It was a night, just like all other nights. Leslie* did her homework, played with her brother, and watched her favorite show. She got dressed for bed, and dreamed little girl dreams. Then, at about 3 AM, she awoke to what she thought was just a loud, scary movie that someone had left on in the family room downstairs. She sat up in the darkness, trying to make sense of what she was hearing.
Leslie realized that it wasn’t some horror flick, made-up by Hollywood directors and masked evil. It was real. The screams were coming from inside the house, but they were coming from her mother. The terrifying part was the antagonist wasn’t a green, two-headed monster; it was her stepfather.
Leslie was only eight years old.
Leslie was frozen in her bed. Do I help mommy? Should I try to save her? She got up enough courage to carefully walk down the hallway to her parents’ room, being cautiously quiet, fearing that she would get her mother in more trouble if she made a noise. Leslie put her tiny hand on the doorknob, only to find that the door was locked, screams and violence just on the other side.
She asked her mom to please come out, to get away, to run. “Just go away – you can’t help me…” was all she heard. And, she listened, as she always did, to her mother. Leslie sat in the hallway, for two more hours, as her mother endured abuse. Finally, when the sun was coming up, her stepfather passed out, and her mother was set free. But the night, and the monster, had already had their way. The damage had been done.
Leslie’s mother suffered a broken jaw, three broken teeth, and bruised eye socket, and two fractured ribs. Leslie, the silent witness, would go on to have severe trust issues, relationship problems with men, and would be in counseling for much of her adult life. Leslie, now almost 40 years old, never stopped reliving that night, and unfortunately the many more that would come throughout her adolescent and teen years. Leslie developed severe panic and anxiety, from the helplessness and violence she experienced.
I’d like to tell you this is a story of fiction. However, it is not. I’d like to tell you that it is “just the way things were 30 years ago” and that it doesn’t happen anymore. Sadly, that’s not true either. Yes, some people are better at hiding those bruises, those cuts, those horror stories behind bedroom doors, those feelings of helplessness – but the masquerade is only a flimsy cover of the truth. Domestic violence happens. And, it happens to more people than you may think. It happens in all faiths, to men and women, in every social status and financial circumstance. Domestic abuse cares not about who you are, and domestic abuse thrives when fed silence.
The problem with silence is that it perpetuates the violence. Saying nothing and doing nothing, results in nothing. Not just for the victim who will suffer physically, but just as in Leslie’s case, for the bystander – for that child in second grade who didn’t ask to be a witness or a protector or a mediator. If you are being abused, or know someone who is, there is help. You don’t have to let an instance, or even years of violence, define who you are.
• Domestic abuse cuts across all racial, religious, socioeconomic, and gender lines
• Every 9 seconds a woman is assaulted by a boyfriend or husband
• As many as 75% of children who see their fathers battering their mothers have behavioral problems
• The rate of partner abuse is 1000% higher for men who observed domestic violence in their childhood than for men who came from families without violence
If you need help, please call 856-424-1333, and ask for Sarah. S.A.R.A.H., a long-standing anti-domestic abuse program by JFCS, can help you out of the darkness and bring light and love.
While it’s true that October is domestic violence awareness month, awareness should be every month. No one deserves to be abused. And, everyone deserves to live without fear of those they trust…
* name has been changed