If you are experiencing verbal, physical, or emotional abuse…read this when you feel safe and scroll down to the bottom for resources.
October is domestic violence awareness month. I have struggled to write this post because this topic is close to home. I have contemplated whose story should I tell and what angle should I take? Should I tell the story about the woman whose husband put spyware on her phone and tracked her locations? The one where the partner threatened to take the kids if she left because “he could if he wanted to”? What about the husband who took the life of their infant and his own life because she left? Troll the internet and you can find these stories and more. The truth is, these are stories I have read in the news in our community and heard friends tell me. Some stories do not make the news but are lived silently every day. You probably even know a few stories yourself because one in three women experiences domestic violence. Maybe you have even thought about doing something about it or saying something.
I can remember hearing my mom tell me when times got rough that, “You make your bed and you have to lie in it.” I can also remember hiding under a neighbor’s car (age 9) at 1 in the morning on a school night with the portable phone calling 911. “Can somebody please come to my house? My mom and step-dad are fighting.” It was one of many nights.
Sometimes my mom would wake me up…”Honey, get your stuff. We are going to go stay at ______ (fill in the blank)’s for a while.” I would ask, “What about school?” She would say, “We’ll figure it out.” She never did but instead repeated the same patterns over and over in one way or another with other men. I did figure it out when I left her at the age of 16.
What I can say is that my mother did the best she could, which was what she knew. She grew up that way too, repeating what her mother had experienced. What I can also say is that although my mother never explained the violence to me, I knew it was wrong.
I grew up feeling:
Powerless because I could not stop the words, throwing things, cutting phone lines, reckless driving, the pushing.
Confused because I did not know why it was happening.
Afraid because I began to see when it might happen again…maybe after school, around pay day, when the child-support check came, if my mom started hanging out with her sisters.
Sad because sometimes things were good. I loved my mom. I loved my step-dad.
Angry at my mom for doing things to make my step-dad mad. I was angry at my step dad for what he would do.
My mother never talked with me about what was going on, maybe she didn’t think I was old enough to know but the truth is I grew up quickly. I remember rushing home from elementary school to cook dinner so maybe my step-dad wouldn’t know my mom was not there. I did hear her say, “You are going to college. Don’t end up like me.” I remember pushing back, literally, when I got older and stronger. I know that my story has a happy ending when it comes to relationships. I also found forgiveness for my mother and step-dad. I can’t say that other kids make it that far. Today two in three children experience domestic violence in the US.
Later in life I became a social worker and I had the privilege to facilitate a domestic violence support group. I say “privilege” because many of the kids that grow up with violence repeat violence or accept it and repeat it in their intimate relationships. I also say “privilege” because it takes courage for a woman who is actively experiencing violence to show up and walk in the door, let alone share her story about the abuse. Many of the women who came through group were there because they had children. Many of them knew that they had to do something different. They knew this intellectually but taking those steps out the door were so hard.
I have had a few friends say to me: She can just leave. It’s just her choice to stay there.
Let me tell you that it is not easy to leave, I have watched my mom try and heard other women in real anguish over what to do and how to do it. Saying things like it’s her choice to stay is a big fat myth that we as a community tell ourselves so we don’t have to get involved AND further isolates a person (I also grew up in the Southern Appalachia and have heard the phrase “If it ain’t family business then it ain’t our business.”)
It is so easy to tell a person what to do but to walk in their shoes is much harder.
Now that I have my own child I think things like (what if my husband was abusive): Who could I tell that would listen? Where could we go? If I went to a friend or family member’s house, could I go there at midnight ? I wouldn’t want to upset my family/friends. How long could we stay there? How could I keep my job and make a life without another income? I wouldn’t want my son to grow up without his father…and the list could go on.
If you are a friend of someone who is in a bad situation, listening is the best place to start AND knowing the resources in our community. You can always help get them to the door, whether they decide to cross the threshold is their rite of passage. Keep listening.
What RESOURCES are out there?
Make a safety plan that includes where you can go before the violence gets out of control and a code word so your children can know when to activate their safety plan. (Yes, your children need to know how to stay safe too.) Click here for ideas on what to include.
Start talking if you are isolated and do not have a friend of family member who will listen, you can call Pat or Emma at the YWCA Knoxville at 865-215-6845 or 24/7 call 865-521-6336.
Seek support by going to the Family Justice Center and/or one of several local support groups, many of which are free (locations and specific times not listed to maintain safety, ask about child care too):
- YWCA (865-215-6845) Tuesday Night
- Spanish Support Group, YWCA (865-546-0651)Wednesday Night
- Helen Ross McNabb (865-637-8000), Thursday Evening
- Helen Ross McNabb (865-558-9040), Specific to sexual assault, Tuesday Night
- Finding Hope and Healing (865-215-6800), Thursday Night
- CARESS (865-693-9331), Wednesday Night
Get help for your kids by enrolling them in programs that can help them build coping skills and resilience. There is a local youth support group (ages 13—24) that meets on Tuesday nights (865-215-6849). The YWCA Knoxville has GameChangers, which is middle-school age prevention group for middle school boys led by adult male mentors (865-523-6126).
If you want to learn more, call the YWCA Knoxville and ask if someone will come speak to your community group (Maggie McNally 865-215-6815). If you want to volunteer all year long, contact the YWCA Knoxville about their ENOUGH! Volunteer Corps (865-523-6126).
If you are reading this and you lash out at your partner, there is help for you too, call the Helen Ross McNabb Center Batterers’ Intervention Group at 865-246-1100.