Often times when we speak of DV, we sometimes tend focus on the injuries (both physical and emotional) experienced by the “primary victim” of the abuse–that is to say, the person who is the intended target of a pattern of abuse. And, in truth, this focus is by no means unwarranted–especially since it is usually the primary victim whose immediate safety and health is most urgently threatened and most imminently in jeopardy. But all-too-often there is a whole group of “secondary victims”–like the children or dependents of the primary victim or abuser–who are also made to suffer as a result of ongoing abuse around them.
On January 28th, 2011 in Seattle, WA, this unfortunate reality was painfully brought to the foreground, after an 8-year-old boy called 911 while trying to protect his mother from being beaten by an abusive boyfriend. Thankfully, the boy and his mother were able to escape and the suspect was taken into custody, however Barbara Landgon, the Executive Director of Eastside Domestic Violence Program says that the long-term ramifications of the incident can be long-hidden, long-lasting, and severe. Especially, she says, since patterns of domestic abuse are often internalized by secondary victims and witnesses, and have the potential to become learned patterns of behavior or accepted social norms at a young age, “if you’re raised in a family where a little boy continues to see [that] the way his father gets his way is to beat his mother, and you see a 5-year-old little girl [who] sees the way to survive a situation is to be submissive, they don’t know any different,” said Langdon. This can ultimately lead to distorted perceptions of gender roles, interpersonal relationships, and conflict resolution skills for both men and women.
At FVPC, we recognize that trauma and the scars of domestic violence extend to the entire family, including its youngest and most vulnerable members. To that end, we at FVPC provide programs aimed at helping women come to terms with their own experiences, so that they may be better equipped and prepared to help others process the experiences they witnessed secondhand. We also send volunteer community educators into Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools to teach middle schoolers the warning signs of abusive relationships, and the identifiable patterns of healthy relationships, in addition to how to be an active bystander and bullying prevention. In this way, FVPC tries to break the cycle of violence, using targeted interventions aimed at teaching young people healthy interpersonal and relationship skills before they become victims–or perpetrators–of domestic and relationship abuse.
To learn more about issues associated with domestic violence and relationship abuse, visit our website at www.fvpcoc.org, and click on the “Get Educated” tab. And to learn more about how you can help, or what to do if you or someone you know might be in an abusive situation, go to our website and click on “Get Involved” or “Get Help.”