You might think the children are safe and sound. You might think they are being protected from what is going on around them at home - but chances are if you are living in abusive relationship with your partner, your children will be suffering too.
The harsh message that Domestic Abuse is Child Abuse has been issued by the Women’s Advocacy Project at Dove House in the run up to Christmas as it tries to raise awareness of the far reaching impact of domestic abuse.
Gina Waterson, support worker at the Women’s Advocacy Project, based at Dove House, said: “Children can get caught in the crossfire in an abusive situation.
“But even when they are not physically hurt, there can be a number of other issues which affect them deeply - and can affect them in the long term.
“A child may witness abuse, or hear mental abuse. They may be removed from their home - from their area, their family and what they know. There may be contact issues which arise.
“A big concern is that if children see abusive behaviour, they normalise it. They start to think that is how people are, and how they should be treated.
“We see young men being aggressive and violent towards women because that is what they have always seen as normal. Likewise we see young women who believe that is how they deserve to be treated. That a woman should be treated badly.”
The organisation launched its Christmas campaign last week - purposely targeting prominent shopping centres where women are likely to be out and about buying their weekly groceries.
“Access to help is some important,” said support worker, Paula Dalton. “That’s why we decided to take the campaign out to shopping centres. It’s often the case that when someone is in an abusive relationship they are subject to tight controls about their comings and goings. They are watched all the time.
“Being in the shopping centres, at key times when women may be out and about doing their messages, has given women the chance to come and talk to us without arousing any suspicion.”
Christmas is a key time for those working to support those experiencing domestic abuse. Statistics show that, for a number of reasons, incidents of domestic abuse are likely to increase over the festive period.
Paula explained what could trigger this: “People are under so much pressure to be happy, to have the perfect Christmas. That leads to financial pressures - and with so many out of work this can come more clearly into focus.
There may be more drink taken too - all this can add up to the perfect recipe for trouble.”
Gina Waterson added: “It’s particularly poignant to think of children at this time of year, because we all want Christmas to be happy for our children.
“The focus should be on them - but in countless homes children are living in fear or seeing or hearing things they shouldn’t.”
The PSNI recently released figures which showed that in 2014, they received 79 call outs on domestic abuse cases on Christmas Day.
They received 111 calls on St. Stephen’s Day and, in total, between Christmas Eve and December 28, 550 calls.
“Ninety percent of domestic abuse happens in the home. It may be happening in the same room as a child, or the next room. They will be seeing things and hearing things - even if they are not being physically harmed,” Gina said.
She added that it was important that people realised that domestic abuse is not confined to just physical violence. “I think people have often been confused around the issue of domestic abuse, as it used to be known as domestic violence.
“We have had women, and men, come to us who say they have not been abused because they have not been hit - but abuse goes deeper than that.
“And in some case mental or emotional abuse can be worse than physical violence. Women can become ground down. If someone constantly tells you that you’re a fat, ugly b*tch you start to believe it.”
As a support worker for Domestic Violence, Gina has also worked in an outreach capacity with the Men’s Action Network and Rainbow Project.
“I think it’s important to say that women are not the only ones who can be affected by domestic violence or abuse. We have helped a number of men as well - and our helpline numbers are open to anyone who needs them.”
As Christmas draws ever closer the women of the Women’s Advocacy Project will be holding an information stall and handing out their contact details at Toys R Us, Crescent Link, Waterside, where they are also holding a collection for toys for children who are in need. Contact details are being handed out with candy canes - so that people requiring help can access the information without arousing suspicion.
If you are experiencing domestic abuse and want help then you call into the drop-in centre at Dove House from Monday to Thursday, 9am-5.30pm or on Fridays from 9am to 3pm.The project can be contacted at Dove House on 71269327 or the 24 hour Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 8021414.