October was Domestic Violence Awareness Month. While an adult in a family may be the victim of domestic violence, bystanders — the children — are affected, sometimes causing the cycle of violence to continue. This is the first in a two-part series about children in domestic violence situations and why it is crucial that they get the help that they need. Some names have been changed for protection and confidentiality purposes.
Mark lived with an abusive stepfather from the time he was very young until he was 10 years old. Now, a 23-year-old man who lives in Orem, the effects of living in a home where domestic violence regularly occurred still linger.
Mark vividly remembers his stepfather controlling his mother, constantly being angry at her, being verbally abusive, yelling and grabbing her.
“I would feel scared. I knew that once he started to yell at mom, it would escalate down to anything that I was doing. I wouldn’t want to be in his presence,” he said. “Even the simplest of things, like going to get a bowl of cereal in the morning and there would be fear of someone yelling at you to finish the bowl or a plate of dinner … I always wanted to check the sports section of the paper. If the newspaper wasn’t folded back up the way it came and into the rubber band, I would get yelled at. I was afraid to do anything.”
Mark said that his stepfather was a large man and even a flick of his finger or grabbing of a hand would hurt.
“It would leave a bruise,” he said. In addition to always worrying about himself, Mark had two younger sisters to worry about and, of course, his mother.
“I felt trapped. Kids want to get out. They feel trapped. I would want to run away and tell the girls to come with me. But, I tried to stay strong,” he said.
Nobody knew what was happening to Mark’s mother, his sisters or him. Mark’s stepfather was likable and personable to outsiders. “I would tell my friends, but everyone liked him,” Mark said.
Getting to safety
According to Laurie Loader, shelter manager for The Center for Women and Children in Crisis in Utah County, there are common signs to look for to help identify those in violent situations. These include being afraid to spend money or have high bills, not leaving the home often, being on edge when the partner is around and being afraid to share an opinion.
Bruises, although often hidden, are another sign that something is wrong. Even barbers or hair stylists have spotted signs of abuse when they see hair that has been pulled out, Loader said.
Safety is the ultimate goal for victims of domestic violence and abuse. At The Center for Women and Children in Crisis, victims have the opportunity to stay in a safe place to stay for about 30 days. During that time, food, clothing, group therapy, children’s therapy, life skills classes and other services are provided for domestic violence victims and their children.
Additionally, the center has eight transitional housing units so domestic violence survivors can live in the community and still have access to therapy. This service is provided for up to two years after leaving the center. Last year, 2,088 domestic violence survivors were assisted through the center, according to Loader.
“Be aware of domestic violence in and around your neighborhoods, families and places of work,” Loader said. “That’s what we can do to help.”
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, domestic violence includes physical violence, sexual violence, threats and emotional abuse. One in three women in Utah will experience domestic violence, compared to one in four nationwide.
After getting to a safe place, getting help for dealing with the trauma that has occurred is important. Part two of this series will describe ways for children in domestic violence situations to get help.