International Women’s Day – Domestic and Sexual Abuse & ACEs

Today on the 8th March, we celebrate International Women’s Day and join a global reflection on progress made towards tackling inequality, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage, determination and resilience by women in our communities.

Experiencing domestic abuse or sexual violence as a child is recognised as an Adverse Childhood Experience, which has an impact on health, well-being and prosperity across the life course. The impact on the 1 in 5 children who experience domestic abuse in their childhood and the 1 in 20 children who have been sexually abused can last well into adulthood. Children impacted by abuse risk mental and physical health difficulties through their lives, poorer educational outcomes, involvement in crime, and difficulties in their own future relationships. But a child in a household where there is domestic abuse is also likely to be exposed to other ACES such as parental separation, incarceration, mental ill-health, as well as some of the health harming behaviours that families turn to in order to cope.

 We know that domestic Violence and sexual abuse is experienced disproportionately by women and girls and that the gender of victims and perpetrators impacts the risk, severity and harm caused.  as a group. This year the ACEs Hub are keen to explore further the opportunities to work with Welsh Women’s Aid, specialist services and other organisations across Wales to better align the work we are doing on understanding the impact of ACEs to preventing violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence (VAWDASV).

 Just as experiences of abuse and other adversities is gendered, so too is children’s response and ability to recover from adversities dependent on factors such as their age, sex, ethnicity, ability, their access to protective factors and the support network around them. For example, we know that a boy who has lived with domestic abuse does not have to grow up to be an abuser and a girl does not have to become a victim of abuse later in life. What can we do to challenge domestic and sexual violence as a cause and consequence of ACES, and of the gender inequality that is the root cause? How can we work better together to engage families in all communities and the services they access to prevent children from experiencing this, supporting those who do to overcome it, and enable a rights based approach to protection.   

And at the heart of all we do  must be the women and children who have survived domestic and sexual violence and bravely share that experience to inform the continued development of better process, policy and action to tackle violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence,  VAWDSV and ACES.

 Eleri Butler, CEO of Welsh Women’s Aid welcomes this opportunity for joint working: 

 “We know that adverse childhood experiences in families is exacerbated by their experience of multiple disadvantage like homelessness, poverty, and involvement in the justice system, created in part by poor access to support, structural discrimination and the response of services and society. We also know many women and girls experience cumulative abuse through their life, and the correlation between  violence, abuse and health outcomes, at any age, is significant. Many survivors self-harm, they are 15 times more likely to attempt suicide, and there are clear links between abuse and being disabled, alcohol dependent, drug dependent, and with obesity. For many women and girls, the abuse is fatal.

Adversities in childhood are part of a child’s story but it isn’t their whole story. We also know that children will be impacted differently depending on the context of the adversity being experienced. For example, imprisoning the sexually abusive parent will likely reduce the violence and abuse experienced and lead to a chance of more positive outcomes. In contrast, imprisoning non-abusive mothers on successive short sentences for debt and poverty caused by domestic abuse will reduce their access to protective factors and likely increase the child’s trauma.

 Our national network of specialist services in Wales have in-depth knowledge of how best to support survivors to prevent further harm, increase well-being and significantly mitigate the trauma associated with abuse. So we look forward to working more closely with the ACEs Hub in Wales, to deliver lasting change in our communities and across the public sector in Wales, to deliver on the need for dedicated support services for children, the need for gender responsive and women-only services for survivors impacted by multiple disadvantage.

 We welcome the recognition that survivors – who have been at the heart of our organisation and movement for decades - must be central to work underway in Wales to mitigate ACEs. Only by working together can we hope to prevent domestic and sexual abuse, and achieve a safe, equal, violence-free world for children and young people in Wales.”

 Anyone affected by violence against women, domestic abuse or sexual violence in Wales can contact the Live Fear Free Helpline on 0808 80 10 800 confidential information and support, 24 hours every day of the year. Support is multi-lingual and is also available by email, webchat, text or TypeTalk.


Sarah KersleyComment