May 1, 2024

Can I ask that? A conversation with the children of women killed by men

Date: 20th November 2023

Mode: Hybrid

This conversation was hosted by the University of Melbourne, who have conducted research and produced a series of resources on the impact of domestic homicide on children and young people.

Panelists: Amani Haydar, Kathryn Joy, Beverley Attard and Rebecca Burdon

Please note that Kathryn Joy identifies as non-binary and uses they/them pronouns.

Facilitator: Dr Mandy Charman from OPEN

Summary

This engaging and vulnerable conversation with Amani Haydar, Kathryn Joy, Beverley Attard and Rebecca Burdon discussed their lived experience as victim survivors of domestic homicide and the ongoing challenges victim survivors face. This conversation is part of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence that tackles myths, assumptions and stigmas faced by people bereaved by domestic violence homicide.

Our guests all experienced the death of their mother at the hands of their father or intimate partner. For some this experience occurred while they were a child, while others experienced the death of their mother as as adult. The panel members described in poignant and intensely moving detail their experiences of the service delivery system and their process of recovery. While their differing experiences occurred over a 30-year period, there was a stunning amount of similarity in their experience and limitations of the service system in its failure to appropriately recognise them as victim survivor in their own right, or to respond to their needs in this devastating situation.  

Key messages from the panel

  1. Naming violence is important
    • “Violence exists on a continuum and should always be named.” – Kathryn Joy
  2. The importance of recognising children as victims of family violence in their own right
    • When a domestic homicide occurs, the deceased person is considered the primary victim, this messaging can nullify the experiences of the children and other people related to the deceased victim.
    • Children are primary victims in this situation. It is a direct crime against the children.” – Kathyrn Joy
    • “The interconnectedness of violence is really important, if we want to end intergenerational trauma, we can’t isolate things. We need to think systemically. “– Amani Haydar.
  3. The continuous gap in appropriate services
    • For a child victim survivor, the service framework is often adult-centric, this can add to experiences of isolation, confusion and grief.
    • The experience of losing a parent to domestic homicide is complex, current mental health care plans and Medicare provisions may not provide enough support for these experiences.  
    • Although there are family violence support services, there are very few specialised domestic homicide support services. Additionally, at times within the family violence support services practitioners, legal representatives, and support people are unaware of the complexity of this experience. This can at times lead to re-traumatisation and isolation for the victim survivors.
    • There are systematic barriers within the legal system and general services making it hard to navigate and access.  Some barriers include, the lack of plain English used within the legal and court system when communicating with the victim survivors; and police departments offering limited referral options, that don’t recognise the varied areas of support that may be needed, after the initial incident. This can add to feelings of confusion and isolation for the victim survivors and puts the onus of responsibility back on the victim survivor to navigate the service system.
  4. Suggestions for service improvement
    • Children victim survivor experiences are often different to adult victim survivors as they may, at times, not be privy to information regarding the incident. This may be because the adult victim survivors around them may find it difficult to talk about the situation or they may be under the impression that other adults or services are communicating with the children victim survivors about the incident. Providing plenty of opportunities for the children to ask questions and express how they are feeling about the experience can help them through their healing and lessen feelings of isolation.
    • Victim survivors expressed that although they were one of the primary victims in the experience, they are not recognised as such. Often, as part of a grieving family and community, they had to navigate the service system themselves and communicate that to their families and communities. Providing support and assistance to the extended family and others around them may help relieve some of the burden placed on the victim survivor and strengthen the family and community support for the families impacted. 
    • Victim survivors have highlighted that they need support for psychological and practical needs during this experience. Providing holistic wrap around services, that respond to both the victim survivors psychological and day-to-day needs may help address this issue.
  5. Peer support and connections with other victims is invaluable in the recovery and healing process
    • Survivors often experience feelings of isolation. This could be addressed by increasing peer support opportunities. Of note, is that the panel members had never met another victim survivor of domestic homicide, before they were brought together to participate in a focus group for the Children and Young People Bereaved by Domestic Homicide research project undertaken by Melbourne University.
    • Recovery time for victim survivors can be lengthy and complex. Recognising this need and providing different tailored interventions and informal support offerings could enhance their recovery process.

Testimonial from an audience member

On 30th of November, I had the profound privilege of attending an event that left an indelible mark on me. The stories of four incredibly brave people – Amani Haydar, Kathryn Joy, Beverley Attard, and Rebecca Burdon – each narrative a testament to resilience and strength in the face of unimaginable adversity.

These remarkable people, from diverse backgrounds and cultures, shared a common thread that wove their lives together – the heartbreaking reality that their fathers had taken the lives of their mothers. As they opened up, they bare the raw, unfiltered details of their experiences, many were filled with a mix of emotions – from sorrow to admiration, and a profound respect for the courage it took to speak their truth.

Listening to their stories was at times difficult to hear, yet impossible to turn away from.

I extend my deepest gratitude to Amani, Kathryn, Beverley and Rebecca for allowing us, the audience, to hear their stories. It was an honour to listen to your experiences, to learn from their journeys, and to be reminded of the strength that resides within the human spirit.’

Key resources

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