There is a whole world of research into domestic violence and abuse out there, with new studies being published all the time. I’ve been thinking recently about how useful some of this research could be for survivors and those who work with and care about survivors, if only they knew about it and had access to it.
I’ve also been thinking about how this blog could potentially bridge the gap between the world of research and survivors’ and their supporters’ need to hear about key research findings in plain English. I want to help with this.
Take, for example, survivors who are going through family court and are trying to protect their children from harmful on-going contact with their abusive ex. My heart goes out to these survivors: they are facing a mountain of injustice. They might find certain research studies potentially helpful in their legal cases. For instance, studies showing the harms that domestically abusive fathers do to their children could sometimes be helpful to a mum trying to protect her children from a father like this. (I say this with caution though, as a lot depends on the attitude of the judge.)
Away from the courts, there are many, many survivor parents who are trying hard to help their children to cope with and heal from the harmful actions of their abusing parent. They see their children struggling with behavioural issues, emotional difficulties, and mental health needs on a daily basis, and they really want to support them. Such survivors might benefit from knowing about the findings of research studies on what helps children’s coping and healing in contexts of domestic abuse.
But how can survivors and those who work with survivors access this research? The papers reporting the research findings are quite often behind journal paywalls, costing individuals more than £35 or $40 to download a single study. And how can people be expected to know which studies are coming out and which ones are really worth reading? Not to mention, the studies can sometimes be written in quite a complex way that isn’t very reader-friendly.
This is where my blog comes in. One thing I really want to do with this blog is to provide information in plain English and at low cost about any particularly helpful research studies that have come out: studies that could make a difference to the everyday lives of survivors and those who work with them.
For anyone who is reading this who doesn’t know me: I’m Dr Emma Katz, Ph.D., author of the world’s first academic book on children and coercive control.
The research study in focus
This week, let’s take a look at this new research study: A Systematic Review of Children’s Perspectives of Fathers who Perpetrate Intimate Partner Violence.
The full reference for the study is: Rogers, K., & Berger, E. (2022). A Systematic Review of Children’s Perspectives of Fathers who Perpetrate Intimate Partner Violence. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, advance online publication.
What was the study about?
Rogers and Berger reviewed 24 pre-existing studies, each of which covered how children viewed their IPV perpetrating fathers. These 24 pre-existing studies were completed between 2000 and 2021 in several different Western countries. The advantage of Rogers and Berger’s review is that it pulls all of these studies together in one place to consider what we can learn from them overall. The technical term for the way Rogers and Berger reviewed these 24 studies is a ‘systematic review’. The corresponding author of the study, Dr Emily Berger, is an educational and developmental psychologist and lecturer in the Faculty of Education at Monash University in Australia.
The review starts by discussing how IPV harms children, and what is known about IPV-perpetuating fathers’ attitudes towards their children. It then explores six aspects of how children’ viewed their IPV-perpetrating fathers, each of which will be summarised in this blog:
Children’s Feelings Towards their Fathers
Children’s Experiences of Contact with Fathers Post-Separation
The Quality of Father-Child Relationships
Children’s Experience of Their Father’s Coercive Control
Children’s Reactions to Contradictory Experiences of Their Father
Children’s Narratives About Fathers’ Behavior Change
What did the study find?
Fathers’ IPV against mothers harms children in multiple ways
IPV stands for ‘intimate partner violence’. This form of violence and abuse is also called ‘domestic violence’ or ‘domestic abuse’ in some countries.
Decades of research show that children of IPV-perpetrating fathers generally struggle more than children of the same ages who have non-abusive fathers. Areas where children with IPV-perpetrating fathers tend to struggle include:
Socio-emotional outcomes (what social and emotional skills the child has)
Risk of mental health problems
Risk of bullying perpetration and victimization
Cognitive development (how children think, explore and figure things out)
Risk of experiencing IPV in their own intimate relationships in their teenage years and as adults
Importantly, these are general trends for children with IPV-perpetrating fathers. Trends are just that: trends. Not every child will struggle in all of these areas. Some children may not struggle in any of these areas. And there are things that reduce the chances of children struggling in these areas, including the child having healthy, stable relationships with non-abusive adults, positive friendships with peers, good connections to healthy communities, and hobbies and pastimes that grow their confidence and self-esteem.
Also importantly: any struggles experienced by the child are NOT the victim-survivor parent’s fault. Protective* victim-survivor parents were entrapped by the abusing parent. They did everything they could do in the circumstances to help and support their children. They may have wanted to do a lot more, but they couldn’t do more in the circumstances they were trapped in: the perpetrator’s actions made it impossible. Responsibility for the harms to the children lies with the perpetrating parent (the primary aggressor, the one showing a pattern of seeking power, control and domination over multiple aspects of daily life). None of the abuse would have happened were it not for the active choices made by perpetrating parents; choices that they made from positions of power, as they were the ones with the power and control in the family.
(*I do appreciate that not all IPV victim-survivor parents are protective parents. If a victim-survivor parent did the best they could in the circumstances, and they did try to find ways to make the child’s daily life as good as it could be in the circumstances, then they were a protective parent. However, even if the IPV victim-survivor was not protective of their children, the responsibility for the harms to the children STILL sits with the perpetrator parent. This is because none of the IPV and the resulting harm to the children would have happened were it not for the choices made by the perpetrator parent, choices made from their position of power.)