Young people who commit violent acts are often victims themselves. How do we break the cycle?

"Violence doesn't just come out of nowhere for these young people."

These are words spoken by one family violence researcher that have sparked a conversation, and a deeper look into the reasons behind why some young people use violence in the home. 

There are a myriad of reasons behind the behaviour, sometimes including cases where there is a disability, neurodivergence, or a trauma at play. But the statistics have now shown that the single greatest contributing factor for young people using violence at home is that they've been victims themselves of family violence.

Elena Campbell is the Associate Director of Research, Advocacy & Policy at the Centre for Innovative Justice RMIT University. For over 20 years she has worked in this field, looking into the prevention and elimination of violence against women and children.

From her perspective and research, she thinks it's time we started addressing and solving the generational cycle of violence.

Watch: Women and violence the hidden numbers. Post continues below.

Video via Mamamia.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates that about one in six women and one in nine men experienced physical and/or sexual abuse before the age of 15 — many at the hands of parental figures. 


With this in mind, it's sobering to consider the fact that people who experience physical violence in their youth are at higher risk of becoming perpetrators of violence down the track.

It's cases like these that Campbell has heard of directly.

"For so many of these young people who use violence in the home, they personally have also been victims of violence," she said to Mamamia. "It is at the hands of a parent, typically dad against mum or dad against child. Often that violence towards the young person is ongoing."

It's these experiences of complex trauma – and subsequently not being supported through the trauma – that can lead to the violent behaviour being 'passed down' to the next generation.

As numerous experts have noted, the impact of witnessing or experiencing violence on young brains can impact development and a young person's ability to regulate emotions and behaviour.

But with support and the system's help, this can be significantly mitigated. And that's the message Campbell wants to stress — that the cycle can be broken with the right resources. 

This week, a new report was released via Australia's National Research Organisation for Women's Safety (ANROWS), the report led by Campbell, which was prompted by input from practitioners and researchers. 

She said to Mamamia that one of the biggest findings from the report was a framework that can be used by services around Australia to support families experiencing adolescent violence in the home. 


"Investing in a system response now is a way of investing in a safer community down the track, because we're addressing young people's behaviour before it kind of sets in. If you grow up in an environment where violence is a way of achieving your objectives, that's what you learn," she said, adding that with support and recovery, that outlook on violence can change.

For so long now, these young people have fallen through the gaps in the system. 

And ultimately, our national response to domestic and family violence is crisis-oriented rather than investing from the early formative stages. It's changing this approach that lies at the heart of the new framework being recommended to the federal government and various services.

"Many services and individual practitioners have been working hard for a long time to respond to this complex issue. So we need a clear, coherent and coordinated framework through which policymakers, organisations and practitioners alike can respond," Campbell explained.

There's no denying that Australia has a family violence problem.

Just this year alone, 12 women have died as a result of gender-based violence. 

And in Victoria, on average police attend a family violence incident every six minutes. 

"When it comes to our response towards family violence, we keep doing the same thing, imposing the same consequences. Rather, we should be stopping to say 'Well is what we're doing right now actually achieving our aims, which are safety and accountability?' And the answer is no," Campbell said to Mamamia.


"If we don't reassess and make change then our young people who are using violence as a result of their experiences with trauma or unmet support needs, will be propelled by our system response into a criminal justice trajectory. And that would be a disaster."

Of course, this isn't a critique of the services already in place, which do incredibly important work. Rather, it's about putting pressure on those in power to give these services more resources, and to push the system towards greater reform and change. 

"I think we're getting better at having these conversations. But there's a huge road ahead in terms of diversifying the support on offer and targeting the cycle itself," Campbell said.

"If we can get in before the harm has been done and the trajectory has been set, then we can make a big difference."

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.

Feature Image: Canva. 

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