Silent Witness

Statistics reveal that one in four women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. But what is rarely discussed is the impact that this has on children.  The silent witnesses who hear or witness violence against their mothers.

As a former teacher I have seen how domestic violence can impact on the learning and development of a child.  I have observed how a child can go from happy and carefree to sad and withdrawn.  Equally, I have seen how the violence behind closed doors manifests itself in the children’s play and interactions with their peers.  As they role-play what they have seen, at home, behind closed doors.

Some of these children would talk about what they had seen.  A ‘passing’ comment during a conversation about story settings and adjectives.  On the other side there were some children who would uphold that silence.  They said nothing about what they had seen and heard.  However, just because they were not talking about it doesn’t mean that it wasn’t affecting them.  But what can be done about it?

There is much that can be done and it begins with education.  Education for teachers and all front-line staff who work with children. Ultimately, there needs to be more support in place for the children who see and hear domestic violence at home, an outlet for them to talk rather than staying silent and bottling it all up.  Also, putting healthy relationships and domestic violence on the curriculum would also be a huge step in breaking this wall of silence.

Discussion and learning about healthy relationships and domestic violence in schools is a way of breaking the cycle.  If the subject is talked about then it no longer becomes taboo, a secret that we shouldn’t talk about.  As far as I can see it’s the secrecy that surrounds domestic violence that contributes to more women, and increasingly teenage women, not speaking up and asking for help.  If we could break the cycle then maybe we wouldn’t have so many silent witnesses and so many women dying at the hands of a violent partner.

In putting this topic on the curriculum we have to be careful that we do not fall into the trap of simply passing the buck.  Leaving it up to the teachers to educate our children and young people.  Teachers who, themselves, do not have adequate training, knowledge and understanding of the issue in order to then educate our children and young people.  After all, most teachers find having discussions about social media and sex with their pupils a difficult enough task.  In addition to this pupils find it hard to take their teachers seriously when discussing sensitive issues.  Furthermore, some teachers find it hard to remain objective, leading the discussion without condemning or judging.

Educating our children and young people on this issue needs to be a shared responsibility.  Teachers, parents, governors and external agencies all need to be behind it, ensuring that all parties are well trained on leading this discussion.  Survivors of domestic violence, some of whom may be parents, should have the right to share their story, if they want to.  Children and young people need to see and hear real life examples rather than just being given the facts, sprinkled with a bit of debate or opinion. Police and external agencies who work with the victims, perpetrators and children should also be instrumental, not only in putting the programme of work together but also in leading it.

What we need to recognise is that what has been done up until now isn’t enough.  We need a more holistic and collaborative approach in order to demolish this wall of silence.  Yes, domestic violence is an emotive and complex issue but that doesn’t mean that we should continue to sweep it under the carpet.  It is a problem that can no longer be ignored.  Educating our children and young people about healthy relationships and domestic violence isn’t about scare mongering.  It is about lifting the veil of silence and putting domestic violence under the spotlight.  Doing so in a way that breaks the cycle of this being a silent crime. Children shouldn’t be silent witnesses anymore.  Our children deserve more than that.


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