When a woman escapes from violence at home, a refuge can be a safe port in a very stormy sea: an opportunity to regroup and begin the process of rebuilding her life.
For many women, the safety of their children is a driving force in the decision to leave a violent home. But for mothers of teenage sons, it can be difficult to find a place to stay during that crisis period when they have fled their home.
At Bonnie’s we accept women with teenage sons up to the age of 16. But many refuges will not take teenage boys.
Managing the tension between the, sometimes conflicting, needs of our clients is not always easy. It’s important that mothers and children be able to stay together, especially when they have already experienced trauma and family breakdown. However, this can impact on the need to feel safe for other women and children housed in our refuges. Most have had traumatic experiences at the hands of male perpetrators, which are still very raw.
As well, for women of some cultural or religious backgrounds, staying in a house with a young man who is not part of her family is not acceptable.
Recently we had a very young mother in one of our refuges, who was not much older than the son of another woman who was also staying with us. These challenging situations require sensitive handling and case by case management.
Sometimes we are able to fast track clients into our transitional housing, if there are concerns about accommodating their teenage sons in a refuge, or house them temporarily in a motel while we arrange longer-term accommodation.
Refusing teenage boys refuge, or separating them from their mothers, sends them a message that men cannot be trusted. If a boy’s father is an abuser, it does not mean he will be one too.
Research has suggested that domestic violence can become a learned behavior and that boys who witness domestic violence are more likely to approve of violence. They, like girls who have witnessed violence at home, are also more likely to experience increased aggression, mood problems and antisocial behavior.
But it’s important to stress that many, in fact most, children who grow up with violence become non-violent adults. Likewise, most of these children will not become victims of violence.
Creating a safe place for all women and their children is a tightrope walk. Every day we step out on the wire looking for that point of balance, eyes on the horizon.
Written by guest blogger Kate