Domestic violence and the hidden victims

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Medical experts in Australia have concluded, following the result of a royal commission into domestic violence in the state of Victoria (the first of its kind in the country), that children are affected by it even before birth. Statistics show that the number of cases of domestic violence in the country has increased by 136 percent over the last decade. According to unofficial figures, one in six women over the age of fifteen are likely to experience abuse from a partner or spouse. These incidents result in an average of 115 homicides each year. The public hearing in Victoria is set to present its findings in February 2016.

A key finding of the commission is that babies in the womb are extremely sensitive to their mother’s suffering. It is believed that the anticipation and experience of harm sets off a cascade of stress hormones which are capable of crossing the placenta and affecting the baby’s development in the womb. Professor Newman of Melbourne’s Royal Women’s hospital who reported on the findings concluded that pregnant women who suffer violence are more likely to have premature babies. In addition to being small as a result of these preterm deliveries they were also likely to have growth problem in their nervous system and brains. ‘The brain can be changed by the impact of these stress-related hormones,’ she said.

Family therapist Robyn Miller, one of six experts to appear before the commission, believed it was imperative to ‘train medical professional to be attuned to indicators of violence’. He also recommended that specific training be undertaken in how to broach and work through these issues with the affected families. He went on to say that ‘most men want to do the right thing by their children,’ suggesting that increased awareness about the potentially damaging effects of abusive behaviour on their unborn child may go some way to mitigating or challenging their future actions.

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