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Kids made to suffer in abusive homes

By: Eileen Wilson Telegraph Correspondent
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Editor’s note: This is the second in a three-part series on domestic violence. The names of victims have been changed for their own protection. A jab here, a wicked right hook there, and then, the knockout punch. Unfortunately for Steven L., the scene wasn’t a boxing ring. Steven had a ringside seat for another kind of fight. The kind of fight that left his mom bruised and broken night after night. Steven, who was never physically touched by his stepfather, was a victim of domestic violence nonetheless. The scars he bears, though they don’t mar his George Clooney-as-a-young-man good looks, cause an ugly ripple of anger that hovers right beneath the surface. Domestic violence causes kids and young adults like Steven psychological problems that may last a lifetime. According to the Child Welfare Government website childwelfare.gov, problems arise with exposure to domestic violence. While some kids tend to be resilient in the face of violence, others are troubled into adult life. Steven, 21, struggles with anger issues and is a recovering drug abuser. “My step dad used to beat my mom really bad — to the point where she was like a child, in a fetal position, crying out for her mother,” he said. “I was only 8 or 9, and my sister Kelly, who was 13, basically had to raise me. I physically couldn’t do anything about it. I was such a young child.” Steven remembers having to parent his mother each time she was victimized. “We would have to treat her like a child; would have to feed her, bathe her, dress her,” he said. Counseling can help, according to specialists. He has been told he’s blocked out much of the horrific memories of his childhood. “I have a lot of blanks,” he admitted. What he does remember is his stepfather mentally abusing all seven members of the blended-family household. “He would rig the house and do weird things.” Steven’s stepfather, who was an electrician by trade, would unscrew light bulbs and create havoc in the home, causing his wife and kids to question their own sanity. “He used to threaten to kill himself in front of us. He would rig wires to the gas tank of the car and tell us if we turned on any lights, the cars would blow up.” Nancy Atchley, pastor and Executive Director of Powerhouse Ministries in Folsom, sees the effects of domestic violence on the young people she counsels every day. “The effects on children are phenomenal,” she said. “I see a large number of children, and also, of men, who are abused. Methamphetamine use really escalates the problem for both sides.” Powerhouse Ministries offers a residential program for women and children who need help, and serves about 1,000 people a year. The center is not an emergency shelter, however; its location is not secret. “Most of the youth we help have seen violence in the home, and many of them have family members in prison,” Atchley said. While Steen admits he has an anger problem, he directs it not toward women, but toward people he sees demeaning women. “Watching those experiences made me extremely sensitive to anyone who is mean or abusive to women,” he said. “I’ve always been angry, though, and I’ve fought with men.” He admits his childhood experiences have made him wary in relationships with the opposite sex. “I always second guess the things I say. In a relationship I would feel like I was too demanding if I even asked her to get something for me. If I was ever in a relationship and a girl slapped me, I would never talk to her again. I don’t want to be in a relationship where I might turn in to my stepfather,” Steven said. “I’d rather be alone than be in a relationship where I was reminded of the (childhood) situation.” In preparation for the interview that led to this article, Steven spoke to his mother about her abusive relationship for the first time. “She cried,” he said. “It was good that we talked a little bit about it. She said, ‘I’m so sorry’ but I know it wasn’t her fault, it was his. I know it was hard, because of the ‘love’ factor, for her to leave the situation.” Steven offers advice to children and teens who are living in abusive homes. “Literally, it’s never your fault. A kid is a kid, and the parent is supposed to take care of the kid,” he said. “The kid should never have to take care of an adult.” In addition, he asks children to ask themselves this. “Physically, could you stop the subject (abuser)? If the answer is no, you have no control over anything. Just yourself and your mind.”