Family violence in early parenthood

Abuse or family violence is known to increase in early parenthood. It is important to have an understanding of what this is, what you can do and where you can go if you are experiencing abuse or violence – particularly if you have a baby or other children in your care.

What is family violence?

Family violence is also referred to as domestic violence, or intimate partner violence. Family violence occurs when a person uses aggression, threats, intimidation or force to control a partner or former partner, or other vulnerable family member such as a child. It is mainly committed by men, aims to cause fear, and can happen to anyone, regardless of socio-economic position, age, culture or religion.

Abuse can be verbal or physical including sexual abuse. It can include isolating someone from family and friends, withholding money or family resources, emotional abuse and intimidation such as threats to harm you or others, damage to property, threats towards or actual harm of pets, and threats to commit suicide as a form of manipulation.

Family violence in early parenthood

Sadly, one in four women will experience domestic violence at some point in their lives. Pregnancy and early parenthood is a time when violence toward women is known to increase. For many, it is the first time that they will actually experience family violence. Women who are already in an abusive relationship may hope that having a baby will reform their partner and that they violence and/or manipulation will stop; however it is more likely to have the opposite effect, as rates of violence actually increase – placing you, your infant and other children in your care at risk.

Emotional abuse may take several forms. It may for example, take the form of threats to report the parent to child welfare authorities as an unfit parent. A partner may obstruct access to postnatal care. They may refuse to support their partner financially during following the birth of their baby. Many dependant parents who experience family violence after having a baby or with young children are reluctant to leave because they are financially vulnerable, or they fear what their partner may do. They may also try to protect their children from the impacts of the violence, and in doing so put themselves in an even more vulnerable position.

The impacts on your emotional health

Violence is harmful to both the parent and her children. Family violence has significant mental health impacts, and is linked to postnatal depression, anxiety, and decreased attachment to the baby. It is also associated with lower rates of breastfeeding.

What do you do if you’re experiencing family violence?

If you are, or think you may be experiencing family or partner violence, it is important for you, your baby and other children you may have to seek help.

Talking to a trusted health professional in confidence is a good first step. This may be your GP or your maternal and child health nurse. These health professionals will be aware of local services in the areas that can assist you. They can also assess the potential impacts that this may have on your and your children’s level of safety, health and well-being.

There are also dedicated helplines available to support you such as 1800 Respect – 1800 737 732.

It can be difficult to accept that your partner has been abusive, and many women are reluctant to seek help due to feelings of shame. However, if your partner has been violent, even if he expresses remorse and you may both want to believe that he will change, the chances are that abuse and violence will very often occur again.

There are a number of agencies that are specialised in assisting those who are in violent intimate relationships, and your health professional can help you link in with them. These services can provide assistance to make decisions, help you to learn about your rights, entitlements and options, and can advocate for you within the police or justice systems.

Remember that it is illegal for anyone to assault another person, regardless of whether they are living together or are married.