Michael's Story: When a Child Witnesses Domestic Violence

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“Mommy’s boyfriend hurts her...”

Five-year-old Michael said these words to his teachers during his first week at school.

His teachers were startled. Usually, they listened to students talk about summer vacation – not hear a student tell them that his mother’s life was in danger. They contacted Michael’s mother, Daphne, to report what her son had said.

They discovered Michael was right. His teachers put Daphne in touch with Safe Horizon, and a day later, Daphne showed up at our offices, anxious yet hopeful.

As Daphne told us about her life, she told us she was shocked to hear that Michael knew what was happening to her. For two years, her boyfriend had routinely beaten and raped her, yet she never called police. She described a harrowing relationship in which her boyfriend was not afraid to punch and kick her in front of his friends, and he would often force her to have sex with them. Daphne told us that once, during a brutal rape, she screamed so loudly that neighbors called the police. Her boyfriend left before the police came. When they asked her what happened, she lied and told them that she and her boyfriend were just arguing.

In spite of such horrific behavior, Daphne’s boyfriend was careful never to attack her in front of her child. Still, he often threatened to hurt Michael if she ever told anyone about the abuse. Daphne was terrified of what he might do to her son, so she stayed silent and suffered.

It may surprise you to know that children do recognize domestic violence and abuse when they see it. In homes where domestic violence takes place, between 80 to 90 percent of children in those homes not only know about the abuse, but can describe it in detail.

Children will also often try to stop violence when they see it happening to a parent - and the consequences to children can be tragic. Yet like Michael, they cannot just watch their parent get hurt. Michael decided to be brave and tell his teachers about it instead.

The compassion and concern of our supporters makes it possible for us to have community programs where Daphne could come and find someone to tell about the abuse. For families affected by violence, we can provide a lot more than a listening ear. For Daphne, we would help her and Michael find the tools they needed to get out of a violent, dangerous situation.

Daphne told us that she wanted to leave her boyfriend, take Michael away, and return to her hometown. Daphne was able to come to our offices because her boyfriend was in jail for drunk driving and driving with a suspended license. She did not, however, want to report the violence or the rape that he and his friends committed. She just wanted to escape.

We helped Daphne get a medical examination, helped her get counseling, and worked with her to manage her situation.

Daphne told us she had been trying for two years to contact Michael’s grandparents without success. We helped her finally reach them. When we did, we learned that they had been desperately trying to reach Daphne, too ... but Daphne's boyfriend intercepted their calls and so they could never talk to her. They told Daphne they would take her and Michael in, if she would just return to them.

Finally, Daphne had a chance to escape and to be with people who cared about her. Our staff worked hard with organizations in her hometown to provide her with the financial and material assistance she would need to relocate. We also found emergency transportation funds to help Daphne and Michael travel to Michael’s grandparents.

A week after Daphne and Michael left, she called us. She told us that she and Michael were safe and they were happy, and most of all, they were grateful for what Safe Horizon did for them.

Daphne and Michael found the chance they needed to escape violence and abuse because Michael spoke up. Thanks to his young voice, he and his mother can now live their lives with brighter, safer futures.

* Client names and identifying information have been changed to protect their privacy. Images used are representations of Safe Horizon’s clients.

Safe Horizon's mission is to provide support, prevent violence and promote justice for victims of crime and abuse, their families and communities.
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