Guest post by Rachel Decker, Development Director, HAVEN and Executive Director, HAVEN Foundation
I’ve been with HAVEN nearly 4 years now. Having little background in the issues of domestic and sexual violence, I’ve come to learn a thing or two or three or….well you get the point.
Thing 1 – Nearly three quarters of women who are abused by their partners have children.
It’s a stat I’ve come to know well and it’s a stat I often repeat to our donors because it tells a story – a story of not just victimization, but the ability to stop the cycle of violence before it passes to the next generation.
Children who witness violence in their home often blame themselves for the violence. If I had cleaned my room maybe daddy wouldn’t be so mad at mommy. They experience guilt for loving the abuser. How can I love my dad when he hits my mom? Boys often have an overwhelming sense of responsibility to protect the victim. Shouldn’t I fight back to protect my mother?
They live in a constant state of fear and anxiety. Never knowing what will trigger the next attack.
Thing 2 – Those emotions surface in various different ways. Older children begin wetting the bed because of anxiety and fear. Younger children don’t learn to respect their mother because their father is reinforcing her “worthlessness.” Children of all ages hit and they yell….at their mother, their siblings, their friends, anyone. Because hitting is the only way they’ve learned how to get someone’s attention.
And the list of issues goes on…emotional detachment, poor grades, trouble concentrating, cognitive and development delays, acting out, depression, cutting, drug use. But, of all the challenges faced by the children at HAVEN, the one I believe is perhaps the worst and the hardest to overcome, is learning that violence is not the answer. Without anyone modeling healthy relationships, sadly, boys grow up to be abusers and girls become victims. The cycle is repeated.
Thing 3 – Children are remarkably resilient. When they have adequate resources to simply be kids – playtime, field trips, art projects, and story time – they begin to heal from the violence that has unfortunately been a significant part of their young lives. And when given counseling, support and education, they are not only able to overcome the challenges; they learn how to NOT perpetuate the cycle of violence. Boys learn to be respectful, caring partners. Girls learn empowerment and self-worth. Everyone learns that love shouldn’t hurt.
More than just learning about the resiliency of the children of domestic violence, I’ve seen it firsthand. Children coming out of their shell while staying in our shelter; kids learning respect from our male mentors; students in our Redefine program learning what it truly means to be a man; our youth coordinator teaching kids not to hit; children excited about getting help with homework; and mothers learning better parenting skills.
But, perhaps most importantly, I hear from the survivors themselves – adults who grew up in homes plagued by violence, adults who tell stories of coming to HAVEN and feeling safe, adults who learned love shouldn’t hurt. Adults who stopped the cycle.
You can help stop the cycle by giving the kids in our shelter a chance to just be kids. Please consider supporting our Playground Initiative by making a donation here. Want to be a kid yourself? Pick an item off of our summer activities list, grab your family and go have some fun.