Before I get into the meat of the matter for this week, let me offer all my best wishes to my friend, Peter Wickham, and his partner on their recent union. Peter and I had known each other mainly from the political arena for a number of years. Our early conversations were primarily about the commentary associated with this seat or that.
Peter and I became much closer when we worked in the media together. I’ve watched him grow into the confidence to ‘come out’ publicly. Given the venom in Barbados and how the church nurses intolerance, there must still be a level of discomfort in Peter’s choice.
I remember when one of my closest friends in life finally admitted to me that he was gay. What traumatized me most about his revelation was not that he was gay but that he thought he could not tell me because I would stop loving him! This was a friend whom I had watched movies with, gone to the beach with and grown through childhood with. We literally grew into the people we are based on our interactions and the time we spent in each other’s lives.
That is not the kind of friendship you lose because of somebody’s sexual choices. I am not going to pretend that I don’t have my concerns and misunderstandings left about the gay lobby and some of the messaging, but I am very clear that no gay friend of mine ever has to fear our relationship ending solely because of things they do when I cannot even see them. Peter has caused all of us to confront an issue that we have not publicly reconciled with any sense. His union was a changing point in his own life and in ours as a nation.
Now to the substantive matter. My readers know that I have committed to using this space to add a little more knowledge to improving an understanding of domestic and intimate partner violence every time public interest allows. This week I want to spend some time explaining the relationship between domestic and intimate partner violence and children who experience the scourges.
Several different research studies have shown a number of significant impacts that affect children who live in homes affected by domestic and intimate partner violence. I wish to highlight two.
Firstly, children who live in the volatility of domestic and intimate partner violence have to exert much more effort to be successful in their school careers. Children bear the emotional scars of seeing their parents fighting physically or verbally. Even when the abuse is restricted to the emotional realm, children live with heightened tension and may develop mental wellness or illness concerns including post-traumatic stress disorder.
Some children present at school as withdrawn and uninterested in their work or tasks. Others act out in school being labelled as troubled, troublesome or rebellious. These children need extra support to be able to navigate their childhood and more importantly, their teenage years. Children affected by intimate partner violence or domestic unrest may become displaced as their usually female parent seeks to flee abuse or as they are torn between households in the middle of instability between parents.
The second point, and the more fundamental one, is that many children who grow up in volatile family units are more prone to be affected themselves by intimate partner violence in their later years either as a perpetrator or victim. Research has pointed to children of these familial units becoming more prone to perpetrating in their adult years or staying in relationships that are unhealthy and unsafe.
A female child who grows up seeing her father hit her mother but is told that he is a good father looks for a ‘good partner’ and will accept that that good partner can strike out at her because that has been reinforced to her as a characteristic of a good man. It is because the State understands the effects on the children of domestic and intimate partner violence and the cyclic nature of the problem that the State should be invested in supporting the children of these relationships.
We are not doing enough in Barbados to address the children of volatile unions. It is one of the significant gaps left to be filled in the response to domestic violence in Barbados. Until we take time and create mechanisms for this aspect of our epidemic, we will not see real declines in the number of people affected by domestic violence and intimate partner violence.
Marsha Hinds is the President of the National Organisation of Women.