Guest Post: My experience as a child witness of domestic violence

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By Millie Grgas

In the middle of Spring-cleaning this year, I found this old tape recording of my first trip to Paris with my mom when I was 5. Listening to that cassette reminds me of how lucky I am to have one parent who cared enough about me and my safety to leave her abuser.

My name is Millie Grgas and I am a survivor and child witness of domestic violence.

No one can tell that right off the bat, though. I am a genuinely happy and well-adjusted individual. One of the most traumatizing things about violence is that even if it is physically destructive, what lasts long after the scars on your skin fade are the emotional and psychological fractures. Those are things that I have to work on every day.

I try to emphasize that abuse is something that happened to me; it does not define me. That said, I know that it has definitely affected me and my outlook on life. I know that it has certainly affected my relationship with the opposite gender.

I grew up always referring to my abuser as “stupid,” never by his actual name. The thought of calling him dad or even “my father” just didn’t feel right. My mom and grandparents never tried to change the way I referred to him, because as they were told by my court-mandated therapists, it was a normal reaction. Not necessarily a healthy one, looking back on it, but these family-therapy sessions were pretty new technologies back when VAWA was just in its beginning phases in creating resources for women. (Childhood trauma was still a burgeoning field of practice.)

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Join us for CEV Week April 15-19!

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We are facing one of the most significant challenges to the future of America’s children that we have ever known. Our children are experiencing and witnessing violence on an alarming scale.

 —Defending Childhood Task Force co-chairmen Joe Torre and Robert Listenbee, Jr.

According to the National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence (NatSCEV), 60 percent of American children are exposed to violence, crime or abuse in their homes, schools and communities. Be it bullying, domestic violence or child abuse, exposure to violence – particularly multiple exposures – can interfere with a child’s physical, emotional, and intellectual development.

To stress the point that everyone plays an important role in CEV prevention, the theme for this year’s CEV Prevention and Awareness Week is “Every Person. Every Day.

Wondering what role you can play? You can:

Tweet with us! Feel free to join us on Twitter using #CEVweek to post interesting articles and resources related to children’s exposure to violence. Also, we’re having a Twitter chat with psychologist and NatSCEV researcher Sherry Hamby at 2 p.m. EST Wed. April 17. Learn more here.

Learn with us! On Thurs. April 18 we will host a webinar, Unlocking the Development of Children Exposed to Violence. Panelists will discuss how exposure to violence impacts a child’s development and ways that schools and the child welfare system can better respond to trauma. Register here.

CEVWeek TwibbonTake a picture! Throughout April we are running a photo sharing campaign, asking individuals and groups to take a photo with the week’s slogan, “Every Person. Every Day.” We’ll collect these photos into an album on Facebook and share on other social media outlets to show others’ support of the idea that preventing and treating childhood exposure to violence involves everyone. Print out the CEV Week logo here, take your photo with it and send it to info@safestartcenter.org or tag us on Facebook (Safe Start Center) and Twitter (@safestartcenter).

Get social! Visit the CEV Week campaign page to spread the word on social media. There you’ll find sample messages and graphics to show your support for CEV Week.

We hope organizations and community groups such as law enforcement, mental health practitioners, child welfare organizations and domestic violence victim advocates will share knowledge online and offline about how to prevent CEV and reduce its impact, as well as how to take action in their communities. Facts and resources to support you at every step are available in the CEV Week Toolkit and the Chicago Safe Start website.

You have the power to educate others, change behaviors, and help shape the future for children. We look forward to working with you to observe this important week and keep the momentum going!

Childhood Exposure to Violence Prevention Week

Julia picks up her 9-year-old son, Eric, from his afterschool program. As they approach their housing complex, a group of teenagers are fighting. One of them has a knife. Another has blood on his leg. People watching on the street make room when they hear the siren and see the lights of the police car. The three young men are thrown to the ground and searched. They are handcuffed and taken away. The youngster with the knife is Eric’s cousin, George.

When Eric asks his mother about the incident, she is too upset to respond. Eric later finds out that his cousin was selling drugs. The following month, Julia gets called to school. Eric is not doing his homework and seems to barely be there mentally. The teachers wonder why a child with so much potential is slipping out of reach.

Like many other elementary-school-aged children exposed to violence, Eric is old enough to express what he is going through, but he needs someone who can understand what he is feeling. The school counselor finds the right outlet for him at the Safe Start program at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Chelsea HealthCare Center.

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