I was four months pregnant, sitting in a medical office looking at a checklist for domestic violence. It was jarring to realize that while the form was directed at spousal abuse, the checklist applied to me because of my adopted daughter Em. My daughter had repeatedly attacked me as a result of her mental illness. It was a shock to realize that I was a victim of domestic violence at the hands of my own child.
I would like to think that what happened to us over the next two years was highly atypical, that in another place the resources of public safety would have aided other families in a way that our local police did not. I write this article as an domestic abuse survivor because the advice that I gave to other women eventually became the path I had to follow for my own family’s safety.
I can still remember being in the checkout aisle at the grocery store coaching my friend through the aftermath of an attack, begging her to call the police to report her violent ex-husband. Since that call I have heard women tell similar stories repeatedly. Unlike my friend, most of the women I talk to are still in abusive relationships. Their abuser lives with them and frequently dominates their lives. Most have children and these children also witness the abuse of their mothers.
We have laws to protect people from domestic violence, but as with sexual assault, the stigma attached to domestic abuse prevents people from gaining safety by reporting abuse. I think many abused partners mentally minimize the way their abuse adversely impacts their children. When you witness violence in the home, your sense of safety is diminished and the definitions of family, relationships, and safety are defaced. Anyone who is the victim of domestic violence needs to know that their children are hurt by what they experience even if the children are not physically harmed. If you are the victim of domestic violence you need to seek refuge for both yourself and your children. Many victims do not because they are afraid of their attacker and because they depend on the abuser for support.
If you are the victim of domestic abuse seek safety and file charges. You need to have every protection from someone who has already hurt you physically. Do it for your children if not yourself. Get help, get all the help you can, and file charges.
You also need to find out about programs in place to shield your identity or provide a safe place for you to live. Ask for help from both local law enforcement and crisis centers. If you are afraid for your safety and the safety of your children, say so directly and clearly. If you worry about angering your abuser then you probably have a reason to leave them and hide from them.
If you are not sure what to do ask the advice of a trusted friend. Make a list of the pros and cons about leaving and pressing charges. Try to look honestly at what your abuser has done already to you and to your children. Do not let your love for the abuser cloud your vision. If this person is hurting you, you need help.
Abuse can be straightforward or subtle, but the bottom line is that if you or someone you love lives with abuse, you deserve better. Get help. It is the right thing to do.