Domestic abuse through the eyes of a child.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. I have contemplated writing about it for weeks now, and I think I am finally ready. It is something that I have really struggled with on whether or not to discuss on my blog. It is extremely personal, and I do not want people to look at me differently.

I don't talk about my childhood very often. As an adult, I now realize that I had it so much better than other kids. But as a child, the things that happened to me and around me greatly effected me. Even to this day, as hard as I try, these things constantly nag at me.

I was not severely abused as a child. I was spanked and had my hair pulled, but I was never afraid of my parents. My experience with domestic violence started at the age of five. I was at my first sleepover and got woken up early in the morning by my friend's mother: there was an emergency and I had to go home. Now. She drove me to the house and dropped me off. My two older sister's were sitting on the couch crying and trying to figure out what to do. Our mother was in jail. Her boyfriend (who lived with us) was in jail. After a physical altercation, the police had been called and arrested them both.

This was just the beginning. My mother was a single mom with four kids, and she sure knew how to pick losers. When I was eight, she got remarried to a man named Jeff. I actually really liked him. Jeff was funny and made me laugh. One day, my mother comes home covered in bruises and broken bones from what Jeff told us was a "car accident".

I vividly remember the day my mother told me that it wasn't a car accident that gave her the bruises. We were shopping in Lawrence, and Jeff was arguing with my mom. She drove off with my sister and I in the car, leaving him at JCPenny's. On the drive home, my mom broke down crying and explained everything to us. There was no car accident. During an argument, Jeff had beaten her. And this wasn't the first time. He had beaten her so badly she had been hospitalized twice before.

At first, I was so angry at Jeff. We went home, and my mother had us write "goodbye" letters to him. I wrote that he was trash, and I hated him now that I knew what he had done to my mom. The thing mom didn't leave. We didn't leave. No matter what he did, she always went back to him. And once he knew that we knew about the abuse, he stopped hiding it.

One morning, I awoke to a loud BOOM. They were arguing again, and Jeff had thrown the solid oak dresser drawer at her. My cousin had stayed the night, and he woke up just as scared as I was. We sneaked into my sister's room and listened as the abuse continue. Eventually, my mother walked out the door, got in her car, and left. She called to explain that she had gone to the police station to file a report. I remember being so terrified. This man had never laid a hand on me, but I had seen the abuse he was capable of on my mother. It did not seem like a giant step to assume he could do that to me anytime he wanted.

We eventually find a ride into town, not wanting to stay at the house with him. But we still had not heard from my mom. After about eight hours of being missing and never actually going to the police station, my mother turns up. She acts as if nothing happened, and we go home to the man who had just beaten her. Again.

It's really hard to explain how this made me feel as a child. More than anything, I wanted to protect my mom. I didn't want to see her in pain. I didn't want her to get hurt, even if she was the one who kept going back to him. At the same time, I hated her for not leaving. I felt like maybe it was my fault, and I did everything I could to be the perfect child. And eventually, the only emotion I felt was fear. I remember being so scared that he would kill her, that he would kill all of us.

Once, he locked himself in our house with a shotgun. I think my mom had threatened to leave, and he said that he was going to kill himself. And I remember watching my mom go inside to talk to him, thinking that I would never see her again.

My older sister and I had formulated an escape plan, in case anything ever happened. I had drawn a map of our house and the surrounding area. We knew all the possible exits in our house, and we knew exactly where we would meet down the road. We were prepared to escape if we needed to.

This was something that I didn't tell anybody. I didn't tell teachers or family members. I was scared of what would happen if I told. At eleven, I finally broke down and told my dad what had been going on for years. He immediately petitioned the court for emergency custody, and I got taken away from my mom. Restraining orders were placed on both her and Jeff, and I did not see either for a very long time.

These things are a huge part of who I am today, whether I like it or not. I know that I was changed by what happened. I think that too often we believe that just because children are not being physically harmed, that damage is not done. I know that this is not the case.

Children who grow up in violent homes are: 

  • Fifty times more times likely to abuse alcohol and drugs. 
  • Six times more likely to commit suicide than children who were not exposed to violence growing up. 
  • More likely to be incarcerated. Nine of ten prisoners reported witnessing domestic violence as children. 
  • More likely to experience emotional problems of grief, shame, guilt, self-blame, fear of abandonment, anger, helplessness, powerlessness, depression, and embarrassment. 
  • More likely to experience behavioral problems including acting out or withdrawn, being aggressive or passive, refusing to attend school, parent-like behaviors, lying, extremely defensive, attention seeking, bedwetting, nightmares, delinquent behaviors, reduced intellectual skills, and mood swings. 
  • More prone to being hit or abused by the violent parent or partner. 
  • More at risk for social problems including isolation from family and friends, erratic behavior in relationships, difficulty trusting other adults, poor coping and anger management skills, avoidance of the home environment, or becoming a victim or bully in relationships with other people. 
  • More likely to report physical symptoms of headaches, stomachaches, short attention span, anxious, tired, often ill, poor personal hygiene, cutting or self abuse, or regressing behaviors. 
*Sources for statistical data can be found at unicef.

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  1. Emily my heart broke as I read your post as I'm sure your dad's dad when you told him about the situation. Thank you for sharing your story, and I it will help others who might find themselves in a similar situation.

    Please understand that I am in no way minimizing effects of physical abuse or the damage that it can do to the children as victims who witness it as well.

    I would like to say to your readers of all ages, remember that just because an abuser does not leave any marks or bruises on you it is no less damaging, to you or your children. Yep this is personal...
    Thank you for having the courage and Grace to share your story. I pray that it might save a life or some hearts.

    Peggy sue