In total, 47 per cent of the 2,004 UK 18-34-year-olds reported witnessing a parent being a victim of domestic abuse as a child, compared with 28 per cent of 35-54-year-olds and 17 per cent of those who are over 55.
This gap between different age groups could either be due to instances of domestic abuse rising in recent years or linked to younger people being more aware and knowledgeable about domestic abuse and understanding it also includes emotional abuse, coercive control and financial abuse as well as physical violence.
The research was conducted on behalf of domestic abuse charity Hestia by British polling council member Opinium.
Hestia said it highlighted the “devastating impact” of domestic abuse on young people.
Millennials who had witnessed domestic abuse as a child said the experience had long-term consequences for them, with 59 per cent of those polled saying they had experienced anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Half said they had trust issues in relationships.
A third said they had self-medicated with alcohol or substance misuse; 42 per cent of respondents had experienced exclusion from school or low academic performance; while 27 per cent said they had experienced low attainment in their employment.
Around one in three believed the exposure to domestic abuse had also affected their siblings, while 26 per cent of respondents said their ability to forge successful relationships was impacted the most.
“Children have long been forgotten as victims of domestic abuse,” said Lyndsey Dearlove, of Hestia, one of the largest providers of domestic abuse refuges in London, which supports over 1,900 women and children.
“The data reveals the urgent need for specialist support for children as the long-term impact of domestic abuse can shape a person’s life. The new domestic abuse bill could create a monumental shift in society’s response to domestic abuse and allow all those experiencing domestic abuse access to vital services to break the cycle of abuse. We must not fail another generation”.
The organisation said the findings strengthen their calls for the government to enshrine specialist support for children in the domestic abuse bill which the government published in January.
Currently being scrutinised by a joint committee of members of the Commons and the Lords, Hestia criticised the fact that children had been omitted from it.
The charity said 50 per cent of children who experienced domestic abuse as a child become a victim later in life. As a result it is calling for the legislation to include protected waiting list status for all children affected by domestic abuse to make sure they get the support they need.
A 31-year-old woman who experienced domestic abuse as a child said it had profound consequences on her.
“My dad was abusive to my mum,” she said. “He would lose his temper and become a different person. This went on for years. Sometimes when I was still in the room. I can always remember my parents arguing and fighting since I was five years old. I thought that it was normal for parents to shout at each other, I imagined all the children at school had the same experience every night at home. Looking back I realise how wrong I was.”
Recalling an incident when she was around 12 years old, she said she had been excited by the prospect of a relative’s visit when her father told her mother to cancel it.
When her mother said it was too late she said her father “lost it”.
She added: “He turned the table over in a spontaneous rage. Before I had time to react, he had reached my mum across the room and raised his arm, and swung his fist directly in the face. I was glued to the spot, terrified. Blood was oozing from her face as she lay there helpless. He left for work shortly after as if nothing happened. That was when she called the police. Since then domestic abuse has been present in my life.”
She said she wished there had been specialist support available for her after the police were called. While her mother was offered a place in a support network, she was “just left to get on with things”, she said.
As she grew older she said her ability to form relationships had been “difficult”.
“I find it very challenging to trust people,” she added. “I’m scared they will be just like my dad. My performance in school and higher education was hindered after I developed a stammer in my speech. The fear and anxiety I had growing up manifested in ways I didn’t know was possible.”
While at university she would make excuses to avoid giving presentations and would avoid speaking whenever she could, she said.
“I really want there to be awareness given to students in schools about healthy relationships and for them to be told about the signs of abuse so they are able to confidently speak with a teacher,” she added. “For children who are experiencing domestic abuse, I hope they know they can speak out and will be listened to. Don’t keep things bottled up like me. My mum and I have tried to create a new life but the memories of the past are always there.”
A previous report by Pro Bono Economics for Hestia found failure to support children exposed to domestic violence costs UK taxpayers up to £1.4bn. This is made up of up to £70m for Health & Adult Social Care, up to £110m for crime, up to £790m for education and up to £460m for foster and residential care.
Hestia’s campaign, which has the backing of 140 MPs and Lords, is calling for the new draft domestic abuse bill to recognise children in the definition of domestic abuse, give children affected by domestic abuse priority access to schools and make sure child survivors are given special waiting list status for all NHS services including Child and Adolescent Mental Health Support.
The landmark legislation introduces the first ever statutory definition of domestic abuse to include economic abuse and controlling and manipulative behaviour that is not physical.
While a 2015 law aimed at those who psychologically and emotionally abuse partners in England and Wales is already in place, the new bill pulls different forms of abuse into one definition under one piece of legislation.
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