Il se prenait pour le roi de la maison [He thought he was the king of the house] is the title of a new children’s book that illustrates the findings of research on domestic violence.Over a period of five years, Simon Lapierre of the University of Ottawa and Isabelle Côté of Laurentian University interviewed 59 children between the ages of 6 and 18. Their goal was to give a voice to children experiencing domestic violence.
We tend to think that children who are living in situations of domestic violence do not have a good understanding of what’s going on, that they can’t talk about it, or that they will find it traumatic to describe their experiences. However, this research reveals that the children who participated in the study were not only very aware of what was going on, but also very capable of talking about it, describing shouts, blows and slamming doors, even at a very young age. The children also suggested reasons why they were experiencing such difficult situations and the impact that such violence had on their daily lives.
“We learned that if we want to help these children, we first need to understand what they understand,” said Simon Lapierre. “We don’t hear enough from children exposed to domestic violence, and yet it’s crucial that we give them a voice. We also need to recognize that they are the experts when it comes to exposure to such violence,” he added.
It is estimated that some 500,000 children in Canada are living in households where domestic violence is occurring, and that this problem is present at every cultural and socio-economic level. This means that in every classroom, between two and six children are experiencing this form of violence.
Children who live in such an environment are not passive victims of their circumstances. On the contrary, they actively take steps to protect themselves and their siblings, such as hiding in their rooms and keeping quiet.
At the children’s request, the researchers published their testimonies in a book, which gave these young people an opportunity to share their stories and help other children living in such difficult circumstances. The children felt that seeing their ideas and stories illustrated in a book helped them reclaim some small measure of power over their lives.
“For us, this book will help children realize that they are not alone,” said Isabelle Côté. “It’s also a way of informing the adults around them, of promoting a better understanding of their situation and of establishing a set of reference points to provide better assistance.”
In keeping with the children’s recommendations, the researchers decided to use animals as the characters of the book. This approach created a certain distance with respect to the painful situations experienced by these children. For professors Lapierre and Côté, it was vital that they give the children their due by quoting them word-for-word.
Domestic violence can affect the health, safety and well-being of children. In the classroom, these children may have difficulty concentrating, be more tired or prone to acting out, which in turn may be labelled as behavioural problems, such as ADD or ADHD, rather than the result of domestic violence. This is why the researchers hope their book finds its way into every classroom, community agency and outreach program.
The book with be officially launched at the General Assembly of La Fédération des maisons d’hébergement pour femmes.
When: Tuesday, May 29 at 5 p.m.
Where: Ramada Hotel, 75 Edmonton Street, Gatineau
Please note that an English version of the book will be available in the coming months. You can find the French version at les éditions remus-ménage.
Media Relations Officer
University of Ottawa