A couple of weeks ago I was talking with a colleague about our separate work around child to parent violence (CPV). As we rounded things up, a third person, who had been listening in, asked if they might make a comment. They told of a friend’s difficulties with their child, and commented that they had not thought about it in these terms before. I wasn’t surprised. Almost without fail, when I talk about my interest and work, whether at a conference, a party, to someone I know or a complete stranger, someone will seek me out later – ask for my contact details, request a private conversation, or perhaps share their own experience there and then. Barbara Cottrell first recorded this same experience in her book, When Teens Abuse their Parents. I have heard of similar experiences when a media outlet has covered this or another aspect of family violence. Suddenly there is much to-ing and fro-ing in the corridors, as reporters or other staff find someone safe to disclose their concerns to.
But more than this. I have been at gatherings where I have looked round and easily identified 10% of the group who have already confided in me. Yet the other 90% of people there may not be aware of the difficulties they face, for all manner of reasons. We know there are many things that cause parents to hold back The overwhelming shame of their experience may mean that they feel unable to broach the issue even with a best friend. The minimising as it becomes the norm may mean that families do not recognise their experience as abusive. They may fear the opprobrium of others, or a backlash from their child. They may believe there is nothing anyone can do anyway.
We still don’t have a definitive idea of the prevalence of child to parent violence and abuse. The figure of 10% is one which is regularly offered. It comes from a number of places, dating back to the early ‘counting’ in the US. Various research studies have suggested that it offers the best figure we have. Some (eg Gallagher) have questioned whether 10% is too high, including too broad a definition. Others (Routt and Anderson) suggest that the figures we have represent only the tip of the iceberg and so the likely number is much higher. Certainly, within some vulnerable group (such as adopters) the incidence has been suggested to be much greater.
All of which leads me to the conclusions that 1) the experience of violence and abuse from a child to parent is more widespread than we realise, and 2) most people know someone experiencing CPV even if they are not aware of it. There are many people working to make this part of every day conversation. It is incumbent upon us to create an environment where people feel safe to come forward; where they can be assured of an understanding and empathetic ear; and where timely and proper support is available.