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

 

Listen In: Violent No More: Helping Men End Domestic Abuse

I don’t think we will end domestic abuse or rape or trafficking in this country until the culture starts to change; and I think each and every one of us has an obligation to speak up, to get involved and there’s lots of ways to do that in our communities, and you just have to take that step.

And we shouldn’t be waiting ’til a horrible tragedy happens, when you read something in the newspaper about a woman being killed or just the statistics that are so haunting about all of these young girls being trafficked in all of our cities, that that it really is up to us, our institutions, our communities, and the culture to change the belief and attitudes. And when that happens, I think we’ll start to see some fundamental changes…” ~ Michael Paymar

Following a recent show on Battered Women, Psych Up takes on the crucial issue of helping men end domestic violence.  Our guest, Representative Michael Paymar brings tremendous knowledge and experience to this issue. His career has spanned from his direct work with batterers and his co-founding the nationally recognized Duluth Domestic Abuse Intervention Project to combating gender violence and related issues as a member of the Minnesota House of Representatives.

As the author of “Violent No More: Helping Men End Domestic Violence”, and the co-producer of the award winning documentary film, With Impunity: Men and Gender Violence, Michael Paymar discusses with host, Suzanne Phillips, the success and challenges in ending domestic violence. He describes the power of a group model that requires men to take responsibility and offers hope. He considers the need for a change in the personal, familial and cultural attitudes that allow domination of women with impunity.

In the back and forth he considers the messages that boys and girls are given and offers examples of how a father, mother, coach, or college co-ed can shift the attitudes that perpetuate gender violence. This show makes domestic violence a personal and painful reality that we need the courage to face.

For Help: 

The National Domestic Violence Hotline – 1-800-799-7233
1-800-787-3224 (TTY for Deaf/hard of hearing)

Learn more about More about Michael Paymar’s work:

Education for Critical Thinking

Violent No More: Helping Men End Domestic Violence by Michael Paymar

Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs (Home of the Duluth Model)

 

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