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No Easy Answers for Abusers or Their Victims

In Response to Lynn Armitage’s ICTMN article, “Domestic Violence: Careful, the Kids Are Watching”:

I read Ms. Armitage’s article this morning regarding children exposed to domestic violence, and I felt compelled to respond. While I agree with some of her points, such as the focus seems to be on the adult victim primarily, and that children who witness violence are indeed victims in their own right. Her statistics appear to be accurate, and I respect her position as a survivor. I am, however, going to challenge a few of her statements.

1. Victims of domestic violence are so caught up in their own pain, their own drama, their own fears about the future, that they sometimes forget about what the exposure to all the violence is doing to the children …

While it may appear to people who are otherwise unaware of the dynamics of domestic violence, they are not caught up in their own drama and/or fear. They are surviving, and depending on the individual situation – staying alive is paramount in an abusive environment, and it just may be that parent being the best parent they are capable of being in that time frame. Secondly, the glaringly obvious unmentioned individual who IS truly caught up in their own drama and victimizing both partner and children with their violence. Nowhere, in any sentence, is the abuser mentioned, let alone held accountable for said victimization. This whole article, while having a well-intentioned and potentially powerful message reads like any of the victim-blaming, shaming judgements that survivors of violence regularly face in our culture. It’s dismissive to word it as though the person experiencing the abuse is somehow forgetting about their children while fighting for their lives.

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2. When he crossed the line from verbal to physical abuse and caused an injury, I had my husband of almost 10 years, my lover and the father of my children, arrested—something authorities say only one out of 100 abused women have the courage to do.

The writers experience as a survivor of domestic violence is unique to her and her alone. Nobody deserves to be abused, and Thank Goodness she and her girls made it out alive and on the other side. But hers isn’t the only experience, and the article reads like her experience has framed her understanding of this issue. She had the privilege, if you will, of having a neighbor to take her girls while law enforcement arrested her husband. She did an amazing job of shielding her children from witnessing what she could. Good for her. While our people experience domestic and sexual violence roughly at a rate of 50 percent more than that of other communities, her article reads like a blanket answer to the dreaded question “Why Didn’t You Just Leave?” With that kind of attitude coming at you when you do reach out for help, is it any wonder that victims don’t report the abuse their partner is inflicting upon them? Courage or lack thereof has nothing to do with reporting a crime. Victims of Crime did not ask for the experience, and how they choose to proceed with the violence they suffered is their right. That is such an offensive statement, I can’t expand on it anymore. It’s counterproductive, dismissive, judgemental and cruel, and from a survivor of domestic violence at that.

3. The best way to shield your children from the damaging effects of domestic violence is to get out of the situation completely. If you don’t have the strength to save yourself, then muster the courage to do it for your children. Remember, they are watching, listening and learning.

This is perhaps the most dangerous sentence in the whole article. While it is true, leaving is not always the most viable or the safest option. Again, each experience is unique, and getting to safety, safely would be an ideal approach. But it is not the only one. What if, for example, it isn’t lack of strength that keeps an abused person with the abuser and the children witnesses to the abuse, what if it’s lack of resources in a rural community. Or the situation where the abuser is the resource a victim would naturally reach out to. Or the victim is disabled, has a male teenaged child, does not speak English, or will be killed the second they try to get out of the situation? What if, staying in the abusive situation is actually the best and safest option? Again, each experience is unique and a survivor does not need to muster any strength, they have it in spades already. It takes courage, strength, intelligence and hyper-vigilance to survive domestic violence. Those that make it out safely aren’t any better or worse parents than those that don’t make it out at all. To phrase it as such is equally abusive and revictimization, period. Maybe it’s the abusers who don’t have the strength to stop abusing their families for themselves, but maybe they can muster the courage to take responsibility and stop abusing their families for their children’s sake because their children are watching, listening and learning.

Memory Dawn Long Chase is a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation and works for the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence.