The overarching aim of the project was to map the range of interpretative frames and strategies used in relation to the phenomenon of children experiencing violence by a selection of children’s rights and women’s shelter/crisis centre organisations in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden.
The empirical material consists of documents from 10 organisations working at a national level in the selected countries, and interviews with key persons within eight of these organisations. In total nine persons have been interviewed. The studied organisations are: in Denmark Landsorganisation af kvindekrisecentre (LOKK), and Red Barnet. In Finland the organisations are the Federation of Mother and Child Homes and Shelters, and Rädda Barnen. In Norway the organisations are Krisesentersekretariatet, Norsk Krisesenterforbund (NOK), and Redd Barna. In Sweden the organisations are Riksorganisationen för kvinno- och tjejjourer i Sverige (ROKS), Sveriges Kvinnojourers Riksförbund (SKR), and Rädda Barnen.
In addition to the organisations’ web-pages, the material consists of documents with information about organisational aims, ethical principles, minimum standard for practice, annual reports, research reports, responses to public investigations and suggested law changes, press releases, etcetera. Through interviews and textual material it is explored, firstly, to what extent the selected organisations define children who ”witness” violence as subjected to violence and crime victims respectively, and, secondly, if – and if so how – these organisations actively are trying to accomplish a criminalisation of the act of making a child see, hear or being aware of violence to someone close to the child.
The preliminary results show that although it is possible to detect some tendencies to a justice approach to the situation of these children – where policy change is pushed with reference to children’s rights to compensation and to holding perpetrators of crime accountable – criminalisation seems to primarily be used as a strategy to transform these children’s situation into a political (collective) problem, to enable protection and support. At present, a welfare approach to violence thus seems to be dominating Nordic approaches to children exposed to violence.
Women’s shelter/crisis centre organisations tend to emphasise children’s status as crime victims more consistently than the children’s rights organisations tend to do – with one notable exception in Save the Children Sweden. One possible explanation for this pattern is that it follows upon an overarching strategy within the women’s shelter movement to lobby for criminalisation of men’s violence to women. This approach seems at least to some extent to be linked to an understanding of men/fathers who are violent to women as perpetrators of crimes to children. Secondly, what may be called a welfare approach to violence – where violence is regarded more as an issue for the welfare system than for criminal justice – seems to be more influential among the women’s shelter organisations in Denmark and in Finland, than in Norway and Sweden. A question for further exploration is to what extent this pattern mirrors broader differences between the Nordic countries. Thirdly, in spite of some differences in emphasis, it is clear that when it comes to the organisations’ efforts to push policy change, all of them are trying to transform the pain and suffering of individual children into a political issue, into a social problem than needs to be tackled through collective, not private, solutions. These collective solutions tend to be about protection and support – not about justice in the sense of holding the perpetrator accountable. Defining children exposed to violence as crime victims thus comes across as more of a means to welfare for children than as focusing upon the act of making children ”witnesses” of violence.
Finally, it can be noted that apart from Save the Children Sweden, children’s rights organisations seem to have been relatively slow to pick up the issue of children exposed to violence and their rights. A question that warrants further exploration and explanation is why it has taken so long to put the rights of this particular group of children on the organisational agendas and onto a children’s rights agenda more broadly, and what the practice implications are of this relative weight placed on welfare, relative to justice and accountability.