The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia


September 29, 2013

What happens next door

There’s no specific address for victims of domestic violence

Have you done this before?

You pass by a house at dusk, maybe on a late evening walk or a drive down a quiet street. The lights are on, warm and inviting. In a flash, you understand why moths are irresistibly drawn to front porches on their dark, brief journeys. For a moment, you wonder, perhaps wistfully, about the goings on inside.

According to Patricia Bailey, executive director of Women’s Resource Center, things within could be more sinister than sentimental.

“Over 3 million children live in the U.S. in a house with domestic violence,” she states.

The question, an old, familiar mental haunt for Bailey and WRC case manager Lynda Jensen, is: Who will listen to the children?

Homes where a parent, generally a mom, is afraid to spill the milk for the aftermath to follow. Or when she no longer excuses black eyes and bruises because, she reasons, “I deserved it” — these are the secrets keeping the concerned awake at night.

As intervention professionals, Bailey and Jensen, along with their WRC staff and supporters, are promoting a calendar full of October activities to bring the darkness of domestic violence into the light, including free public showings of a highly praised 2013 documentary “The Children Next Door” by Doug Block. The short film follows the tragically real story of a relationship fraught with domestic violence and the effects on the lives of the family’s four children.

Filling a calendar with obligatory activity isn’t Bailey’s goal. Neither is pathos. Activation is.   

Jensen explains, “We need team players to make it safe for victims and their families and to minimize the abuse. When (domestic violence victims) go for an order, they don’t need to hear, ‘Well, there she goes for another DV petition.’ ”

The players, from professional to personal, must keep their sensitivity and maintain a sense of urgency.

“If you are that person who does reach out and you’re not taken seriously by anyone, that could be the last time you reach out as a victim,” Jensen says.

Idle commentary ignores the real problem, explains Bailey. “Instead of ‘Why does she stay? Why does she put up with that?’ how about asking, ‘Why does he abuse? Why does he batter?’ There are such good reasons why she stays.”

Generally, it’s for the children. “If you have no job, no friends, $100 and maybe some car keys if you’re one of the lucky ones, how are you going to take off and go start another life? I don’t think I could do it. Could you?” Bailey asks.

The lead victim of domestic violence, the chief target and peacemaker, is often busy surviving, leaving the kids to become silent victims, absorbent sponges to cycles of abuse. Jensen says children in such situations often have to fend for themselves, cooking their own food, assuming a protective parenting role to younger brothers and sisters.

“It’s a family secret. You don’t talk about it.

“You don’t bring your friends over,” adds Bailey. “You don’t know if tonight is going to be the night all hell is going to break loose. You want to help mom, but how can you?”

Poor school performance, marked misbehavior and outbursts of anger, lack of focus and high anxiety — all are common to children of domestic violence.

“If you’ve been up all night, afraid of how it’s going to end, how far it’s going to go this time, how could you focus in school?” Jensen poses. “You are so alone.”

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