I will not tolerate violence.
I will not inflict violence.
The pattern breaks with me.
The cycle ends with me.
I am free.”
Child Protection Unit: The Vision
Children of survivors of gender/sexual violence, specifically children in families battling domestic violence, are a social group that is left structurally unattended, denied services of support, and abandoned to suffer in silence. This group include both, children who are direct victims of gender/sexual violence within families and children who, by virtue of having witnessed violence in the domestic environment, are indirect victims. For a variety of reasons related to inadequate access to resources, lack of awareness, social silence, and misplaced prioritisation, this group of child victims does not receive adequate, timely, and personalised support and care. The need of the hour is an inter-disciplinary, inter-sectoral approach that merges the expertise and techniques of child protection and gender/sexual violence interventions. It is at this intersection of gender equality and child protection that Shakti Shalini's Child Protection Unit locates itself. The Child Protection Unit furthers the mission to provide the children of survivors of gender/sexual violence with services and environments that are holistic, specialised, and effective. It will intervene not only with the children, but the immediate caregiving unit, that includes the adult survivor of gender/sexual violence as well as the person who has caused the harm to build a healthy environment for a child by a transformation in socio-cultural practices of caregiving. In doing so, our project will be able to serve the dual purposes of both responding to ongoing violence and preventing future violence.
Research conducted on children in families where domestic violence happens have emphasized the fact that this bracket of children has generally gone unnoticed as victims of violence (direct and/or indirect) and they may carry on the trauma into their adolescence as well as adulthood. Children who witness domestic violence in their own homes might experience violence in indirect forms, like being exposed to instances of hostility. Even if they don't see the actual physical assault, they are often exposed to the repercussions. Such children often become isolated, fearful, guilty, and vulnerable. They might feel abandoned and defenseless.
Another adverse impact is that children who are raised in abusive homes may tend to believe that violence is the primary way to settle any disagreement as well as to dominate one’s partner. Within a heteronormative dynamic, boys who are eyewitnesses of their mothers’ abuse are found to exhibit similar abusive behavior toward their female partners as adult men, than the boys brought up in healthy and safe environments. Conversely, girls who witnessed their mother’s abuse are more likely to believe that threats and violence are acceptable and "normal" in relationships.
Traumas arising from the direct and/or indirect violence as well as the subsequent lack of support adversely impact the growth and development of child victims. With deep-rooted traumas unaddressed, child victims stand at risk of falling into patterns of receiving abuse, or inflicting abuse, or both. Such patterns, beginning in childhood and/or adolescence may sediment well into adulthood and reproduce in the form of inter-generational cycles of violence that spread themselves across time and space, from families, to communities, to societies.
Therefore, children can be supported to heal and process, to analyse and critique, and to connect with their own power to “choose” – choose to arrest, disrupt, and break ongoing, intergenerational cycles of gender/sexual violence within their families and homes, choose to put a full stop, choose their own freedom and release, choose to turn the page toward a future of zero tolerance to violence and gender equality.
A two-fold approach of response and prevention has to be deployed to address intergenerational cycles of gender/sexual violence:
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