I've worked with men who battered their wives, their girlfriends, their sisters, and sometimes their mothers. For almost ten years, I listened to their stories as they admitted bullying, hitting, smacking, punching, and breaking bones. Some had murdered.
When asked where their children were during these incidents, almost all answered the same way: they were sleeping.
Children do not sleep through these traumatic moments. Some freeze. Some bury the horror so deep it can't be accessed. Some become stuck on the road of re-creating the incident in their own lives (like so many of my clients had.)
The lucky children-witnesses become strong at the broken places, and as adults are teachers, nurses, law enforcement; they are all over the helping professions.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and during that time, it's important to think of the children who watch as their parents raise fists to each other, to them, and to strangers.
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, in 2001-2005, children were present in 216,490 (35.2 percent) households experiencing Intimate Partner Violence. Yet, when researching my novel, "The Murderer's Daughters," I found only one book about how children were affected when their father murdered their mother:
"Since the killings occur in the context of family life, all routines familiar to the children disappear forthwith... we have shared with children their horror at realizing that their dead mother's body was concealed in a garage or had been taken from the house and hidden... One family of three children were taken to school unwittingly with their mother's body wrapped in plastic dustbin liners in the boot of the car." When Father Kills Mother: Guiding Children Through Trauma and Grief by Jean Harris-Hendriks, Dora Black and Tony Kaplan.
During my many years working with batterers, the men in my groups swore that their children slept while they assaulted their children's mothers.
Children do not sleep through their parent's screaming matches.
I believe that we don't want to accept as true that children see and feel the violence around us. I believe there is a strange sort of cognitive dissonance in the country that allows us to believe that children can watch bloody homicides on television, can feel the sting of a mother or father's hand slapping them, can listen to violence against women being sung on the radio, can even watch their fathers beat their mothers -- and somehow remain innocent.
Children witness 87 percent of the domestic violence assaults in this country.
Children do not lie dreaming as their mother is beaten.
Children in violent homes are the abuse targets at a 1500 percent higher rate than the national average.
Children huddle in terror.
Perhaps, in honor of the recently passed Yom Kippur, The Day Of Atonement, in one huge ecumenical move, we could vow to fast against all violence, and raise all our children in peace.