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Children’s experience of domestic abuse and criminality: A literature review


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This report looks at children’s experiences of domestic abuse and their criminality, including childhood criminal exploitation, serious youth violence and offending behaviour.

This report sets the scene for the Victims’ Commissioner’s in-depth review into children’s experience of domestic abuse and criminality (to be published on 1 April) by gathering academic literature and data to compile an account of the prevalence of children’s experience of domestic abuse and the overlap between this and their offending behaviour. It also reviews literature on interventions to support children and young people who have lived with domestic abuse.

The Victims’ Commissioner says:

“The recent surge in gang related crime has shocked and affected all parts of society. We have seen appalling violence inflicted by children onto other children through knife crime. The so called “county lines” dealing in drugs has seen children pulled into dangerous criminal activity, blighting their lives, as well as the lives of the victims of the drug trade.

“The question we are all asking ourselves is how has this come about? Only by understanding the many causes can we find effective solutions.

“The research challenges the notion that children are merely witnesses to domestic abuse and acknowledges children are directly affected by living in households with domestic abuse. This is something I will examine further in my upcoming review into children’s experience of domestic abuse and criminality”.

This report looks at the overlap between children and young people’s experience of domestic abuse and criminality. However, while some children and young people experience both domestic abuse and offending behaviour, it doesn’t mean that one experience will automatically follow the other. If a child experiences domestic abuse it doesn’t mean they will go on to offend.

There are a number of protective factors which can build resilience in children and there are support programmes and interventions that are known to help children to cope and recover from experiencing domestic abuse. This report collates information about some of those interventions. In the Victims’ Commissioner’s forthcoming in-depth review, she will be asking how well these work in practice and whether children and young people are receiving the care and support they so desperately need to cope and recover from the harrowing experiences of living with abuse.

As one stakeholder in the Victims’ Commissioner’s upcoming in-depth review said: “By not dealing with things at the outset for children of domestic abuse, you are sowing the seeds for the end result of violence amongst children that we are getting.” It is vital that we do all we can for children and young people who live with violence and abuse in their home. Only then can we ensure that those ‘seeds of violence’ do not fall on fertile ground.