One week ago, an Albanian won the first place at the Sanremo Festival (the biggest event of Italian music) and he will now represent Italy at the 2018 Eurovision Song. All Medias dedicated him at least one article on the front page. His song ‘Non-mi Avete Fatto Niente’ (You didn’t do anything to me) is clicked by more than 2,227,491 views when broadcaster RAI has uploaded the performing videos of the competing acts to YouTube. In Tweeter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn etc. people posted his picture and shared the moments from his performance, hashtag his name and feeling proud of him. Among the news is an interview, where he tells his story of a child of domestic violence.
When they asked me about my childhood I always said “beautiful”, but the truth is that many things that belong to those years, I keep it inside, but remind me of the signs I still have in the body – he says referring to the physical violence that the father exerted to him.
For more than 12 years I worked directly with victims of DV, sitting close to them and hearing their stories for hours and hours I have learned a lot. I know their fairs, anger, being hopeless, their low self-esteem most of the time, their lack of courage to denounce, their worries about the future and their efforts to protect their children.
Children who grow up around domestic violence are affected, even if they are never directly abused. Sometimes they try to step between the batterer and the victim. They may become injured when trying to “protect” the abused parent from violence. Sometimes for us, it’s so easy to see the signs/ injuries in their brittle body, (if they have them) but it’s difficult to understand their feelings and their thoughts. It is always emotionally damaging to witness psychological, emotional, and physical violence.
As a psychologist I have tried to understand them through their drawings; the colors they used; the way they treated the toys; the way they behave and communicate with other children and the way their body react if I came close to them ( to give them a hug or whisper something in their ear). I know that is not enough to reveal their inner world.
During my first two weeks in my host organization (Next Door Solutions to Domestic Violence), I have been directly involved in Kid’s Club program. The program created a safe space for children, a colorful brightness room with the lot of toys, books, colors, chocolates etc. and above all surrounded by too much love. The children can come and stay as long as his/her mom is taking our services (provided for victims of DV). We love our children and we do our best to give them some happy moments. These are only some “moments”, compare to the hours and days they are exposed to the violence.
Children of Domestic Violence are going through a harmful situation in their families and for them is hard to verbalize what’s happened behind the closed doors. I can’t take off my mind Julia[i]* (6 years old girl) when she told me that she can’t remember any beautiful moment from her life because she didn’t have had ones. In my mind is still Chris (4 years old boy), who can’t speak but, he is terrified when his mom comes to pick him up. He stands embraced in my arms and his eyes “beg” me not to let him go. It’s one of the most difficult moments for me. I remember Adam (5 years old boy), who told me that he has stomach’s pain because he didn’t eat the whole day. He, his sisters and his mom were walking for the whole day to escape, because his dad was mad at them.
Seeing, playing and interacting with them every day is a life-change experience. It makes me more aware to understand how children and youth who live with domestic violence are affected by the experience. Of course, the nature and extent of the effects vary greatly in different children.
They can learn that: violence and coercion are normal and justifiable; there are two ways to solve problems: aggression and passivity; victims are responsible for what happens to them; people who hurt others don’t face consequences for their actions; it’s OK to blame problems on someone else and overall they learn that people who are supposed to take care of you cannot always be trusted and so one. But also, one day they can be a famous singer and use their voice to speak up against domestic violence and dedicate their songs to their mothers and sisters and every other survivor of domestic violence. Now they need our protection.
All parents, caregivers, teachers and society members, all of us should maintain healthy and open lines of communication with children. If you suspect a child is the victim of the effects of domestic violence or is being abused or neglected, trust your instincts and report it.
We need to show them trust, protection, and support.
[i] All children’s names are not their real names