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

 

As many as 10 million children per year witness or are caught in the middle of domestic violence. Domestic violence, and the resulting trauma, has a profound effect on a child’s physical, emotional, behavioral and social health. Children who have witnessed or experienced domestic violence commonly suffer from: anxiety, depression, social withdrawal, nightmares, flashbacks and feelings of guilt/remorse.

A relationship with a stable, caring adult is one of the most important factors in a child’s recovery from abuse or trauma, and can help to break the cycle of violence.

Some tips on how you can best support an abused child, and be a positive role model :

*** If you are working as a mentor, “Big Brother/Sister”, peer support, spiritual support, advocate or family/friend to this child, be consistent in scheduling regular visits. Don’t over commit your time then miss a visit. Don’t schedule a large number of visits then decrease the visits unexpectedly. Consistency is crucial to a child’s sense of safety—so schedule visits on a regular basis that is realistic to what you can offer, and what your time/energy allows for. Then put those visits on a calendar so the child knows what to expect, and can plan for your visit.

*** Working with an abused child can be triggering, exhausting or very emotional for the support person—so make sure you are caring for your own physical and emotional needs. This may involve a “check-in” with your supervisor. Or taking classes or attending support groups with the organization you are working for. Or it may involve self-care such as taking a walk/exercise, listening to music, reading, enjoying a hobby etc. If you feel the need to talk about your day, keep the privacy of those you are working with—do not reveal their real name or sensitive personal information about their case or family situation. If there is an urgent issue, go to a supervisor for help, if there is no supervisor you may consider calling a domestic violence shelter for advice or calling 911 in an emergency or if you feel the child’s life is in danger.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline for victims is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), 1-800-787-3224 (TTY) or http://www.thehotline.org. Information about local is also available through the hotline.
NATIONAL CHILD ABUSE HOTLINE: 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453)
Crisis Counselors Available 24/7 or http://www.childhelp.org/

*** Use community resources as needed, this may include children’s support groups for victims of abuse, parenting classes, religious/spiritual support, food shelves, housing support, case management etc.
A good place to find resources is United Way 211: http://www.211.org/

*** Creating a welcoming, child-friendly environment will reduce anxiety and help foster trust. This may include offering toys, books or games (that are non-violent). Opening a window to allow sunlight in the room. Including pets in the visit. Greeting the child in a way that is comfortable to them—soft voice, smile, avoiding direct eye contact, calling them by a preferred nickname etc (you will learn these over time, as your relationship grows). Or being sensitive to cultural needs. Be consistent in your routine. Allow the child choices. And be open to trying new things, in a creative way.

*** Listen with an open, neutral ear. Refrain from judgment, shame or blame. Be open to hearing the child’s unique way of expressing themselves– their voice may not come out in a direct conversation but may be revealed in a game, in playing with toys, relating to a song or art/drawing a picture etc.

*** Domestic violence and trauma can affect a child’s mood, behavior and ability to socialize. If needed, develop a “safety plan” with the child, their parent(s) and therapist to address behavioral problems if they arise. Work with parent(s) and care providers to become aware of the child’s emotional or behavioral issues, their triggers so you can better meet the child’s needs.

*** “Kids Helping Kids: A Guide for Children Exposed to Domestic Violence” by Mental Health Programs, BC Children’s Hospital is a valuable resource and support for kids, parent(s) and caregivers.
“Kids Helping Kids” offers testimonies about domestic violence told by children in stories and pictures, which validates to children that they are not alone, and the feelings they have are okay.
“Kids Helping Kids” offers tips on how to support abused children, and gives general advise on commonly available community resources. It also offers child-friendly tips on how to talk to children about their feelings and the changes happening in their family.
I highly recommend “Kids Helping Kids” – it’s written in child-friendly manner to educate children about abuse and help prepare them to cope with the trauma, and the changes occurring in their family (which may include out of home placement or court involvement).

Any more tips? Please share your thoughts, resources or links in the comments box!

For More Information and Tips:

“Helping Children Exposed to Domestic Violence”. American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, “Facts for Families Pages”, #109, April 2013: http://www.aacap.org/aacap/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/Facts_for_Families_Pages/Helping_Children_Exposed_to_Domestic_Violence_109.aspx

“Honor Our Voices: A for Practice When Responding to Children Exposed to Domestic Violence.” Presented by MINCAVA, Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare and Avon Foundation for Women: http://www.honorourvoices.org/docs/GuideforPractice.pdf

“How Can I Help a Child Exposed to Domestic Violence?”. National Online Resources Center on Violence Against Women, Casey Keene, 1/2/2013: http://www.vawnet.org/news/2013/01/child_exposed/

“Kids Helping Kids: A Guide for Children Exposed to Domestic Violence” by Mental Health Programs, BC Children’s Hospital:
http://bcsth.ca/sites/default/files/Kids%20Helping%20Kids.pdf