Domestic violence is the silent killer because the victims rarely speak of it, even if they have escaped their circumstances, for fear of retaliation. The children of domestic violence are also among the silent victims. These children are more likely to be abused and neglected by both the beleaguered spouse and by the abusive one. Even if a child is not physically harmed, he may be emotionally scarred.
One child survivor was willing to speak of her experiences. She said that some images, some memories remain burned indelibly in her brain. “I remember being awakened in the middle of the night and being brought out to witness beatings. One image stays with me. My father kneeling on my mother’s chest as she lay on the ground and he punched her repeatedly. Blood dripped from her mouth and her eyes were already turning purple with the bruises. As he hit her, he punctuated each strike by saying, ‘See what happens to a woman who doesn’t obey her husband?’
“One night I was awakened by mother’s blood dripping in my face. I saw her, silhouetted, a black figure in a dark room. I was unable to see her face, but I knew it was her blood. I remember wiping it from my face. She whispered in my ear, ‘If it weren’t for you, I would have left your father.’ I felt responsible for her fate.
“I saw humiliations daily, stabbings and beatings that happened at least once a week, sometimes more often. Holidays were particularly bad.
… I used to hide in the closet much of the time. After a while, I knew the inside of my closet better than I knew my own yard.
“I kept a suitcase hidden under my bed, packed and ready to go. I had all the important things, a clean pair of underwear — you never know when you might get hit by a car — and Twinkies. One night, I think I was 5, I ran away. I made it to the end of the block and then sat down and cried because I was not allowed to cross the street. Eventually my mother came and got me, a towel wrapped around her arm to staunch the flow of blood.
“I am told that one night my father held the entire family at gunpoint, but I don’t remember it. What I do remember is my father holding the gun to my mother’s temple and telling us how easy it would be just to pull the trigger.
“As things progressed, I started to play at my mother’s feet whenever she talked of suicide. At that age before I had entered kindergarten, I didn’t know exactly what suicide meant, but I knew it meant she would go away and never come back. I followed her around. Sometimes she would get up and trip over me. She would yell and kick at me, but I knew if she was shouting at me, she couldn’t hurt herself.
“As a one-time child of violence, I’ve attended seminars to boost self-esteem, some where they tell you to hang onto a happy memory. Damned if I could think of a single one, then or now. I fear I am damaged goods, and no number of seminars can change that.
“The long-term effects are too numerous to mention. I am afraid to let people get too close. I never leave my home except to go to work and to do the shopping. If I do let my guard down, my experiences have reinforced my conclusions: love is pain.”