Putting Faces on Victims – Stories of child abuse and domestic violence: When the political becomes personal

For 13 years I worked as a case manager and investigator handling child abuse cases for one of the largest child welfare agencies in the U.S.. During that time I saw the results of some of the most horrific violence and abuse imaginable.

I saw the striped scars from shoulder to heal on the back and legs of a 9 year old boy who had been beaten by his mother with an extension cord on multiple occasions. I listened to his mother after she had undergone parent training and counseling tell me in no uncertain terms that if he needed it, she would do it again. I sat with my jaw dropped in horror as I hung up the phone after learning that the judge in the case had sent the boy home to live with her against my recommendations. I often wonder what became of him.

I saw the bruising around the lips of a 10 year old girl. It had been caused by her own tongue as she incessantly licked them, unable to stop due to emotional problems after suffering physical and sexual abuse from her father and grandmother who also made her, her older brothers, and younger sister compete with the dog for food by throwing leftovers onto the back porch. The children weren’t permitted in the house. They were kept in the garage and given a 5-gallon plastic bucket to use for a toilet.

I saw the tears on the face of a 12 year old boy who had been cowering in the corner, curled into a little ball crying from the fear that his new social worker would be a woman and the tentative smile on his face when he saw that I was a man. The boy wouldn’t speak. His father told me that he had requested the case be re-assigned to a male because his son was afraid of women after having been molested by his mother and her girlfriend who had also forced him to have sex with his younger sister and had videotaped everything. The sister was institutionalized.

I sat and listened while a 6 year old girl told me she hated her father for what he had done to her, all the while calling him horrible names. Then, when asked about what her father had done, she described playing with him in the park, being taken to Disneyland , and going to movies. When asked whether he had ever hurt her, she said “no.” She eventually said that she hated him because her mother had told her to hate him. Her mother wasn’t nearly as shy about it. In between a string of expletives that would have made any sailor proud, I gathered that this guy was a cross between Ed Gein, Jeffery Dahmer, and Charles Manson.

I can go on. I can tell you about the couple whose 5 children were up for adoption because they wouldn’t stop fighting each other. I can tell you that the children’s father showed me two scars, one on his back, the other on his thigh, both the result of being stabbed by his wife. The two of them joked about it as though it were no big deal. He deserved it. He provoked it. He would flirt with other women until she would beat him senseless.

He did it because the makeup sex was incredible. Meanwhile, it cost them their children who they claimed to love more than anything.

I can tell you about the two little girls who witnessed their mother shoot their father as he slept, once in the groin and once in the head. It was shortly after the Lorena Bobbitt case and she claimed that the father had been sexually abusing the children. There was no evidence of it. The girls denied it. There were no reports to law enforcement or children’s services. She couldn’t even produce a single witness to testify that she had told anyone prior to killing the man. At her trial, she plead guilty to some lesser charge and got off with time served, a year in the county jail.

And the mother who shot and killed her husband while her daughters looked on? Her case was back in the system several years later.This time she had been sentenced to 25 years to life for the murder of her mother over money and having her new husband dispose of the body. He’s serving 12-25 while the two girls and a new half-brother are in foster care.

What does each of these cases have in common aside from being some of the most horrific cases I had to deal with during my years of service?

In two words: domestic violence.

Domestic violence is frequently categorized as man beating woman. Only men commit this atrocity, only women are its victims. If women are violent, it must be because she is defending herself or her children. That’s what many in the industry will tell you. What I will tell you is that not one of these cases was like that. I handled some that were, but most were not. In most cases that I handled that involved DV, the DV was mutual. In some it was the woman abusing the man.

In the first case of the boy beaten with the extension cord the boy’s father was in jail, having been convicted of hitting the mother. I read the police report. I read the court testimony. I might as well have been reading an Orwellian novel. The mother was beating the boy, again. She was high on methamphetamines. The father intervened to try and stop it. She then hit him, with the cord. He finally punched, knocking her out. He called the police who then arrested him, not her.

The boy was striped from head to tow and removed from her care. She was never charged.

The case of the girl with the bruised lips is the worst case I have ever seen. The two parents had eight children. The first four grew to adulthood before they had the second four. They had abused all eight. According to one of the adult daughters, her mother would beat them and their father. The sexual abuse happened on nights when their mother would kick their father out of the bedroom, usually after being quite violent.

The girls would try to take care of him, often having to stop some bleeding. To quote her “Things would get romantic after that.” The father once told me that he had been molested by his own mother beginning at the age of twelve. In fact, he fathered his own sister at the age of fifteen.

In the case of the boy who was afraid of women, he was in his father’s custody at the time I received the case as a result of the sexual abuse. But prior to that, custody had been awarded to his mother in the divorce. In family court the parents had each accused the other of DV, the judge chose to believe her in spite of the child’s testimony that it was his mother who was violent. The father was awarded monitored visitation to take place at his expense in a therapist’s office. He wasn’t permitted to even ask about the mother’s treatment of the children.

The girl who hated her father  hated him so badly that during one of my visits to his home while she was present, she curled up in his lap and went to sleep. Her mother was the violent one. She used to throw things at the father and destroy his property, once having intentionally burned his stamp collection worth several thousand dollars. All of which was verified by the girl before she went to sleep and away from the presence of either parent. Although she did, I didn’t need the girl to tell me this. Her actions spoke much louder than her words. When I interviewed her at her mother’s house, she refused to allow her mother to hold her and, during my interview when we were supposed to be alone, she kept checking to make sure her mother couldn’t hear what she was telling me.

Each and every one of the abusive parents in these cases had been abused as a child, whether it was physical, sexual, emotional, or neglect. This isn’t to say that all abuse victims grow up to become abusers. In fact, research suggests that it’s only a small percentage. But it is to say that a high percentage of abusers have been victims of abuse themselves.

This includes both domestic violence and child abuse. It also demonstrates that women can be just as abusive as men and points to flaws in our current system that neglect this fact, allowing and even perpetuating this “other abuse” that is said not to exist. We will not end (or even begin to address) the problems of domestic violence and child abuse until we learn to recognize that these are not gender specific problems and we address all perpetrators and treat all victims regardless of whether they are male or female.

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