It is a great source of pain that my child’s earliest impression of “mom”, of what it means to be a woman, involved witnessing the emotional abuse and degredation I suffered. My child drew this picture (above) for me, and told me that it depicts “You is sad Mom – you got called horrible names.” The lines by the eyes are tears. Note the figure has no mouth and cannot speak.
Emotional abuse is an attempt to gain control and overpower a victim, just as physical abuse. The only difference is that emotional abuse uses emotion and not physical force as a weapon. Emotion becomes a weapon when words, threats, body language, mind games, bullying and coercion (etc) are used to confuse, manipulate and control the victim.
Children become victims when they are used as pawns in the perpetrator’s efforts to dominate the victim, witness abuse directly and/or are abused themselves. “About one in 15 children are exposed to intimate partner violence each year and 90 percent will directly witness the abuse..” (Source: Domestic abuse: Long lasting effects on women and their children)
That domestic abuse is a re-occurring behavior means that children are repeatedly exposed to incidents of violence. Each incident of abuse causes a trauma or a physical, mental and/or emotional wound. The effects of abuse cause a lifetime of damage. (Read more: Impact of Domestic Violence on Victims and the Community)
In my situation, my child was so traumatized by abuse that she would repeat the “horrible words”, saying over and over again in a singsong voice things like “stupey” (stupid), “fuckey” (fuckin) and “stupey baby” and “dad call me stupey and fuckin'”. This was heard by numerous bystanders, people either visiting my family or professionals working with my family. It was also witnessed when my child visited father in his supervised visits.
It was noted by the therapist working with my family that my child “repeated power and control themes in play”. With the male doll fighting the female. Or the female trying to run away. The child would throw the male doll in anger. Once breaking the arm off “Prince Eric” after he was slammed against the wall. Only then did my child feel safe.
Healing and recovery is only possible when the victim is safe, and no longer being harmed. It is a courageous act for a victim of abuse to leave the perpetrator and seek safety. But, too often, the system will punish the victim for escaping the abuse. This happens when lenient sentences are given for abuse related crimes. Or when a victim is criticized and held under suspicion for leaving an abusive relationship, and not believed by authorities when coming forward with allegations. And happens when victims lose custody of children to an abuser, even after they speak out, in family court.
Professionals, including those working in family court and social services, who fail to recognize domestic abuse or ignore concerns from victims, not only put the victim’s life in danger but also become an enabler for abuse to continue. And the system that is supposed to protect becomes another source of trauma, and pain.
This happened in my family court case – despite the signs of abuse, despite the child being diagnosed with PTSD consistent with abuse and/or trauma, despite overwhelming evidence of abuse, the family court and Guardian ad Litem denied any abuse occurred. After I sought to protect my children, and remove them from a home that was unsafe and volatile, the family court gave sole custody to the identified abuser and banished me from the lives of my children.
My child is right… “You is sad Mom…” has become my everyday reality dealing with the loss of my children, and witnessing the family court system decimate my family with the impact of an atom bomb.
My own family court case of losing custody of my children to an identified perpetrator of abuse is just one tragic example among thousands more…there are anguished parents across the U.S., and the world, who have not only been abused and tormented by a former partner but are also being re-abused by the failures, and injustices, of the legal and social service systems.
– Emily Court