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The Power of Mothers to End Violence
Like moms everywhere, I'm reflecting this Mother's Day on my blessings. I have two teenage girls, and it is a delight to help them grow. But even as I enjoy a card or breakfast in bed, I know that the normal things we do for our children -- care for them when they are sick, help them navigate a complex world, provide the daily necessities, support them in doing well in school -- are comparatively easy, even for the hardest-working mom. This Mother's Day, I'm reflecting on some of the hardest things moms do for their children.
The decision to leave an abusive relationship is more complex than many people imagine, and if you've never experienced domestic violence, it may be hard to understand how any mother could stay. But consider for a moment that the abuser may be the family's sole source of financial support, so the choice may be between staying or homelessness. Or that the victim may well believe an abuser's threats -- that if she ends the relationship, her children will be taken from her. She may hear messages from relatives and friends that it is wrong to break up a family, no matter what. She probably feels ashamed. And she viscerally knows what is statistically true: that the likelihood of violence is greatest when a woman moves to leave. Yet -- in spite of these terrifying realities -- mothers do reach out for help every day.
It takes strength and courage to make the decision to ask for help, and very often, mothers find that strength for their children. I've learned this time and again speaking with survivors of domestic violence in our shelters or other support programs: moms who say, I just couldn't let my kids grow up that way. In finding this courage, they are changing the world by disrupting the cycle of abuse, and they are a major force in building a society free of family and community violence.
Let me share the story of Maya, a real domestic violence survivor whose name has been changed for confidentiality reasons...
Maya met and married her husband while still in her teens. They were raising three children together by the time he became physically abusive. One night he attacked her with particular brutality, and she knew her life was in danger. But she had survived that fear before, she even thought it was normal. What affected her the most was seeing her eldest daughter distraught over calling 911 to save her mom, because she also feared that she would be the one responsible for jailing her dad. After she survived that episode, Maya realized the profound emotional harm the violence was causing her children.
Children who witness domestic violence are more likely to continue the cycle. Without help, girls are more likely to suffer abuse as adults while boys are more likely to become abusers.
Two generations ago, there were no domestic violence shelters, no hotlines, no police officers trained in domestic violence. Society's response, if the violence got bad enough for someone to call the cops, was for the officer to tell the abuser to take a walk around the block to cool off. Today, there are laws, hotlines, shelters, mental health treatment, legal services, and so many other ways for victims to get the help that they need. But the shame and fear persist, and it's still so frightening to reach out for help. That's why the countless mothers like Maya, in New York City and around the world, are heroes for taking steps to end the violence.
Consider that last year, our domestic violence hotline in New York City received 123,000 calls from individuals, mostly women, reaching out for guidance and resources to navigate or leave abusive relationships. The choices can seem impossible. Advocates listen to each client and provide resources and information that allow them to make the best decision for their safety. For 3,000 families last year that decision was coming to shelter.
Maya and her family have bounced back.
She won custody of her children with the help of Safe Horizon's Domestic Violence Law Project and she recently obtained a stable and rewarding job. Her journey with Safe Horizon continues as we work to finalize her divorce. The woman who was once so withdrawn now fills our offices with her smiling laughter. And, most of all, her children are now growing up in a home free of violence and abuse.
At Safe Horizon, we strive for a society free of family and community violence. Mothers like Maya are bringing all of us one step closer to achieving that goal. This Mother's Day, let's honor the power of mothers -- inside shelters and beyond -- for taking the steps to break cycles of violence for themselves and for their children. Our world is being transformed for the better by millions of women like Maya who are taking action to end violence.
Together we can build a world without violence and give our children the future that they deserve.