by Andrea Gadsen
Writer and Publisher
“Maybe when he looks at me he sees mommy.”
I pondered this thought over and over again in the midst of my own abuse as a child. Nothing else made sense.
I watched as my mother experienced violent rages from a man she had already divorced. Sometimes, my sister and I only heard the signs of a battle. A slap. A scream. A scuffle. Did he love her? And why did love sound so scary?
Eventually, he was banned from entering our home. But, he still had full visitation rights to my sister and me. And that’s when the target of his violence changed. I became the primary target as he began a multi-year pattern of sexual molestation.
I was too young to see the connection I now know. If my mother had known the possibility, she would have fought harder for no visitation rights. Studies indicate a strong overlap between domestic violence and sexual violence against children in the relationship; abusers are four to six times more likely to sexually abuse the children.
Researchers attribute the findings to the common themes of power and control, which both abusers and molesters exhibit. When the abuser lives in the home with the mother, he may use sexual violence against children as a way to exert total control over the family and create fear of retaliation. When the abuser does not live with the mother, sexual abuse against the child develops and/or escalates as a way to continue exerting power and control.
The effects of domestic violence on children often include emotional experiences of self-blame and sleeplessness, fear and anxiety, guilt and shame, anger and depression, isolation and vulnerability. Physical manifestations may include stomachaches, headaches or bedwetting. Children may have trouble focusing in school and may act out towards other children.
This list is not exhaustive, but it is interesting to find the effects of sexual abuse on a child similar to the effects of domestic violence. Children can experience depression, guilt, shame, self-blame, eating disorders, sleeping difficulty, anxiety, sexual and relationship problems, and disassociation. Thoughts of suicide are also part of the spectrum. In school, children may act out or become withdrawn.
This was my reality from my own abuse.
For the mother who knows she must leave an abusive relationship but has difficulty doing so, realizing the potential danger to her children may ignite the strength and courage to escape. Tools and support for leaving a harmful relationship exist through programs like the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
Looking back on my own story, I was partially blessed. When my mother discovered my father was sexually abusing me, she used all the resources available at the time to remove me from the relationship and to seek his prosecution.
It was an additional huge measure of fight for a woman who had already been battling through divorce and independence. However, the damage had already taken hold. Some of the emotional and physical aspects I describe earlier would become part of my makeup. It took a number of years to begin healing.
So what about your children? If you are in abusive relationship, ask yourself if they are safe. Children experience a host of emotional, psychological, and physical reactions which may take years to overcome. No child needs to have this experience.
Lundy Bancroft. (2007). The Connection Between Batterers and Child Sexual Abuse Perpetrators. Retrieved from http://www.lundybancroft.com/articles/the-connection-between-batterers-and-child-sexual-abuse-perpetrators
The Effects of Domestic Violence on Children. (n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.domesticviolenceroundtable.org/effect-on-children.html
The Impact of Sexual Violence Fact Sheet. (2010). Retrieved from http://www.nsvrc.org/sites/default/files/Publications_NSVRC_Factsheet_Impact-of-sexual-violence_0.pdf
Hume, Marie. (May 2003). Relationship Between Child Sexual Abuse, Domestic Violence and Separating Families [Abstract]. Retrieved from https://www.ncjrs.gov/app/publications/abstract.aspx?ID=202752
Andrea Gadson is a freelance writer, blogger, and entrepreneur. Her company, The SurrenderedPen, publishes life changing books in fiction and non-fiction arenas. Her debut novel, Released – In Search of a King, and its soon-to-be published companion workbook, Let the Healing Begin, empowers childhood sexual abuse victims with tools to enable their healing process. As a victim and survivor of childhood sexual abuse, Andrea is sensitive to the need for inner healing. Her writing captures a tale that relates to every victim’s own personal story. Andrea currently resides in Southern New Jersey with her husband and partner, Derik.
For more information visit, www.surrenderedpen.com.
YWCA’s Week Without Violence is an annual campaign that takes place nationally and communities across the country to end violence in all of its forms and wherever it occurs. As the largest network of domestic service providers in the United States, YWCA is focusing our efforts on ending domestic violence – NOW. Everyday YWCA addresses the root causes and immediate needs associated with domestic violence. As we mark our 20th annual Week Without Violence, we invite you to join us. To learn more visit www.ywca.org/wwv and join the conversation with #EndDVNow.