White Ribbon Day, or International Day of the Elimination of Violence Against Women. This post is continued from one I posted earlier, here.
"You ruined their Christmas!" Lauren snapped. "You need to leave."
I left. Now I was sobbing too. By the time I left, there was still no sign of the police.
The next day Lauren called and asked me to come over, as previously planned, for our Christmas Eve celebration. She was still not happy with me, but she just wanted to move on. She had called her mother the night before, and her mother had arrived at the house before the police. The two of them had discussed it and decided that, in order to keep things as normal as possible for Stevie, they should just tell him that this was just a minor incident that went on in all families. When the police arrived (first they went to the wrong house, down the street!) Lauren explained that I had heard them arguing and overreacted. The police asked to see the children and make sure they were okay. Lauren allowed them to come in and look at the children, but told them not to ask Stevie about what had happened, because it would be too traumatizing for him. (Tammy was too young to talk.) Jason had come back that morning and apologized, and everything had proceeded as normal.
There would, in the future, be more incidents, of course. Sometimes someone called the police (it was never me again.) Lauren would convince the police that nothing had happened, she'd tell Stevie that these things were perfectly normal, and things would proceed as usual. The marriage finally ended after Jason chased Lauren with a chain saw and threatened to kill her and the children.
My friendship with Lauren ended a few years later (she was never quite a true friend, but someone who depended on me to keep her children safe in the midst of chaos) so I don't know how her children did in the future. What I do know is this: Jason started out as someone's adorable baby. He was once a sweet little boy. But after his own birth parents abandoned him, and he drifted through several foster homes, he developed behavior problems. He was adopted, but the adoption was disrupted and he was sent to a home for troubled teens, one that would later be in the news for the physical abuse they inflicted on kids in the name of discipline and religion. He got out at the age of eighteen but had no where to go, and spent a few years homeless, where older homeless people taught him how to do drugs. He longed for the safety and comfort of a home... but he'd never experienced one as a child, and in many ways he was emotionally still a child, a broken-hearted child who'd been abandoned twice. Not that this is an excuse for what he did. It may, however, be an explanation. He would go to rehab, he would go to counseling, he would try to get better, and he would, for a while... but then he would eventually sabotage it.
I also know this. As a small child, Lauren witnessed her own father's violence against her mother. When Lauren was in elementary school, her father disappeared from her life. Her mother dated other men, but always referred to Lauren's father as her one true love. Lauren learned that love came with physical pain, and that she should do whatever was necessary to keep a man from leaving her.
And I know this: Boys who grow up in homes with domestic violence are as much as 1,500 times as likely than other boys to grow up and become abusers themselves. And 50% of girls who grow up in such homes eventually become domestic abuse victims in their own relationships. Like Stevie, they are taught that this is okay, that this normal. And when they grow up, that is the type of relationship they look for. Maybe not consciously. But that is what feels like home to them.
There are ways adults can help prevent children from growing up to be abusers or victims, whether or not they are from a home where they witness this frequently.
Beginning when children are small, teach them that it is not okay to use violence to solve problems, and that it is not safe to be around people who do. (At this age, you can talk about hitting, kicking, throwing things, spitting, etc.)
As they get older, reinforce this by talking about bullying. Teach them that they should not bully others, and that others should not bully them. Help them learn about taking care of their bodies and respecting themselves.
Be a model in your own relationships. It is okay to allow your children to see you argue in a healthy way, where nobody gets hurt, nobody is violent, and you work things out.
If you know someone who is in an abusive relationship... for instance, a sister, a neighbor, a friend... try hard not to put blame on them. It can be tempting, especially if the abuse is continuing and the person stays with the abuser, like Lauren did. Remember that, for the victim, there are a lot of complicated emotions and logical issues involved. The victim may have grown up witnessing domestic violence, and learned to expect it. They may have been taught that unconditional love should be unwavering, and that they need to remain loyal to the other person no matter what. They may reason that the abuser is a good parent to the children, and that they should put up with the abuse in order to not break up the family. They may think that they will never find someone else who will love them as much as this person does. They may feel sad for the person because of the person's past experiences or rough childhood. They may remember how wonderful the person was in the beginning of the relationship, and believe that the person will go back to being their "real self" soon, or that they have done something to cause the other person to change. They may just be afraid that they won't be able to support themselves and their children on their own. The abuser may convince them that they will lose their children if they try to leave the relationship. The abuser may convince the person that they are mentally ill and just imagining everything. There are so many factors, and blaming the victim will not help anyone.
Instead, be a listening ear. Reinforce to the person that you care about them, that they do not deserve abuse, and that help is out there. Tell the person good things about themselves, the things you love about them. You can offer to help them find resources, such as a domestic violence shelter. You can help them come up with a safety plan. You can ask what you can do to help... for instance, if you are a neighbor, you can offer your home as a safe place for the children to come to if they see a violent episode beginning or if they need help. If you witness violence happening, you can call 911.
If you have been in a violent relationship with someone and your children were in the household, you can still work to teach these same lessons... even if you are learning them for the first time yourself! It is also important to take advantage of any services out there that might help your children,,, counseling and mentoring, for example. Being around adults that are handling problems in safe ways will help children to learn to do the same, instead of resorting to violence.
If you are STILL IN a relationship with someone who is violent, there are still things you can do, even if you don't feel able to leave. Allow your child to have friendships and relationships with other people outside your home. Try not to prevent them from going to friends' houses, participating in after school activities, visiting grandparents, etc. Try not to tell the children to keep secrets. Being told to keep something a secret can make them feel trapped and helpless. Teach them not to intervene in violent episodes... their job is to keep themselves safe. Help them make a plan, such as going to their room and shutting the door, or going to a neighbor's house. Teach them how to call 911 if they need to. Explain to them that the violence is NEVER their fault.. they did not CAUSE it and they cannot CONTROL it.
If you really feel unable to leave an abusive relationship, and the children are in danger, you could even consider allowing them to live somewhere else... with a relative, for example... at least temporarily. Knowing your children are somewhere safe and cared for may make it easier for you to get yourself out of the situation.
Again, make use of services such as counseling and mentoring for your children. Give them as many ways as possible to express themselves and tell their story. Give them ways to learn about healthy and safe relationships. Teach them that they can grow up, and break the cycle of abuse.
I am just a blogger, so remember I am not a professional on all of this... I'm just giving you some tips. And that is all I have for now. As Jerry Springer would say, please, take care of yourselves, and each other.