Children of Domestic Violence
Over the past two years, the number of households reporting domestic violence has more than doubled in Lane County. That’s according to Womenspace, a crisis center that serves victims of Intimate Partner Abuse. The agency also reports that more than half of those households include children. Advocates say violence has long-lasting, often devastating impact on kids. KLCC’s Tiffany Eckert reports on the agencies committed to helping the childhood survivors of domestic violence.
The 22 beds in the Womenspace safe house are always full. And the vast majority of the people there are families. They come at all hours and in all states of trauma. Teresa Aslin started working for the agency 9 years ago as an intern in the emergency safe house. During overnight shifts, she’s seen children arrive terrified, exhausted, shell shocked.
Aslin: “We’ve definitely had children come in who have regressed to previous ages in their behavior and their actions.”
Last year, Womenspace served over 6,000 adults . Along with more than 2,200 kids.
Aslin: “The biggest part of our job is helping normalize their life, like getting to go swimming. In addition to talking with mom about how abuse affects a child.”
Staff with Womenspace say children who experience violence in the home are more likely to have behavioral and physical health problems--depression, poor academic achievement and violence towards peers.
The cost of domestic violence is high—in lives and dollars. The Department of Justice reports the costs of Intimate Partner Violence exceeds $50 million dollars in Oregon each year. Womenspace Executive Director Peggy Waylon says the lack of funding is always a challenge for their small safe house.
Waylon: “We actually can’t take everyone that might be qualified. We basically have to assess who’s in the most danger.”
Intimate Partner Violence creates an atmosphere of constant fear and anxiety -- for victims and their children. Instead of being a place of refuge, the home becomes a war zone. Children are sometimes caught in the crosshairs of physical violence—they are very often witnesses to the crime.
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence finds 4 million children are exposed to domestic battery in the U.S. Police say one of the most dangerous calls to a residence involves domestic violence.
911: “Standing emergency?”
6-year old girl: “My mom and daddy are having a fight.”
911: “Is he hitting her?”
Girl: screams “Stop it! Send the police please!”
This 911 call was recorded in 1991 and recently released by the national advocacy group, Children of Domestic Violence. The little girl on the phone is named Lisa Floyd and her story of a lifetime of violence and abuse has recently gone viral. Lisa reports the cycle of violence continued and she ended up in the same type of abusive relationship her mother had been in. She finally got the help she needed to leave her abuser.
Ending the cycle of violence is one of the goals of the non-profit Looking Glass Community Services. It is the largest and most comprehensive youth serving agency in the region. Devin Jenkins is director of their residential treatment center in Eugene.
(Sounds of doors opening and sign-in at Looking Glass residential treatment center)
On any given day, there are 40 to 55 youth living under this roof. They come due to court order. Some are referred by child welfare. Jenkins says, most of these kids have experienced violence at home.
Jenkins: “Due to the social and emotional stress that puts on the child and the affects that has on brain development and social skills development, they are unable to function safely in the community.”
Jenkins has worked with challenged kids for almost 20 years. He remembers one little boy in particular who witnessed an incredible amount of violence at home.
Jenkins: “Mom had lots of men in and out of the home that didn’t treat her well. There was drug use. There was physical abuse that happened. There was prostitution that happened in the home. And this little boy witnessed all of it-- and would sometimes be locked in a room for days.”
Jenkins says when a child experiences systematic violence —they are in a “fight or flight” response. And that hinders brain development.
Jenkins: “Such a high amount of stress on a day-to-day basis, that development kind of halts because your mind and your body are focused on survival.”
Once this boy was taken from his home by child welfare, he was referred to Looking Glass for residential treatment. Given all he’d experienced, Jenkins says the boy had zero trust in adults.
Jenkins: “So by repetitively showing up and caring and supporting—we’re actually changing pathways in the brain—we’re reorganizing the brain so that the brain tells the child’s body, ‘Ok, maybe this adult isn’t a threat.’”
It takes time and patience and lots of empathy to help children overcome the effects of abuse and violence.
Jenkins: “And you know really, these kids are scared they’re lost, they don’t know what to do. If they could do well, they would do well.”
Abuse is a learned behavior. Abusers hurt others because they were once hurt. The mission of Womenspace is to empower women and children to change community standards and end the cycle of violence.
If you or someone you know is in a violent relationship, there is help. Womenspace has a 24 hour a day crisis line at 541-485-6513 or 1-800-281-2800.
To watch a testimonial from an area mom and son served by Womenspace, click here: