Children of domestic abusers also feel effects of violence at home

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by JANET ST. JAMES

WFAA

Posted on March 14, 2013 at 10:33 PM

Updated Thursday, Mar 14 at 11:42 PM

DALLAS -- In Deanna Cook's last 911 call, garbled and pleading screams to the operator and her abuser are audible as her murder was recorded.

Cook was allegedly strangled in August by her ex-husband. Cook's mother said her daughter's daughters were raised on fear.

In each of the 13,000 domestic violence incidents in Dallas every year, untold numbers of children are witness and victims.

"He used to hit me a lot," 15-year-old Makayla said of her step-father. "He would make me clean out his crack pipe. When I would walk back and forth, he would cut me on my legs with a butter knife."

"She cries a lot," 15-year old Darius said of abuse his mother suffered.

The two teens were born into brutality.

The Family Place Safe Campus cares for dozens of youngsters like them, whose mothers have sought shelter. All of them with childhoods lost to domestic terror.

Sakia Johnson is a case manager and counselor at The Family Place.

"Symptoms [of witnessing or being a victim of abuse] could be nightmares, insomnia," Johnson said. "Sometimes with older kids, they can become truant, they can have overall aggressive behavior."

Johnson said it's very challenging for children to unlearn violent behavior when they think is normal.

"If it's not addressed, they start to think this is how it's supposed to be," she said. "This is how you commonly deal with someone.  But if it is addressed by counseling or therapy, then they can have a change of thought."

For the innocents, hands aren't just for artwork like that on the halls of The Family Place. They are weapons.

Makayla and Darius both used theirs to protect their mothers, even from a young age.

"I remember when I was nine, I was really violent and really mean to everyone," Makayla said.

"I don't like my mama being hurt," said Darius, who admitted he lashes out with words and fists.

A week into escape from his mother's abuser, Darius is still shut down. Talking about what he has endured is difficult. A month into freedom, Makayla feels a burden lifted.

"[Now I'm] not as scared, because when I go to school, my mom's okay and it's okay. And my brother's okay," she said.

Her physical bruises have faded. But children of family violence say the pain lasts forever.

"Get out," Makayla advised mothers who stay with destructive men. "No child should have to see that, or experience that, or be scared like that. It's not okay and it needs to stop."

E-mail jstjames@wfaa.com

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