Children from low socio-economic areas tend to more at risk to domestic violence.
Children from low socio-economic areas tend to more at risk to domestic violence.

Educating young people in low socio-economic areas is vital step towards preventing domestic violence, according to Ipswich domestic violence advocates.

Ipswich-based Domestic Violence Action Centre community development worker, Heather Ellis, said teaching youths how to have a healthy and respectful relationship could help lower rates of domestic violence in future generations.

Ms Ellis said it was particularly important such education reached children from all walks of life as it is an issue that effects all people, however some groups are partially vulnerable.

“One of the things I do find is our young people are really thirsty for information and are open to engage in conversation so they can learn to have respectful and healthy relationships,” she said.

She said while domestic violence does not discriminate between class and race, children living in low socio-economic areas often experienced greater disadvantage.

“Sometimes they might not have access to mobile phones or internet and so quite often they are isolated and think that they have to face these problems on their own,” she said.

Ms Ellis believes different communities have different levels of support and engagement on offer.

“Some communities may have a lot of economic resources but young people are still disconnected from each other and their community, whereas other communities may have fewer economic resources but greater “community spirit” and connection,” she said.

“Every community and group of young people is different.”

dv 7Department of Child Safety investigation officer, Kim Powell agreed domestic violence seemed to be more prevalent among children from low socio-economic backgrounds, experiencing hundreds of domestics violence incidents through her line of work.

Ms Powell predominantly worked in the Ipswich area, handling cases where there was suspected harm to a child.

She said she often dealt with about ten cases of alleged harm to children a day.

“We did have a lot of reported cases of violence in the lower socio-economic areas, so in the areas where there are big pockets of housing commissions,” Ms Powell said.

“I would receive the notifications of alleged harm and then would go and do the investigation and then would do an assessment on whether the children were at risk of harm or whether they had been harmed.”

“Domestic violence was probably one of the most reported cases of harm or alleged harm.”

dv 6According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, although domestic and family violence is prevalent across all socio-economic levels, there is a correlation between low-socioeconomic household status and increased risk of interpersonal violence.

“In lower socio-economic areas, when you look at interventions it is really difficult to break the cycle,” Ms Powell said.

Ms Powell believes a big step in combating domestic violence in these areas is by changing attitudes towards violence.

“One of the difficult things about domestic violence, as opposed to other forms of abuse, is that often the mothers wouldn’t see domestic violence as harming their child as they would say its between myself and my partner,” she said.

“Insight was a really big factor in decision-making.”

“If children are witnessing their mother, who has been a victim of domestic violence, try to justify the perpetrators actions then that’s learnt behaviour that children take on with them to become either a victim or a perpetrator themselves,” Ms Powell said.

However there are counter arguments to the theory that domestic violence can become a learned behaviour.

The relationship between exposure to violence in childhood and becoming an adult perpetrator is a complex one.

Statistics from The Domestic Violence and Incest Resource Centre show in the majority of cases where children are exposed to violence, most will not become violent themselves.

Ms Ellis believes we need to concentrate on teaching children violence is never okay in order to prevent them from becoming violent in adulthood.

“Not only is [education] preventative around allowing young people from a really early age to understand about healthy relationships, it also helps us pick up some young people that actually need to be linked in to support and services around them,” she said.

“Education is just really powerful for our young people and providing age appropriate content the whole way through is crucial for how we are really going to bring around change.”

Ms Ellis does a lot of work in high schools in the Ipswich area and she believes it is really important to have these conversations in the schooling community.

“Being involved in schooling communities really reinforces for young people where they can go to access support so that they don’t have to face these things on their own,” she said.

“Generally young people want to know more information and they want to have access to more information.”

A recent report conducted by The White Ribbon Foundation found that primary prevention strategies could improve the attitudes and norms that feed into violence against girls and women and lessen the gender inequalities, which maintain and are maintained by violence.

“Until we can break down the different gender stereotypes and have a look at how, as a society, we view men and women then we are not going to have equality in relationships,” Ms Ellis said.

“When looking at equality in relationships, we haven’t got an even playing field so it’s very hard to have respectful relationships.”

By educating children about the gender inequalities and the effects of domestic violence, they can hopefully learn how to maintain respectful and healthy relationships throughout their adult life.