A survey of Canberra teenagers has uncovered disturbing accounts of family violence in the ACT, with some young people saying they were routinely bashed by a parent and others saying they had acted as a human shield to protect their siblings from physical abuse.
Warning: This story contains details about domestic violence which may be upsetting for some readers.
- The ACT Human Rights Commission has documented the stories of 70 Canberra teenagers who were victims of family violence
- Teenagers said their stories sometimes weren’t believed, and they were left out of conversations on child abuse
- The report noted calls from teenagers for crisis accommodation that does not require the presence of a parent
The “Now You Have Heard Us. What Will You Do?” joint report by the ACT Human Rights Commission and the ACT Government surveyed 70 Canberra teenagers — some as young as 13 — about their stories of survival.
Their experiences are relayed within the report, which has been described as “gut-wrenching” but “insightful” by the ACT Public Advocate and Children and Young People Commissioner.
‘We don’t hear from young people and children’
One respondent named “Steph” told researchers her parents had separated when she was in primary school and she had unsuccessfully tried to convince the court not to grant her father joint custody.
She said living with her dad resulted in beatings and emotional abuse, just as he had inflicted upon her mum.
Steph suffered the violence for some time as she believed running away to her mother’s house would give her father ammunition to apply for more custody.
She eventually became homeless and spent time in hospital for self-harm and substance abuse.
ACT Public Advocate and Children and Young People Commissioner Jodie Griffiths-Cook said hearing stories like these from children is essential to understand their “unique experiences” of domestic violence.
“Those stories were, and are, and should be gut-wrenching,” Ms Griffiths-Cook said.
“The rationale for starting this piece of work was realising that we don’t hear from young people and children in their own right.”
“They don’t just see violence, they don’t just witness violence, they experience it, they live it, and they survive it.”
Many young people — who all featured anonymously in the report — recalled staying in unsafe households and remaining secretive about the abuse to protect family members.
“I didn’t want to get taken away from my brother or my Mum,” said another.
Some teens detailed confronting acts of domestic violence that impacted their schooling.
“There’s been times when I had to go to school with a black eye from Mum … then you get all the questions from teachers, ‘How’d it happen?’,” one relayed.
“I didn’t tell them. I couldn’t.”
Another said: “My Dad would spit in my lunch so I couldn’t eat my food.”
The report also found that some LGBTQ young people in Canberra had experienced domestic violence over their sexual and gender identities, while further findings highlighted that violence was also being perpetrated by siblings, not just by parents.
‘Young people are the experts in their own lives’
Ms Griffiths-Cook said qualitative data on domestic violence from young people was severely lacking, and that this report had “deliberately flipped that on its head.”
“They were very insightful about what their family needs were, and many spoke with conflict, saying ‘I know what they [family members] do isn’t good, but I love them still.’
“In looking through the report, not only do you hear stories of the horrific situations that they’ve experienced but there are also some stories about the ways that they are surviving it and the lengths that they need to go to to just live their everyday lives.”
The teens made a number of suggestions for change in the report, including:
- To be believed when they speak up
- Not to have to repeatedly tell their stories
- Not to be judged for still loving and caring about abusive family members
- Having social workers around when they talk to police
- Crisis accommodation that does not require the accompaniment of an adult
But despite the troubling stories, the participants also had messages of hope for other young people in similar situations.
“It actually does get better. A lot of kids think shit’s not going to get better but it actually does,” one said.
The findings have been slated for use by the ACT Government’s Family Safety Hub, to inform new and existing domestic violence services and legislation in the region.