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Alarming New Research on Children who have Witnessed Family Violence

The Victorian Crime Statistics Agency (CSA) has released data collected by Victoria Police about children who have witnessed or been exposed to family violence. The concerning statistics, which were released on 10 March 2021 indicate that child exposure to family violence remains a prominent issue throughout Victoria.

Commenting on the new research, CSA Chief Statistician Fiona Dowsley said in a CSA statement that an increasing number of children are being recorded by police as having witnessed family violence. More specifically, between July 2018 and June 2019, over 1 in 50 children in Victoria were recorded by police as having been exposed to family violence.

Numerically speaking, 32,705 children were recorded as having been present at or affected by a family incident. These incidents involving family violence can include physical, sexual, emotional, verbal and other abusive behaviours directed at family members.

An additional concern highlighted by the data is that many of the children recorded as witnesses at a police incident were very young, with 66 per cent of children under the age of ten years of age and 35 per cent under five years of age.

Perhaps most troubling was the indication that couples with children are more likely to experience intimate partner assault and police attendance than couples without children. These relationships are also more likely to involve police-attended incidents spanning over a longer period of time and involving Family Violence Protection Orders and Safety Notices.

Globally, it is estimated that 275 million children have been exposed to family violence. The Australian Bureau of Statistics Personal Safety Survey (as referenced in the CSA Child Witnesses of Family Violence Data Snapshot) conducted between 2016 and 2017 indicated that 68 per cent of women and 60 per cent of men who had experienced family violence also had a child in their care witness the incident.

In addition to these prior statistics, the recent data collated by CSV is a reminder that family violence is a national health and welfare issue not only affecting its victims, but also the children exposed to it. In its March 2016 Report, The Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence survey (as referenced in the CSA Child Witnesses of Family Violence Data Snapshot) highlighted that children witnessing family violence are not “passive witnesses or secondary victims” but rather direct victims of family violence.

At Nicholes Family Lawyers, we believe that children exposed to family violence require the same protections as those suffering from family violence. This belief aligns with the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) which states that exposing a child to family violence constitutes child abuse.

The CSA data also indicates that 77 per cent of children who have witnessed a police-reported family violence incident have had a future interaction within the juvenile justice system within five years of witnessing the incident. It is clear that exposure to family violence has a detrimental impact on children and produces prolonged and devastating consequences. There is significant progress to be made in terms of responding to and decreasing child exposure to family violence.

CSA is responsible for processing, analysing and publishing Victorian crime statistics, independent of Victoria Police.

By Nicholes Family Lawyers


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