By Lisa Shrewsberry
Have you done this before?
You pass by a house at dusk, maybe on a late evening walk or a drive down a quiet street. The lights are on, warm and inviting. In a flash, you understand why moths are irresistibly drawn to front porches on their dark, brief journeys. For a moment, you wonder, perhaps wistfully, about the goings on inside.
According to Patricia Bailey, executive director of Women’s Resource Center, things within could be more sinister than sentimental.
“Over 3 million children live in the U.S. in a house with domestic violence,” she states.
The question, an old, familiar mental haunt for Bailey and WRC case manager Lynda Jensen, is: Who will listen to the children?
Homes where a parent, generally a mom, is afraid to spill the milk for the aftermath to follow. Or when she no longer excuses black eyes and bruises because, she reasons, “I deserved it” — these are the secrets keeping the concerned awake at night.
As intervention professionals, Bailey and Jensen, along with their WRC staff and supporters, are promoting a calendar full of October activities to bring the darkness of domestic violence into the light.
Filling a calendar with obligatory activity isn’t Bailey’s goal. Neither is pathos. Activation is.
Jensen explains, “We need team players to make it safe for victims and their families and to minimize the abuse. When (domestic violence victims) go for an order, they don’t need to hear, ‘Well, there she goes for another DV petition.’ ”
The players, from professional to personal, must keep their sensitivity and maintain a sense of urgency.
“If you are that person who does reach out and you’re not taken seriously by anyone, that could be the last time you reach out as a victim,” Jensen says.
Idle commentary ignores the real problem, explains Bailey. “Instead of ‘Why does she stay? Why does she put up with that?’ how about asking, ‘Why does he abuse? Why does he batter?’ There are such good reasons why she stays.”
Generally, it’s for the children. “If you have no job, no friends, $100 and maybe some car keys if you’re one of the lucky ones, how are you going to take off and go start another life? I don’t think I could do it. Could you?” Bailey asks.
The lead victim of domestic violence, the chief target and peacemaker, is often busy surviving, leaving the kids to become silent victims, absorbent sponges to cycles of abuse. Jensen says children in such situations often have to fend for themselves, cooking their own food, assuming a protective parenting role to younger brothers and sisters.
“It’s a family secret. You don’t talk about it.
“You don’t bring your friends over,” adds Bailey. “You don’t know if tonight is going to be the night all hell is going to break loose. You want to help mom, but how can you?”
Poor school performance, marked misbehavior and outbursts of anger, lack of focus and high anxiety — all are common to children of domestic violence.
“If you’ve been up all night, afraid of how it’s going to end, how far it’s going to go this time, how could you focus in school?” Jensen poses. “You are so alone.”
Have you done this before?
Ever been the abuser?
Ever turned a blind eye?
What was happening next door for Roger Lockridge, the child of a domestic violence survivor, wasn’t what most would expect. The now 245-pound recreational bodybuilder and child advocate remembers watching as a skinny 10-year-old what would happen to his mother when his father drank alcohol.
“I felt like, there’s nothing I can do. I can’t protect my mom. There was also this sense of not wanting what happened to my mom to happen to me.”
Lockridge perfected the art of walking on eggshells around his father, a man he says he loved, but didn’t like. As the regular altercations between his parents climaxed, the night came when he, his siblings, his grandmother and his mother were staring down the barrel of his father’s shotgun.
“He was going to kill all of us. Then he was going to kill himself.”
His father departed to dismantle the family car, to prevent anyone from escaping, and that allowed the family to call for help. This time, finally, somebody listened.
“Before that night, no one ever approached me or my mom to ask if they could help. She worked at a hospital. We had doctor’s appointments. I went to school. There were public officials who could have made a difference. We were never asked once.”
Today, Lockridge speaks out against domestic violence, with the goal of reaching children who are now where he was, interrupting the cycle. Violence may breed violence, but not if someone intervenes, Lockridge maintains.
When his family stayed at a refuge center during the process of his parent’s divorce, Lockridge overheard his case manager talking about him in a meeting.
“Basically, they were saying how they would be arresting me for the same thing my father had done in 10 or 15 years. That really bothered me.”
Yes, children are three times more likely to abuse if they’ve grown up seeing it, he explains, but only if left to figure things out on their own.
“Anybody can make that difference. They can say, ‘This is not love; this is not what people who love each other do.’ As simple as that sounds, it can be very impactful to a child.”
Bailey’s charges the public to be the intervention.
“Domestic violence is not about anger; it’s about power and control. We will always be in the business of putting Band-Aids on the adult victims, but if we can do the prevention work on the ground level with these little guys, teaching them about recognizing violence and stopping the cycle, maybe there won’t be the need for Band-Aids anymore, because maybe there won’t be any boo-boos.”
A WRC Candlelight Vigil will take place at the United Methodist Temple’s The Place activity center in Beckley Oct. 12, a collective glow no observer has to question but that each should contemplate.
Lit candles to represent lives lost to domestic violence in West Virginia. The event is also to celebrate the survivors. “This is a way to say that we need to continue to work together,” says Bailey.
The next time you pass a house and see the lights on inside, she asks you to remember things aren’t always as they appear. Silence isn’t always golden.
“In that home, even in that moment when you’re driving by, someone could be being abused. So that’s why we talk about it. If one person gets the message during these activities, that’s a huge success.”
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