Five years ago, when I first began seriously investigating parent abuse, the studies and research papers were largely coming out of Canada, Australia and the USA. The statistics available came from relatively few older studies and were considered unreliable because of the ways they were obtained – the types of questions asked, who they were asked of, numbers involved etc. Nevertheless, they had served to highlight that this was a real issue and one which would not go away. Questions were being asked: how big a problem was this really? Was it confined to certain ethnic or socioeconomic groups, what were the causes, and what sorts of help were effective? Importantly, another question was emerging, as to how we should understand the phenomenon, from a sociological / feminist point of view – was it linked with domestic violence, or with youth crime and delinquency?
Over the last few years, a number of papers have been published, based on work within Britain, where parent abuse has emerged as an unexpected, but significant, issue. Amanda Holt’s 2009 paper (Parent Abuse: some reflections on the adequacy of a youth justice response, Internet Journal of Criminology) suggests that a new conceptualisation of the problem is necessary, since parent abuse cannot be properly understood, or addressed, within a framework of anti-social behaviour, domestic violence or family violence. Hunter, Nixon and Parr (June 2010) similarly discuss the fact that parents referred to their experience of violence in an off-hand “in passing” way. Their findings suggest that this form of family violence needs to be addressed outside of the youth justice system, which serves only to blame parents for their own misfortune. This is further examined by Tew and Nixon in a later paper (2010). All of these call for continued research to further our understanding and to improve the help available to parents. Nixon and Hunter went on to set up a parent abuse research network for academics (http://www.york.ac.uk/law/research/parn/index.htm).
Now, finally, within Britain we have two large pieces of research aiming specifically to further our understanding of parent abuse and to develop appropriate responses. Rachel Condry and Caroline Miles, at Oxford University, have been engaged in a 2½ year, ESRC funded, project since August 2010, focusing on deliberate physical violence towards mothers and / or fathers by young people aged 13 to 19. Their intention is to map the problem, obtaining more information from both victims and perpetrators, to examine how it is currently dealt with within the criminal justice system, and to develop practical policy recommendations. Already they have discovered that it is indeed a significant problem, a significantly hidden one, and one which lacks a coherent support response.
Just as we’re all getting excited about this, I came across a proposal, in April this year, for a further research project by the University of Brighton in conjunction with Brighton and Hove City Council. Theirs is a project seeking to implement and research a model of change within up to four EU / EAA member states, based on a series of questions not already examined within Europe. Specifically:
- What are the relevant age limits, how young and how old are potential abusers within the definition?
- Does parent abuse become transformed over time into elder abuse? What is the relationship with gender?
- Is the violence predominantly male to female?
- Is there a link between parent abuse and first generation migrant women?
- Does it cut across social class divides?
- What is the nature of the behaviour involved in parent abuse?
- Where should the line be drawn between normal levels of adolescent behaviour and at what point does this become abusive?
I await the findings of both with great interest. In the meantime we should remember that there is already a great deal of practical expertise generated across the country by various organisations, some better known than others. I intend to return to this in a future post.