In recent years the topic of domestic violence has received increased attention in the media. News outlets have put a spotlight on high profile cases, from the murder of Nicole Brown-Simpson and Ron Goldman in the early 1990s, singer Rhianna’s assault by then-boyfriend Chris Brown in 2009, NFL player Ray Rice attacking his fiancée in 2014, to Amber Heard’s accusations of abuse from Johnny Depp in 2016.
However, domestic violence is not limited to athletes, musicians, or to the month of October, which is designated as Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Domestic violence does not discriminate. It can happen to anyone regardless of age, gender, socioeconomic class, or ethnic background. Unfortunately, the problem is often overlooked, excused, or denied. While domestic violence occurs in millions of households every day, the majority of incidents remain unreported.
The devastating effects of domestic violence on women are well documented (most victims are women, however men can be victimized as well), yet far less is known about the impact on children who witness a parent or loved one being abused. They are the forgotten victims. More than 3 million children witness domestic violence in their homes every year.
From a child’s perspective, exposure to domestic violence can come in many forms. Whether it is being physically present during the abuse, overhearing it from another room, watching their mother cry and nurse her wounds, or even being abused themselves, it would be naïve to think a child is not affected.
Several studies have revealed that children who witness domestic violence are more likely to be affected by violence as adults – either as victims or perpetrators themselves. This is primarily because children learn what relationships look like from their parents. What may seem normal to a child exposed to domestic violence will differ from a child not exposed to violence. This is not to say that all children exposed to domestic violence will become victims or abusers. Children are resilient, and if given the proper help and support, they can recover and thrive.
We need to do our part to end domestic violence. Instead of being bystanders and watching members of our community suffer in silence, there is a way we can help.
The Kern County District Attorney’s Office recently prosecuted a man for domestic violence. The man physically beat his wife for 10 years but she never reported it. One of her children witnessed the repeated abuse of his mother. He was also a victim, hiding his bruises with long-sleeved clothing so his teacher would not see them.
One day, while the wife was out looking for work, she went into a store and began talking to the owner about a job. During their conversation, the store owner noticed the woman’s demeanor and injuries and decided to talk to her. The man told the woman that she did not deserve that kind of treatment. The store owner did not know this woman and could have ignored what he saw. Instead, he decided to intervene, which led the woman to report her abuse after all those years of suffering.
Domestic violence is not just something we should highlight in October or discuss when it happens to someone famous. Every day of the year we should remember that this could be happening to anyone around us: a family member, a friend, a co-worker, or even a stranger with whom we have a chance encounter. Domestic violence is a fundamental problem that affects not only the direct victims, but the forgotten ones too. Don’t overlook, excuse, or deny it.
If you or someone you know is involved in an abusive relationship, reach out. If not for yourself or the other person, reach out for the children. No one should live in fear of a person they love.
Together we can help end domestic violence — but we can’t stay silent and we can’t be a bystander. As Martin Luther King Jr. so eloquently said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
To receive more information or get help please call the local toll-free 24-hour crisis hotline at 800-273-7713.
Lisa S. Green is the Kern County District Attorney. Kristin Barnard is the executive director of the Kern County Family Justice Center.