"Bob” sits in class talking about the cruelty that he used against his wife. He acknowledges yelling at her, calling her names, and on several occasions, punching and pushing her down. The rest of us sit quietly, listening to his effort to take ownership of his violence. As he gets close to the end of what he wants to say, he makes a comment that I have heard far too many times among those who use violence in their families. Bob says, “as bad as I have been to my wife, at least I have never been abusive to my kids.”
I can’t think of a better example of denial than what “Bob” just said. As if he can separate out his violence in the home and play like it only impacts one person. Whenever there are children, abusive behavior towards “my wife”, is child abuse. It is impossible to abuse a partner without abusing the kids. A parent is not a “good parent” if they are abusing their children’s other parent. Period.
Unfortunately, there are many in our systems who support such denial. Family members, friends, and communities pressure the non-offending parent to ensure the offending parent has ample opportunity to spend time with the children, recognizing “at least he’s always been a good dad.” Many judges in divorce courts make a special point to separate the violence “damage” by whom it was intended to impact, rather than recognizing the negative impact on the “bystander” kids.
This denial can be challenged in BIP classes by tapping into the stories shared by roughly 50% of the participants sitting in any BIP class.
This denial can be challenged in BIP classes by tapping into the stories shared by roughly 50% of the participants sitting in any BIP class. They grew up witnessing DV in their family. Their stories are important, not only for the processing of trauma, but as a resource for others in the group room. When the issue of DV and kids arises, it is not hard to create an opportunity for participants to describe their experience. I might ask, “What did you do when the violence was happening?” The responses are varied but similar. “I stayed in my room and closed the door”, or, “I would hide in my closet and try to comfort my little sister”, or, “I would leave the house and get lost in the woods out back”, or “I would sit there frozen, and feel guilty because I didn’t protect my mom.” It quickly becomes clear that many participants understand that domestic violence is torturous child abuse.
In follow-up, I often ask what they remember hearing while they were hiding? Examples of responses would include “I heard my mom pleading for him to stop”, or, “I heard my step-dad threatening to kill her”, or, “It sounded like everything in the house was breaking.” I remember one person told me, “the worst part was when it was over. I was afraid to come out of my room. The yelling and screaming stopped and everything was silent… spooky silent. I just sat on my bed and waited...scared to death.”
Kids living in fear is child abuse, whether they witness the violence or not.
This is also an opportunity to challenge some minimization: kids do not have to be in the house to be abused by the violence. Coming home from school to evidence of violence is damaging to kids. The fear kids have about everything being OK while they are away from home is common. Group participants can give many examples that clearly spell it out: Kids living in fear is child abuse, whether they witness the violence or not.
Denying the abuse of kids is common among participants of batterer intervention programs. Fortunately, the resources to illustrate the damage of domestic violence on kids are available sitting beside us in class. Tapping into the personal experience of those who batter is often our best ally in demonstrating that witnessing domestic violence is child abuse
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