Last spring when I was sorting out my classes for my final year of law school, I came across the Family Violence Clinic listed in the schedule of classes, and I immediately signed up for it. Our school has a Children’s Rights Clinic, that helps low-income families with guardianship, limited conservatorship, dissolution with domestic violence, and special education. Other than a vague idea, I don’t think I really knew what I was getting myself into. I just knew that this was a chance for me to get more involved in the cause that is so important me, to help people whose shoes I’m all too familiar of standing in, and to learn how the legal system works and is able to help victims of domestic violence.
I can’t tell you how rewarding this experience has been so far. Every time I meet a client, I immediately want to just give them a super big hug. I always want them to know that there are people on their side supporting them, and not just with the legal matters, and that they are most certainly not alone. Helping a victim of domestic violence goes beyond legal matters. The law as it stands at the moment, only does so much for victims of domestic violence. Ensuring safety and healing is a whole other challenge, but even more important.
If it were up to me, I would incarcerate domestic violence offenders for life. I’m not sure that will ever happen, but that’s why the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is so important. The VAWA authorizes critical funding for domestic violence and sexual assault programs in EVERY state and is a major source of federal funding for programs that specifically address the needs of youth facing dating violence.
This month, the Senate approved a reauthorization of the act by a 78-22 vote. It blows my mind that anyone would vote against it. Why wouldn’t you want to protect your women and your children? Why wouldn’t you want to help keep them safe? It boggles my mind that anyone thinks that a lesser, deficient version of the bill would be more appropriate. Today, the House will vote, and I greatly hope they will follow the Senate’s lead.
This week’s new episode of “Law & Order: SVU” titled “Funny Valentine,” was essentially a social commentary on Rihanna and Chris Brown’s story. If I didn't already love this series, I would now, because this show may be the first time someone in the entertainment industry has shed some true light on the situation. They even included a detail that my friend coincidentally brought to my attention only last night. Did you know Chris Brown has a tattoo of a beaten woman on his neck, which quite eerily resembles the picture we’ve all seen of Rihanna after the 2009 beating? She Google’d a picture of it, and showed it to me—I thought I was going to be sick. How can someone be such a brainless, senseless, incredible monster? The thought of him in general makes me ill.
This is the second time I’ve ever written his name in a blog, and only because I think it’s necessary. Otherwise, I try very hard not to contribute to the attention he still gets. I hate the jokes that people still make about the two of them and their relationship. Those jokes minimalize the seriousness of domestic violence. Domestic violence is not funny. I could list off the statistics I usually give in each post like this one, but in case numbers don’t help paint the picture clearly enough for you, let’s test your empathy. It’s not very funny when you have to fear for your life every waking minute, and then go to sleep to nightmares. It’s not very funny when there are three children in your house who are constantly afraid, locking doors, leaving lights on, and having nightmares. It’s not very funny when your husband/boyfriend is incarcerated for beating you, but sending threats through third parties, saying he’s going to kill you. It’s not very funny when your life is so consumed by fear for your life you’re constantly on the run, because you’re afraid of being found.
Just in case that didn’t help, I’m going to give you some statistics anyways:
EARLY 1 IN 3 TEENS
· ONE in FOUR WOMEN will experience domestic violence at some point in her life. Look around you and do the math.
· Nearly ONE in THREE TEENS have been in relationships in which they have experienced the most serious forms of dating violence and abuse including sexual abuse, physical abuse, or threats of physical harm to a partner or self.
· Nationwide, nearly 1.5 million HIGH SCHOOL students experience physical abuse from a dating partner in a single year.
· Girls between the ages of 16-24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence, almost triple the national average.
Many domestic violence and abuse situations go unreported, so imagine what the statistics would be if all instances of domestic violence were reported.
Additionally, recent statistics tell us that children exposed to domestic violence are:
· 6 times more likely to commit suicide
· 24 times more likely to be sexually assaulted
· 60 times more likely to engage in delinquent behavior as adults
· 1,000 times more likely to become abusers themselves
So again, I ask, why would anyone not want to protect our women and children, or anyone who is a victim of domestic violence or other abuse for that matter? Why would make light of these matters?
There is such a negative and uneducated stigma attached to domestic violence victims, but if only everyone could see them as their own brothers and sisters. If only everyone could see how brave many of them really are.
Read for yourself what VAWA does: http://www.loveisrespect.org/pdf/VAWA-Action.About-VAWA.pdf.
Educate yourself on the signs of abuse and how to help. Abuse can occur to someone who is practically right under your nose, without you even realizing.
The homepage of “Love, Justine” has a list of resources and wonderful organizations, and the events page also has useful information including national hotline numbers.
Take care of yourselves and each other <3
BIG LOVE & HUGS
I’ve tried not to publicly comment on the Rihanna/Crazy Brown issue, unless someone asks me for my opinion, but I saw him today while I was at a trade show, and I just got so mad. The person I was with pointed him out to me, as we were walking by him, and when I turned my head and realized who it was, I immediately said something like, “O my gah I can’t stand him, we have to get out of here.” My heart was racing.
Let me be brief. First, I don’t believe that Rihanna has healed from the trauma of being brutally attacked by someone she loves so much. If she had, she would not be back with him. And I don't blame her for it.
Secondly, I think that if the media felt the need to cover and comment on their relationship, it should have made itself useful by actually educating people on the seriousness of domestic violence. What the media has essentially done is become a part of the continuous cycle of abuse. Why do I say this?
Yes, discussing domestic violence is an uncomfortable subject for many people; but that is exactly why it needs to be discussed. I’ve heard and seen news channels and magazines throw out rhetorical questions about the public’s opinion over Rihanna and Chris, but the public’s opinion about the couple does not matter. What significance does that have? What matters is helping victims of domestic violence and other abuse. What matters is educating people on being aware of abusive relationships. What matters is talking about abuse. What matters is doing what we can to help end the cycle of abuse. 1 in 4 women will be abused in her lifetime—and this statistic only reflects those of reported abuse. Look around you, or think of how many women are in your life, and do the math.
I would say that the majority of the media glossed over the seriousness of this matter, making it seem like it was practically nothing. The entertainment industry welcomed him back. Both have done a HUGE disfavor to society. And both have done a huge disfavor to Rihanna as well. This is an issue where you have to swallow your fear and not be afraid to step on some toes. The fact is Chris Brown beat a woman, which is unacceptable. We all saw the pictures of her bruised and bloodied face. The fact is many people are killed as the result of domestic violence. So why are we afraid to talk about it? It took 26 people to die for the country to go bonkers over the 2nd amendment. What’s it going to take to get the country to go bonkers over putting an end to abuse?
BIG LOVE & HUGS
Trauma is something that takes time to deal with, and I’m not entirely sure that it ever completely leaves you. On top of that, trauma affects everyone differently, and everyone deals with it differently. I hate thinking that many children tonight are going to go to bed with nightmares already stirring in their heads. I hate thinking that many children are going to be afraid to go to school. Nobody should be afraid to go to school. School should be a safe haven for children. I love school. I went to preschool when I was 2 and I’ll be 25 when I finish law school this coming spring. If I could, I would probably even spend an extra year or two studying abroad somewhere. School is fantastic.
Anyhow, I wanted to try to help the parents out, who are struggling with trying to talk to their young children about the events that happened today in Newtown, Connecticut; but also just for anyone dealing with trauma in general. I’ve had to deal with quite the traumatic experience, and though I wasn’t a young child when I went through that I experience, I think my experiences with coping afterwards may be able to help some of you out. After all, we learn from sharing—sharing our experiences, our mistakes, our triumphs, etc. Just remember, I’m not a psychiatrist, but I’m speaking from my own experience.
Initially, someone suffering from trauma may sort of shut down from shock. They may not want to talk. Talking is important, but you have to let it come naturally. So if your child, or whoever suffered the trauma, is not talking, don’t force it. Just make sure he or she knows that the communication lines are open.
We all want to protect our children and our loved ones. If we could, we would build an invisible shield around them to repel all the evil in the world. We can’t though. So when someone suffering from trauma tries to talk to you, and tells you that he or she is scared, confused, or whatever it is they’re feeling, don’t just say, “It’s okay, everything’s going to be okay.” Ask that person why she is scared. What are her fears? There’s probably not just one answer. Just listen. Don’t try to fix their fears and confusion for them. By asking the questions, you are helping them. Children aren’t as good with verbal communication, so you might have to help them out a little more with talking about what’s on their mind. If they ask you questions, be kindly honest. Don’t fluff, but don’t be rough. And if “I don’t know” is your most honest answer, then simply say, “I don’t know.” Also, reassure them that they are in fact safe—that you are there for them, and looking out for them.
I think one of the hardest questions to answer is “Why did this happen?” I imagine a lot of children and parents are asking this question tonight. I’m not sure if there’s a right way to answer this question, or any way. I imagine though, if I was a kid, I’d want to hear what I’m not always so patient to hear now—probably because I already know its truth, and sometimes when you’re down you don’t want to be told what you already know. If I was a kid today, asking my mom why a man shot and killed twenty children, I’d want to hear that bad things happen, and we don’t always know why, but we have to learn from them and make tomorrow better so that today and yesterday were not wasted. I think one of the things that really helped me, was when my dad said to me, “Now from this experience, promise me you’ll help those who can’t help themselves.” Basically, he was telling me to turn a negative into an exponential positive. Of course, I was much older than the children affected today, but it was helpful, and maybe you can find a different version of that message to tell your child.
I’m also a strong believer in therapy for anyone who is a direct witness/victim of trauma, like the children at Sandy Hook—physically harmed or unharmed—or even a child who witnesses abuse between his parents, even though he’s never touched. There’s something different about talking to someone in complete confidence, someone who knows how to listen, how to ask the right questions, and really just someone who is not prone to react overprotectively.
Some parents get uncomfortable confronting their child’s pain—that’s why we fluff our answers—but you have to suck it up. You have to keep those communication lines open, and be there when they need you. It’s one of the best things you can do for your child and yourself, if you really want your child to feel safe, and to feel peace. If you try to gloss over it, or shush their fears away, you’ll risk closing up the communication lines. Just remember, you don’t have to force communication—if they feel and know the communication lines are open, they will come to you. If they’re not talking, then every now and then ask them how they’re doing to remind them that the communication lines are open.
While you’re being supermom, superdad, or super-sibling/cousin/friend, remember to be normal. One of my biggest fears was people treating me differently, or like I might shatter any second. I didn't want that. I'm not sure that young children can understand that, but don't give them a chance to have more fears than they may already have. You don’t want to walk on eggshells, and you don’t want your child to feel fragile or different. You want your child to get back to normal, and happy, as quickly as possible. Of course, you can’t rush anything; but you can remind them of how awesome they are. Remind them how strong they are. Remind them that their strength is necessary for sharing their awesome. It sounds cheesy, but sometimes people need a little help remembering how to stand up.
As times goes on, I think the thing that most people forget is that when someone suffers from a traumatic experience, after they are all smiles again and all seems better, different things could trigger all kinds of emotions—whether it’s fear, tears, or anger. Sometimes things that seem normal, or used to be normal, may cause a different kind of reaction. So don’t be quick to judge or ignore. Don’t smother either, but just try to be understanding of what you might not be able to understand. As time goes on, remember that even if a person blocks out certain memories, memories can have an odd way of coming back to us. So again, remember to keep the communication lines open. If your child asks a question seemingly out of the blue, maybe it’s not so out of the blue.
I could go on, but I think these are some good basics for communicating with someone healing from trauma. If you would like to have a one-on-one chat about dealing with trauma, please feel free to contact me through the contact section of this site.
BIG LOVE & HUGS
Speechless. I’m absolutely speechless. I got home from a long final, and turned on the news to something extraordinarily devastating. My heart was pounding in disbelief that 20 young children had been killed in a school massacre. I wish I could reach out and hug every child near and far from me
The shooter was 20. TWENTY!! He was still a child himself. What could set a person off like that to go and take so many innocent lives? The first thing that came to my mind was mental illness.
I know people are going to start speculating, and if in fact the shooter was mentally ill, people are going to wonder what could have been done to prevent this? What wasn’t done, and should have been done?
Whether or not this is applicable to this particular situation, the thing about mental illness is that it’s not always obvious. A few years ago, when I was twenty-one and twenty-two, I watched someone who was at the time very close to me, literally lose his mind—he was twenty-two and twenty-three then. I didn’t know it at the time, and I didn’t even officially know it until, actually, this last spring. Around April or May of this past year, I was told that he was in fact diagnosed with schizophrenia that year that I last saw him, which was in 2010.
No one who knew him would have known or guessed it. However, something triggered his schizophrenia to slowly combust into a violent nightmare. In his case, the thing that triggered it was an overload of stress from work. In retrospect, there were signs; but the signs were not blatantly apparent, especially not to someone who has never known anyone with such an illness. However, the stress definitely caused it to explode to an infinite degree. He became extremely paranoid, moody, and violent.
There’s a certain stigma that goes along with mental illness. I think sometimes we expect the mentally ill to carry certain physical traits. We expect to know a mentally ill person when we see one. But the truth is, or as I’ve learned, there are people out there who come off as totally normal on the outside, but on the inside their wires are all tangled and mixed up. In fact, what at first might feel like mere character flaws, are actually the “signs.”
There are also those with mental deficiencies, who are completely harmless, and I’ve met those people, and I’ve loved them like my own brother and sister. They are angels with immaculate hearts. So what causes someone to become violent as the result of a mental illness?
Well, in the case of the person I once knew, I believe he was predisposed to violence. He grew up in an extremely abusive household. On top of that, his family history tends to show that mental illness may have run in his family. I’m not sure that anyone in his family has ever been tested for schizophrenia, but now knowing that he is schizophrenic, and knowing what I know about his family, it all makes sense.
It’s very sad and scary watching someone lose their mind, especially when they become violent. And at first, you don’t realize what’s happening. When I look back, I think it should have been obvious what was happening—but it wasn’t.
At least in my situation, I think I kind of panicked as I scrambled to find ways to make him happy—reverse what was happening. I couldn’t though, and things only got worse.
Eventually, for my own safety, I had to leave. I prayed and hoped his family would step in. Clearly, they have done as much as to get him to see a doctor. More than that, though? I don’t know.
I hope they’re doing everything they can to keep him from hurting others, because I can’t tell you how often I pray that I won’t one day turn on the news to find that he has stepped into the shoes of those like the shooter in today’s news.
I don't know what the best way is to prevent a mentally ill person, prone to violence, from committing violent acts. We know there are mental institutions, and medications, but is that enough? Is there more?
What I’ve told young students in my T.A.L.K. program is to just be very aware of people—what they say and what they do. Of course, you don’t need to obsess over every word and move a person makes, but just be careful. Look out for yourself and your friends. We have to take care of each other. We just do. As my friends and I used to say when we were kids, "We're all brothers and sisters in God's eyes." More importantly, if something seems off, talk to someone. Talking to someone, may save someone else’s life or your own.
My heart and prayers go out to the children and families of Sandy Hook Elementary school.
BIG LOVE & HUGS
One of the stupidest things parents can do is call their child stupid. I won’t stand for it. Next to damaging a young girl’s self-esteem, this is the other thing that really sets me off. I can’t bear to hear parents call their child stupid—it enrages me. It doesn’t matter how it was meant to be received, the psychological effects are damaging when a child constantly hears how stupid he or she is. If you don’t mean it, don’t say it. If you’re upset about something, say what you’re upset about, don’t start name-calling. In the end, what are you trying to teach your child—how to do right, or how to be a bully?
BIG LOVE & HUGS