Emma Katz is presenting a paper at the CRFR international conference, 10-12 June 2013
When we think of domestic violence, we tend to picture a woman being hit by her partner. We imagine the pain, suffering and confusion that this can cause.
What we may not consider is that women who experience domestic violence often have children that they’re desperate to protect.
This idea raises different questions. What strategies do mothers use to support their children, both during the violence and while they’re recovering? And are these children just passive victims? Are they trying to help their mothers too?
These are questions of resistance. In the last 20 years, much research on domestic violence has focused on the harm it does to women and children and to mother-child relationships. While it’s vitally important to recognise this damage, and to take the negative effects seriously, it’s also crucial to understand how mothers and children can respond by helping each other. This aspect must be included in any effective response by statutory or voluntary services.
In my paper to the CRFR international conference on 11th June 2013 I will provide some of the first in-depth information on these topics. I will explore the accounts of 15 children and 15 mothers who took part in my PhD research.
These participants talk about the complex impacts that domestic violence had on their relationships. In some families, mothers and children became more distant. In others, they were brought closer. Yet even in families where the mental health of mothers and children was affected very adversely, they were often supporting each other in powerful ways.
Interviewees also describe how they worked hard to repair their relationships with each other after fleeing the violence. As 14-year-old Grace said: ‘we’ve helped each other to feel better, we’ve given each other support throughout the whole thing. We have a strong relationship and we’ll have that forever’.
The role that formal support services played here was notable. Some families describe how statutory and voluntary services assisted their recoveries by helping them to achieve safety and address the problems that had built up in their relationships. However, other mothers and children said that inadequate or insensitive responses by social services, police or courts had set back their recoveries, making it harder for them to support each other.
In exploring these issues, I will aim to provide new insight into the role of mother-child supportiveness in the recovery of survivors. I will suggest a balanced approach: one that takes into account not only the damage done to mothers and children by domestic violence, but also the strength of mother-child relationships in the face of adversity.