The implicit community tolerance of domestic violence in Western Australia aggravates the suffering of children living with the trauma of violence in the home.
Community attitudes which turn a blind eye to spouse abuse, isolate children who are the forgotten victims. Children believe that most people will not respond to their requests for help because they prefer not to get involved.
Community Services Minister Eric Ripper said last night these were some of the key findings of a Curtin University Social Work School study entitled '"I Just Couldn't Stop Them" - Western Australian Children Living with Domestic Violence'.
Mr Ripper told a public forum the Office of the Family-funded study obtained information from 56 professionals who worked with the victims, and 18 children, aged between 6 and 15 years, who witnessed regular domestic violence.
"It found that children, some as young as four years, often believed they must take control of the situation during their father's attacks on their mother, because no-one else would help," the Minister said.
Child health workers, refuge workers, counsellors and psychiatrists all told the research team that children, living with spouse abuse, experienced a range of problems which included school failure, sometimes aggressive behaviour and juvenile offending. Some children ran away from home and others attempted suicide.
"This study highlights the urgent need for the community to be better informed and educated about the unacceptability of domestic violence which is a tragic crime and not something which should be tolerated behind closed doors.
"It also points to the need for the community to better appreciate the value of children in our society and to better understand how parental behaviour impacts on a child's development."
Mr Ripper said the Government currently funded about 30 women's refuges across the State, and on any night they sheltered an average of 361 women and children escaping from violent spouses. This did not include the unknown number who stayed with friends or family, or who chose to stay with the perpetrator, immobilised by fear and a perceived lack of outside support.
The Minister said the 11 recommendations of the study would be given sympathetic consideration.
The Government's Social Advantage package allocated an extra $1.6 million over the next three years to support additional community initiatives against domestic violence and announced legislation to give police greater powers to remove perpetrators from homes.
"Another tragic finding of the study is that children who witness regular domestic violence are likely to grow up and continue violence in their relationships.
"There needs to be a fundamental shift in community attitudes to domestic violence which, apart from being unacceptable, also contributes to other long-term social problems."