Personal Stories


You can’t stop where you come from because it’s in your blood, it’s in your DNA..” ~ Lia Marie Johnson

Lia Marie Johnson, actress, singer and YouTuber, released a heart wrenching song and video titled “DNA” about the devastating impact domestic violence has had on her life; and her struggle to break free from the cycle of abuse. 

Past my bedtime,

Blue and red lights,

Come take you away,

Hate to see you like a monster,

So I run and hide...”

According to statistics, as many as 10 million children witness domestic violence each year. In the United States, in a single day (2008) 16,458 children were living in a domestic violence shelter or transitional housing facility, while an additional 6,430 children sought services at a non-residential program. (fromThe National Network to End Domestic Violence, (2009). Domestic Violence Counts 2008: A 24-hour Census of Domestic Violence Shelters and Services). And in Canada, on any given day, about 2,500 children are living in an abused woman’s shelter with their mothers (Little Eyes, Little Ears). 

Witnessing abuse includesWitnessing can mean SEEING actual incidents of physical/and or sexual abuse. It can mean HEARING threats or fighting noises from another room. Children may also OBSERVE the aftermath of physical abuse such as blood, bruises, tears, torn clothing, and broken items. Finally children may be AWARE of the tension in the home such as their mother’s fearfulness when the abuser’s car pulls into the driveway.” (Domestic Violence Roundtable) Witnessing abuse is traumatic to children, even if they are not physically hurt, and causes harmful effects on every part of a child’s life physically, emotionally, socially and developmentally. Children who witness abuse are also more likely to become involved in abusive relationships as adults (which is not limited to intimate relationships but could involve any social interaction such as: work, church/religious involvement, friendships, or a pattern of being manipulated or taken advantage of.) 

The video for “DNA”, released in 2016, shows the cycle of abuse in two parallel stories of Lia witnessing domestic violence as a child, and later experiencing it in her own life as a young adult. 

Public Domain Image: http://awesomwallpaper.com

The damage that abuse has created in Lia’s life are vividly depicted in the video for “DNA” – these are common struggles many survivors face – she is a young adult who is seeking love and attention in the wrong places. She is the life of the party whose smile hides the turmoil she feels inside. She feels depressed, anxious, insecure. Lia’s life is spinning out of control as she parties and drinks. For more info on how domestic violence affects children, please read: Children and Youth Exposed to Domestic Violence

Research has also shown that children who are exposed to violence, or are victims of violence, are at a much higher risk for entering abusive relationships in later in life – meaning the cycle of abuse continues. This is also true for Lia, who reveals in the “DNA” video, her own experiences being involved in an emotionally and physically abusive relationship. Lia says about this relationship,”When I wrote this song, I was at a really low point. I saw a lot of similarities. I didn’t want to be like that.” (Lia Marie Johnson – DNA “Behind the Scenes”). The similarities are shown in the video, when images flash back and forth between Lia and her memories of her parents, where she witnessed her mother being abused by her father. The song also reflects the inner conflict Lia feels – torn between fear of her father and the love she has for him.

Lia says witnessing abuse left her with low self-esteem and feeling that she “would always be a f– up” but she later learned, that she can change her life. And what she saw in parent’s life does not have to repeat into her own. Which is true, it is possible to break the cycle of abuse. If you have been a victim of domestic violence or exposed to it, there is help, support and resources available to assist you with safety planning and other needs (please see list of Helplines below). 

Are the pieces of you

In the pieces of me

I’m just so scared

You’re who I’ll be when I erupt,

Just like you do

They look at me

Like I look at you

I won’t be, no

I won’t be like you

Fighting back,

I’m fighting back the truth …”

 

Additional Reading: 

Child Abuse and Neglect: How to Spot the Signs and Make a Difference

The Effects of Domestic Violence on Children (Domestic Violence Roundtable)

Little Eyes, Little Ears: How Domestic Violence Shapes Children As They Grow by Alison Cunningham & Linda Baker

 

Helplines: 

National Child Abuse Hotline: 1.800.422.4453
www.childhelp.org

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1.800.799.7233
www.ndvh.org

Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network: 1.800.656.4673
www.rainn.org

National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline: 1.866.331.9474
www.loveisrespect.org

 

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(Duluth, St. Louis County, Minnesota: Jan 28, 2017) In 2015, an Indian Child Welfare Court was established in Duluth, headed by Judicial District Judge Sally Tarnowski, to offer a better informed, culturally sensitive approach for Native American families involved with the legal system. Professionals working in the Indian Child Welfare Court are specially trained in ICWA (the Indian Child Welfare Act), the historical context leading up to ICWA and other relevant legal and cultural issues in order to better meet the needs of families, and to better collaborate with tribal communities. 

Read more about the court: Indian Child Welfare Court in Duluth aims for better outcomes for Native American families (Duluth News Tribune)

The Indian Child Welfare Court was created in response to ongoing concerns, validated by research, that shows Native children are being placed into state care at high rates – taken from tribal communities and placed into non-Native families. This is significantly harming families and communities. In Minnesota, statistics consistently show, that Native children are placed into state care at earlier ages, have multiple placements, and spend longer amounts of time into foster homes or institutions.

In October 2014, David Glesener a Child Protection Supervisor for St. Louis County Public Health and Human Services reported that,”As of this week, we have 540 children in out of home care, up from less than 500 two years ago. The percentage of those in care that are American Indian has also been rising and is at 40% – up from 30% two years ago. The numbers are similar in counties across Minnesota. The situation is truly epidemic for American Indian families and tribes...” The crisis of Indian children in Minnesota

In another somber report (August 2016) the Star Tribune reported that,Of the 1,300 Indian children discharged from Minnesota foster care in 2013 and 2014, the most recent years available, only 58 percent were reunited with their parents or primary caregiver, according to a Star Tribune analysis of federal data. That’s the lowest of any racial or ethnic group” Saving themselves, then their family

The Indian Child Welfare Court is designed to work in the best interest of the child’s well-being and safety while also considering their cultural needs, and utilizing community resources where appropriate.

The result has worked to build closer relationships between all those involved – including tribal governments and authorities, social services and the court system. The court room is also designed so that every sits together at one table, in a square,”In the middle of the tables inside the courtroom sit the Native American medicines sage, tobacco and sweetgrass. Everyone — from the clients to the judge — sits on the same level in a square. ICWA cases can include multiple attorneys and parents, social workers and a guardian ad litem. Before this court, all child protection cases were heard in a smaller, more intimate court. But it meant that people were talking to the backs of heads..” (Duluth News Tribune)

Currently, there is only one Indian Child Welfare Court in existence in Duluth but if this court proves successful, others could be modeled after it. The court operates through a grant issued from a federally funded study.UMD Leads American Indian Child Welfare Act Project

History of Native Children Being Taken from Home, Community

The history of Native children being taken from their homes is long, and complex, and involves actions taken by the U.S. government on Native people, and consequences that resulted within families, and Native communities as a result of these actions. Native communities, and families have been significantly impacted by the destruction of their traditional way of life and along with it, the destruction of community and family ties, and destruction of values and teachings that provided ways to raise and care for children. Poverty also remains a serious issue that is impacting Native families. 

Janice LaFloe of the American Indian Family Center (AIFC) says, For years and years, American Indian people have worked together to protect their community, as decisions were made for them, through the signing of treaties and breaking of promises, through the forced system of tribal governments and the forced assimilation of taking children into mission schools…The forced removal of children to go to boarding schools was the most detrimental thing you could have done to Indian community. There was a whole generation or more of children removed from their homes. The amount of abuse that happened to children in those boarding schools led to a perpetual cycle of learned behavior that surfaced and continues to play out...” American Indian children in Minnesota disproportionately placed in foster care (TC Daily Planet)

(PA) Carlisle Boarding School. Wikipedia Commons.

Out of home placement for Native children can be traced back to boarding schools (1860-1973), which were operated by the U.S. government through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, or by religious missionaries. The purpose of boarding schools was to educate and assimilate Native children into the mainstream “American way of life”, and to shed their Native identity entirely. At boarding schools, Native Children were given a new name, forbidden to speak their Native language, their hair forcibly cut, clothing changed, and they were taught to be ashamed of their identity and encouraged to adopt American practices. Abuse (physical, mental, sexual) and neglect was common place at boarding schools, as was forced labor. Many children died as a result of abuse or disease, resulting from overcrowding or neglect in boarding schools.

Government policies forced Native children into boarding schools – many children were kidnapped or parents were threatened, including use of physical force, to gain compliance. In many areas, racism kept Native children out of public schools so their only choice of education was a boarding school. Or, extreme poverty caused parents to send children into boarding schools. In Minnesota, in 1971-1972, 1/4 of the total population of Native children under the age of 1 years old had been adopted, and 90% were adopted into non-Native homes. According to the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) 2013 Legal Review, 60,000 Native children were enrolled in boarding schools in 1973, when the boarding school era was coming to an end.

Children being taken out of Native homes and placed with non-Native families has created a crisis that threatens the existence of Native people, and the preservation of their culture. The trauma caused by boarding schools is experienced in Native families, and communities to this day. According to experts, and health care professionals, there is a direct relation between the trauma and destruction of family ties caused by boarding schools and the high rates of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), drug and alcohol abuse and suicide among boarding school survivors and their families. In addition, survivors of boarding schools were instilled with shame, and taught to believe they are at fault or to blame for the abuse inflicted on them. There was no help, support or resources offered to cope with what happened, or to address the harms inflicted. Another disastrous effect was that the passing down of Native teachings, languages and customs was interrupted, and in many cases not passed down – and children were taught to be ashamed of their identity, and encouraged to separate from family and community.

In 1978, the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) was established out of a response to rising concerns about the well-being of Native children who were being taken, at high rates, from their homes by public and private institutions and placed into non-Native families. Cultural genocide remains a very real concern for many Native communities, as does the fate of their children – many who have never returned. The intent of Congress under ICWA was to “protect the best interests of Indian children and to promote the stability and security of Indian tribes and families” (25 U.S.C. § 1902). ICWA applies when there is an Indian child involved in child custody proceedings including foster care placements, CPS and family court proceedings. The goals of ICWA are to strengthen Native families, protect tribal interests and keep decisions within Native communities. Minnesota has added an additional layer of protection for children under the Minnesota Indian Family Preservation Act (MIFPA), passed in 1987.

For More Information:

ICWA – Historical Context, Information & Application: Powerpoint Presentation by Evie Campbell, MSW (UMD)

The sad legacy of American Indian boarding schools in Minnesota and the U.S. (Minn Post)

“How are you, what terrors are you going through? Hiding it from the Abuser, the One you ran from, and are now imprisoned in his home..”

A YouTube video with absolutely no sound leaves an impression even more powerful than the mighty roar of a lion… “Silent Child” by Family Court Abuse is a narrative/poem about the pain, grief and fear a parent experiences after their child has been placed in the custody of an abuser by an unjust order of the family court.  As a result of the ruling, the parent has been forced out of the life of their child, and can only speak through the stark black and white images of this silent video. 

The video description reads: “This is about Family Court decisions to seperate children and mothers who are victims of domestic abuse/violence, giving custody to an abusive father, how they are broken and silenced by courtroom tactics, and the painful silent space left in the home of the child and heart of the mother (and child). The lack of training in domestic abuse for Judges and Cafcass is a strong influence on decisions to force children into damaging and traumatic situations with an abuser.

What is portrayed in “Silent Child” is REAL and happening to parents in the United States, U.K. and all over the world…. family courts are awarding custody to abusive or unfit parents at alarming rates, and punishing the parent who is trying to protect the child from harm.

Studies have been conducted on the intersection of family court and domestic violence and revealed a consistent pattern in the court’s failure to protect children from harm by granting custody and/or unsupervised visitation with abusive parents:

** The Committee for Justice for Women studied custody awards in Orange County, North Carolina over a five year period between 1983 and 1987. They reported that: “…in all contested custody cases, 84% of the fathers in the study were granted sole or mandated joint custody. In all cases where sole custody was awarded, fathers were awarded custody in 79% of the cases. In 26% of the cases fathers were either proven or alleged to have physically and sexually abused their children.” Are “Good Enough” Parents Losing Custody to Abusive Ex-Partners? (Leadership Council)

** “Only 10% of children alleging incest are adequately protected from their identified perpetrators by family courts through long-term supervised visitation orders or no-contact orders. The remaining 90% of children disclosing abuse receive no protection, with 70% continuing in shared custody and visitation arrangements without any supervision, and 20% being placed in the custody of the parent they accused of the sexual abuse, and losing unsupervised or all contact with the parent who sought to protect them.” FACT SHEET CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE IN CUSTODY DISPUTES (Child Abuse Solutions, Inc.)

** “… A history of violence does not stop batterers from obtaining custody. In fact, a history of abuse seems to increase the likelihood that the batterer will seek custody…In one recent study in Massachusetts, fifteen of the forty fathers (approximately 38 percent) who sought custody received sole or joint custody of the children, despite the fact that each and every one of these men were reportLosed to have abused both the mother and the child/children prior to separation and continued to do so after separation..” “One More Battleground: Domestic Violence, Child Custody, and the Batterers’ Relentless Pursuit of their Victims Through the Courts” by Mary Przekop

** “My own survey of the case law in 2001 identified 38 appellate state court decisions concerning custody and domestic violence. The survey found that 36 of the 38 trial courts had awarded joint or sole custody to alleged and adjudicated batterers. Two-thirds of these decisions were reversed on appeal. –  Joan S. Meier, Esq., Domestic Violence, Child Custody, and Child Protection: RATES AT WHICH ACCUSED AND ADJUDICATED BATTERERS RECEIVE SOLE OR JOINT CUSTODY (Compiled by Joan S. Meier, Esq).

The tragic result of family court failures is that children are being abused and have absolutely no avenue for help or legal protection because the abuser is being protected by the legal system (not the child), and the child has become silenced. As parents and professionals we have a responsibility to protect our children.. and when systems fail, it is our responsibility to fight for justice so these silenced children can finally have a voice. 

 

 

 

Why can’t we just drop everything we’ve said?

All I want is a peaceful night in bed… 

Without these bizarre thoughts all runnin’ through my head

Sometimes you make me wish I was dead…

I Know It Is Hard” describes the experience of Domestic Violence by Proxy/Alienation from the broken heart of a teen.

The powerful words of the rap song “I Know It Is Hard” were written and performed by a teen who has been physically alienated from a parent and used as a weapon since the age of 14.

The video was posted online after being sent to a targeted parent in 2012.

 

Research reveals the devastating effects domestic violence has on pregnant women, and their unborn children….

According to recent studies, a staggering 45% of abused women report that they are forced to have sex with their partner. When pregnancy results in an abusive relationship, in 50-70% of women the abuse continues during pregnancy. The National Institutes of Health reports that over 300,000 pregnant women in the U.S. are victims to domestic violence, with domestic violence being the leading cause of death among U.S. women of childbearing age.

I am one of these women the statistics speak of. I understand, firsthand, the horror of becoming pregnant as a result of abuse, and then enduring a pregnancy in a home where I did not feel safe. 

Pregnancy journal.. while other mothers are scrap booking the milestones of their pregnancy from the first pink line on the pregnancy test to hearing a steady heart beat for the first time, these are my sad milestones….

Common symptoms announced pregnancy –nausea, fatigue, sudden weight gain… and cravings for pickles. On the outside I looked like any pregnant woman but behind closed doors, I lived a life of fear and uncertainty, as an abuse victim.

4/5 Months Pregnant, while I was celebrating the first kicks – my abusive ex was calling me fat, and telling me I looked like “an old granny” in maternity clothes. I attempted to squeeze into jeans even as my belly stretched, and baby kicked in protest to avoid his angry outbursts… and secretly hoped baby did not hear what was said.

6/7 months Pregnant, while I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of my child, preparing a nursery, reading baby books and shopping for clothing and toys (tears in my eyes, goofy grin on my face) – my abusive ex is giving the baby the “silent treatment”. He has ignored every aspect of my pregnancy, and acts as if we are not expecting a baby. There is no emotion. No talk of the pregnancy. No planning. I feel like a single parent before the baby is even born.

8/9 months Pregnant, still working a job to support the family, finances are stretched thin… my abusive ex is addicted to prescription pain pills. While I am planning my trip to the hospital to delivery the baby, he is planning his next visit to the ER or to the dentist or to a round of doctors to get his next fix.

“..to think of all the babies whose pre-birth experience is one of fear and threat. I have worked with women for many years that have lived with domestic violence and other abuse it made me feel immensely sad for them and their unborn children..” ~ Laura Schuerwegen, author the blog, Authentic Parenting

Unborn children are harmed by domestic violence that they are exposed to in the womb, research confirms what many domestic violence victims and advocates have reported.

Exposure to domestic violence begins in utero, as does the harm it causes. Beginning in the 2nd trimester of pregnancy, babies can hear voices and sounds from the world around them. The clearest sound heard is the mother’s voice. What to Expect: Fetal Sense of Hearing offers a simple experiment to give you the chance to understand what noise sounds like to an unborn baby, “Try this for fun (really!): Put your hand over your mouth. Have your partner do the same. Then carry on a conversation – and that’s what voices sound like to your baby in the womb.

The louder a sound the more likely a baby is to hear it, which includes yelling or threats directed at a pregnant mother, the sound of crying or police sirens – all common in experiences of domestic violence.

Before birth, a unborn baby is not only hearing but experiencing the very emotions of fear – through the chemical process that happens in the mother’s body. Chemical processes in the mother’s body send emotional and physical messages to the unborn baby. A mother who is frightened, anxious or hyper vigilant as a result of abuse has higher levels of stress hormones in her body, that will also affect the developing baby; and over time will put extra stress on the brain and body (this is also reaffirmed by the ACEs study which says toxic stress damages the function and structure of a child’s developing brain, and can lead to other health consequences). In particular, the hormone cortisol is neurotoxic and has damaging effects on the brain, and may contribute to emotional problems in a baby after birth, says new research by Michigan State University scientists.

Other risks to the pregnant mother and unborn baby include: physical injury, inability to seek medical care or treatment, less access to support/friends/family and a higher rate of miscarriage.

To be clear – the problem is NOT the expectant mother but the abuse inflicted on the mother, at the hands of an abusive partner. By gaining a better understanding of how abuse affects unborn children, Alytia Levendosky, a study co-author at Michigan State is hopeful that increased education and awareness about domestic violence will send a strong message that domestic violence is harmful to unborn babies, and will encourage doctors and other medical professionals, and social workers, to screen and monitor for violence; and better be able to support victims – or provide needed resources for help. Research has proven that advocacy for abuse victims, in combination with providing resources for help, does improve outcomes.

A positive note – children’s brain can heal and create new connections; so early intervention can lessen some of the damage caused by domestic violence; and may also save a life.

Need Help? The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 | 1-800-787-3224 (TTY)

Additional Reading: 

ACES = Adverse Childhood Experiences

Authentic Parenting: Effects of Pre-Birth Trauma on the Unborn Child

DOMESTIC ABUSE MAY AFFECT CHILDREN IN WOMB

The effects of domestic violence on unborn children (Includes a list of how exposure to domestic violence negatively impacts the emotional, physical and social development of children)

Partner violence during pregnancy: prevalence, effects, screening, and management

NCADV Pregnancy and Domestic Violence Facts

When Pregnancy Triggers Violence

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Public Domain Photo

Several years ago, I found myself escaping an abusive relationship after being physically assaulted. I was homeless with two small, traumatized children to care for… despite the bleak circumstances, the life ahead of me was so much better than the one I left behind.

The children and I stayed wherever we could – on the couches of friends or family willing to take us in, slept in our minivan and in a battered women’s “shelter”.

The “shelter” was a roof over our heads but little else – it lacked supportive services and was generally a toxic, chaotic environment. Toys and games for were donated to the “shelter” but children were not allowed to play with them. I don’t know why. The kids were rounded up in the living room and sat on the dirty floor playing with dust balls or watching whatever was on TV – no cartoons because there was only one TV and the adults chose all the programming. My children were already traumatized and being in this environment just made things worse. So I made it a point to take my children out of the shelter during the day, and find activities or parks to visit.

It was during this time that my “art advocacy” was born. I started taking pictures to record our lives as being homeless; I wanted to speak out against the abuse that was done to us.. and the only safe way (at the time) was in pictures.

To keep my children busy, and to keep their mind off our struggles, I would tell them “tall tales” – long, adventurous stories. From these stories I found the voice that had been suppressed due to the abuse and began writing stories and poetry.

I found community and church forums to display my photography or read a poem. Then I started creating picture quotes to raise awareness about abuse, and the issue survivors face when leaving abuseThrough art, I was not only creating a way to raise awareness and give voice but I was also creating a new life for myself. 

I am now sharing my art and photography on “Parenting Abused Children”, to share my journey and offer an encouraging message that it is possible to heal, and overcome abuse.

WHAT ARE SOME CREATIVE WAYS THAT HAVE HELPED YOU TO OVERCOME A CHALLENGE OR STRUGGLE?

OR WHAT HAS HELPED YOU TO DEAL WITH THE EFFECTS OF ABUSE?

LET’S TALK AND SHARE! POST YOUR THOUGHTS IN THE COMMENTS BELOW (YOU CAN REMAIN ANON).

Blessings,  EJ, © 2017

 

Pockets full of pebbles and a head full of dreams...

Pocket full of pebbles and a head full of dreams…

 

Cincinnati, Ohio – Model and YouTuber, Natalia Taylor, revealed in a video that she “experience things a child should never experience in life” (she says her father, Rod, did not abuse her, only her mother) and witnessed domestic abuse her father perpetrated against her mother. Natalia also recalls that Rod threatened to kill her mother.

At age 6, her mother divorced Rod due to his severe mental illness and abusive behavior. Natalia says her father “was never willing to get any help, and never willing to let anyone help him“.

During the divorce proceedings, Natalia’s mother begged the courts to protect her child from Rod, and revoke visitation. Natalia herself begged to be kept away from Rod but says her cries for help were ignored,”basically there was no way of getting out of it. I had to have visitation with my dad, the law prevented me from not seeing him.” 

Natalia was traumatized by being forced to visit Rod – she was neglected in his care, and forced to spend time in a home that was filthy and contaminated with fecal matter. Rod continued to exhibit frightening behavior. Several reports were filed with police and caseworkers. She says Rod was “very defiant” and rejected help. It is unclear why visits continued after so many reports or if CPS was ever involved.

After the divorce, Rod kidnaps Natalia from a relative’s home. She said that during her ordeal Rod “terrified” her and demonstrated bizarre behavior due to his schizophrenia. Rod also threatened to kill Natalia and himself. An Amber Alert was issued, the second ever issued in Northwest Ohio.

After 17 hours, Natalia was recovered. Natalia is thankful that she survived. Rod was charged with kidnapping, and held in jail for 6 months, but later found not guilty by a jury. Rod is now thought to be living in Florida, and is homeless.  He is believed to be “highly dangerous” and has a lengthy criminal record and is registered sex offender with active arrest warrants against him. Rod has attempted to contact Natalia and sends her bizarre letters and packages.

Natalia says about speaking publicly about her experiences,”I’ve come to terms with a lot since I’ve talked about it online and it has been a little bit therapeutic and it has changed my mind a little bit on how I see this story…

I guess what it comes down to is that I am not afraid of Rod anymore. Call me stupid, call me naive once again, but I’m not scared of you.

Thank you Natalia for sharing your story and giving voice to so many children who have survived living in abusive or dysfunctional homes, and giving voice to those court ordered into visitation or custody with an abuser. You have raised awareness to the voice of the children, and shown an inspiring example of a survivor. Thank you for sharing this story – you are in my thoughts & prayers.

My second thought – When courts fail to recognize abuse, and minimize or ignore the dangerous behavior or potential risk one parent poses, children are placed in visitation or custody arrangements that endanger their lives – and often cause lasting trauma. This is unacceptable – the priority of the Courts should be to protect children from abuse, and ensure their well-being. 
Read more: Daily Mail: Come and find me – I’m not scared of you!’ Model who was ‘kidnapped’ by her mentally-ill dad dares him to ‘come forward’ after revealing her identity in viral video seen by MILLIONS

 

 

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