Children who witness domestic violence on a regular basis can develop a variety of reactions. Some of the common reactions are nightmares, sleep disturbances, bedwetting, school problems, fighting, failing to make friends, abuse of siblings or pets, depression, becoming very aggressive or retreating to silence. The type of reaction will depend on factors such as the frequency and level of violence, the age of the child and his or her personality. Some experience several of these, some may experience something different. Often, there is this feeling of being trapped in a hopeless situation. The child might believe they are responsible for the violence. Many also think they should be able to prevent domestic violence and may feel that they have failed the family.
Witnessing domestic violence during my early years, I most certainly believed that it was my fault. I didn’t think that I had done anything to cause the violence, but I believed that I should have been strong enough to prevent it; to protect all of the women I knew who suffered in silence. I had only witnessed one domestic incident in my home. But that single incident, that one day, changed my life forever. I was only two-years-old, but my life was changed. Fortunately, my parents were soon separated and I never saw my mother in a situation like that again. But the damage had already been done. I became increasingly distrusting of men. I was unable to sleep throughout the night. I became nervous whenever I heard men elevate their voices because I knew that something was about to happen to whatever woman was nearby.
Over the next several years, I witnessed domestic violence in so many settings with extended family, friends, and even strangers. I tried on a few occasions to intervene. I even pulled a knife on someone once. Thankfully they backed away and I didn’t have to find out if I would actually use it. I don’t know if I would have although I always say I would. Most of the relationships where I witnessed domestic violence did not end as a result of the violence. Instead, the family learned to live with the violence. They learned to do whatever they could to avoid the violence and outsiders learned to ignore the violence.
As a teen, I was so aggressive with victims/survivors of domestic violence. I couldn’t believe that they would stay. To me, it just didn’t make any sense. Then one day, I think I was about 14 or 15, my mother and I were driving down 55 Street, just before you hit Baltimore Avenue. (If you know Philly, you might know the street.) There was a car in front of us and it stopped in the middle of the street. We could see into the car clearly. The guy in the car had on a red hat, he turned it to the side and punched the woman in the car so hard that her nose started bleeding. He then got out of the car and walked away. I lost it. I started crying and screaming and my mother pulled over and tried to get me to calm down. The woman pulled the car over and my mom asked me what I wanted to do. I told her that I needed tissue. I was shaking. I needed to go to the car. I jumped out the car and went over to the woman. I know my mother thought I was crazy, but she had learned by then that there are some things that I just NEED to do. I got to the car, knocked on the window. The woman just looked at me. Now, keep in mind the fact that I am crying and waving tissue. She rolled down the window and I hand her the tissue. I pause for a moment to cuss out the four men standing on the corner for not apprehending the dude and beating his… Yes, I mean it. I really cussed them out. They just looked at me as if what I said meant absolutely nothing. I focus my attention back to the woman. I tell her that we must call the police and that she must never go back to him. At the end of our conversation, she told me that I was a remarkable young lady, thanked me for the tissue and for stopping. Then she said that she was going back home to work things out. To say that I was devastated would be an understatement.
I was even more angry and hurt after the conversation than I was witnessing the event. I got back into my mother’s white Hyundai Excel. (Yes, this was when we had that Hyundai) No longer shaking, I speak calmly and begin to her how angry I am. She stopped me and said, “Baby, you don't know what people have to go through in order to get out. It is not that easy”. In the next few minutes, my mother taught me that leaving an abusive relationship is not as simple as walking out the front door. She taught me that sometimes you leave and the abuser still comes after you. She taught me that abuse is not only physical but economic, emotional/psychological and even sexual. In those few minutes, she taught me about compassion and care. She encouraged me not to be angry because this woman couldn’t leave TODAY. But most importantly she reminded me that what I did was a good thing. She said, “Somebody will need you to listen without judgment, to care without criticizing, to support and maybe to help escape. Don’t stop caring. Someone needs you".
If you are experiencing domestic violence and need help developing a safety plan, we have resources posted on our site for each state.
If you know someone who is in an abusive relationship, I say to you what my mother said to me. “Somebody will need you to listen without judgment, to care without criticizing, to support and maybe help them find safety. Don’t stop caring. Someone needs you".
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