui varius tincidunt.
  • Ut id magna non libero vestibulum pharetra ac faucibus nulla.
Aliquam erat volutpat. Vestibulum vitae varius diam. Nulla eget congue ante. Nunc ullamcorper sagittis augue vel dictum. Mauris finibus nibh ut pulvinar auctor. Vestibulum ut faucibus nisi. Orci varius natoque penatibus et magnis dis parturient montes, nascetur ridiculus mus. Quisque porta tortor ac justo malesuada elementum. Nulla tellus ante, cursus nec ex sit amet, suscipit bibendum arcu. Duis posuere orci dui, et mollis enim dictum at. Sed ullamcorper, sapien ut vulputate viverra, sem purus porttitor tellus, nec mattis mauris ligula sed risus. Nulla sagittis id ipsum eu mattis. Link to full profile

News & Trends - Medical Technology

MedTech News - State first heart procedure with non-invasive technology most commonly used to combat cancer

State first heart procedure with non-invasive technology most commonly used to combat cancer

Health Industry Hub | August 4, 2020 |

MedTech News: A team of cardiologists and radiation oncologists from Fiona Stanley Hospital (FSH) and GenesisCare, have become the first […]

More


News & Trends - Pharmaceuticals

Pharma News - Medicines Australia calls for a focus in planning Australia's future in health

Medicines Australia calls for a focus in planning Australia’s future in health

Health Industry Hub | August 4, 2020 |

Pharma News: Medicines Australia Chief Executive Officer, Elizabeth de Somer has urged a focus on planning for the future – […]

More


News & Trends - Medical Technology

MedTech News - Australian-first procedure for chronic pain sufferers

Australian-first procedure for chronic pain sufferers

Health Industry Hub | August 3, 2020 |

Please log in to Health Industry Hub to view this content in the ‘News & Trendsmenu →Medical Technology’ sub-menu.

More


News & Trends - Pharmaceuticals

Pharma News - New PBS listings in lung cancer, epilepsy and ovarian cancer – AstraZeneca, Roche, Pfizer and Emerge Health

New PBS listings in lung cancer, epilepsy and ovarian cancer – AstraZeneca, Roche, Pfizer and Emerge Health

Health Industry Hub | August 3, 2020 |

Please log in to Health Industry Hub to view this content in the ‘News & Trendsmenu →Pharmaceuticals’ sub-menu.

More