The crisis of violence in the United States has expanded to include more than the traditional emphasis on the victim and perpetrator. There is an under-recognized group of victims in this public health epidemic: the children who witness the violence. These usually silent, indirect victims show no physical sign of harm and are commonly overlooked (jamanetwork.com).
Children who experience domestic violence between their parents or other adults at home are not just passive observers or ‘witnesses’ to domestic violence. They are profoundly impacted by violence and coercive behavior at home, and they find complex, creative ways to manage and cope with these experiences.
Domestic violence does not just occur between partners in an intimate relationship. It involves whole families, as the experience of coercion, the sense of ‘walking on eggshells’ around the perpetrator has implications for everyone in the family. It’s because children are seen as ‘silent witnesses’ helpless in families where domestic violence occurs (medium.com).
Recent domestic violence allegations from Austin Monahan, son of a former girlfriend of Congressman Keith Ellison, have brought the issue to light on the effects domestic violence has on families. His comments are allegations and Ellison denies them, and no charges were ever brought against Ellison.
Nevertheless silent witnesses have a responsibility to expose what they know about abuse regardless of the power or position the perpetrator holds.
I asked the Domestic Abuse Project for their thoughts. “Here at the Domestic Abuse Project…our mission is to work with the whole family and to end violence we need to help those perpetrating the violence. Domestic violence affects all people no matter they’re walk of life and can be related to people in power. We want victims to feel safe coming forward and we know they often stay silent. We stand with the victim survivors and we encourage a thorough investigation.”
Many abusers seek to intimidate and control. According to Dr. Diane Thibodeaux, a North Minneapolis Pastor and author of the book, Abuse the Hidden Cry, “Abusers have a need to feel powerful and always in control of their victim. Power is to use force, and control is to exercise authority. The abusive behavior may take the form of physical or verbal threats and the use of intimidation and that intimidation is a form of emotional abuse.” Pastor Diane says if the abuser admits his domestic violence and gets help, he could serve the community better and become a role model for all men struggling with domestic violence. She says, “Her doors at Oasis of Love are always open.” (oasisofloveinc.org)
As we approach October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we need to have hard discussions about the toll placed on the silent witnesses watching abuse and experiencing the trauma along with the victims. Not just the children, but the family members, friends, co-workers and neighbors. Let’s be Silent No More.
“People don’t stay in a violent relationship because they want to. They stay because they are terrified of the alternative.”
This article was written by Niema Broadnax