Domestic Violence: Finding Healing in Chaos
By Dianne Anderson
Men got a chance to look long and hard in the mirror at the family structure, the impact of anger on their partners, and on the kids, who are usually first-hand witnesses to domestic violence.
Seldom is there just one victim.
Terry Boykins said his recent Wigs N Weaves Mental Health Awareness event was about getting men to open up, whether perpetrator or victim, about their own childhood experiences with family violence.
“We wanted to hear what men think about this issue of being unable to control your jealousy or insecurity or your anger,” said Boykins, executive director of Street Positive. “Why is it that it has to result in physical calamity, and where you use it as the point of control?”
Often, the children are present in the home when it happens.
Boykins said the impact is what could have been a happy kid now faces fear into adulthood, or they become accustomed to chaos, and seek out violence as their new normal.
Often, substance abuse is behind the anger, and the adult victim may self-medicate to avoid memories of child abuse, or sexual abuse. Domestic violence is also a learned behavior and can be passed down to every generation.
Boykins said there must be a greater effort to understand the situation.
“From both the victim and the level of the perpetrator, where is he at in that moment, does he know where he’s at? Does something take him over?” said Boykins, who also sits on the board of UCR Medical School.
At the recent event, Ben Owens also shared his story about growing up under a violent stepfather.
He recalls hearing his mother attacked, and at 12-years old, how he prayed for magical powers to help his mom. Both of his parents were government employees, and they had a nice home in a quiet cul de sac, until his stepfather would get drunk on weekends.
In elementary school, he admired the gang bangers walking through the alley, and how they commanded authority.
“They demonstrated the power to intimidate school staff. I said I want a piece of that power,” he said.
He joined a gang, which he felt gave him an outlet to overcome violence. He cycled through the juvenile hall, and was violent toward rival gang members. For years, he was angry.
As a counselor, from his observation of other men in gangs, he feels domestic violence was probably more common in his generation with two-parent homes, but it wasn’t talked about.
“If your mother was beat, it was understood that she didn’t call the cops because they would take away the breadwinner,” he said. “You’d go to orphanage back then.”
Witnessing domestic violence has not replayed out in his own life. He was married for 17 years, and said he never hit his wife. The abused did not become the abuser.
“Because of the pain, and what I knew my mother went through. I vowed that I would never hurt someone I love,” said Owens, executive director of Detours Mentoring Group in Gardena.
Some men try to drown the memories of their own child abuse that can be intense. His experience led him down the gang path that he wouldn’t have chosen, but it equaled power. At one point, he got an air gun, and sawed off the barrel to make it look like a shotgun.
“I figured one day I’d run in and scare him with that, and run him off,” he said, but his mother found the toy gun, busted it in pieces, and told him he couldn’t do that.
Today, he mediates family violence, and said the gang culture is probably the hardest to impact because the aggression is on both sides, male and female, who rage against each other to establish the relationship.
“You agree to take a consensual stance on violence, that we can be mutual combatants, and that’s okay with either one of us,” he said.
Because domestic violence exposure often follows into adulthood, the kids growing up in homes with domestic violence show signs early on.
Heather C. Stevning, Executive Director of the nonprofit Option House, said kids often deal with high anxiety, nightmares, and act out. They worry about their safety, and the safety of the parent.
Option House has been developing programs to address childhood trauma, and wants to bring it to public schools to explain healthy boundaries to children, but there is resistance. Parents haven’t been willing to support domestic violence education for the kids.
“The push-back is that they are too young, it’s too traumatic, but we give them red ribbon week about how to say no to drugs in kindergarten,” she said.
She attended the recent fatherhood event, where men shared their stories, hip-hop style through the eyes of their childhood, and families steeped in violence.
“I was literally in tears,” she said. “It’s the first time I ever cried at rap music.”
This past year, the shelter partnered with the Fatherhood program, giving kids exposed to domestic violence a healthy way to deal with the trauma.
Through Boykins’ boxing classes, child victims engaged in a month-long pilot program
“He works with them to release that stress and anxiety. It was really healing, a good program,” she said. “We are anxious to get something going year round.”
To get help or learn more about Fatherhood, and Domestic Violence, see www.streetpositive.com