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The Indirect Victims of Domestic Violence against Women

Sat 25 Nov 2023

Personal Testimony by Anonymous Victim

I write this article as a 65 year old woman, to highlight how domestic violence in my family affected my childhood and affects my adulthood, in the hope that those suffering from partner violence take the decision to leave an abusive relationship sooner rather than later.

From 1954 to 1986, my mother was the wife of a serving Army officer; during that era, it was almost impossible for her to find support – due to her upbringing, her culture, and my father’s status. My father fought in the Korean War, he was mentioned in Dispatches and considered a good officer; however, his experiences resulted in undiagnosed PTSD which led him to take out his frustrations on my mother. The violence manifested itself more openly as the years went by, forcing my mother to find solace in alcohol.

As small children, we were unaware of the undercurrent of violence, but as the years passed, we came to understand that not all was well within our family. By the early 70s our parents were functioning alcoholics, whose actions began to impact our teenage years. We had no-one to turn to, there were no organisations that actively promoted themselves as supporting the victims and families of domestic violence, and our own family – grandparents, uncles, aunts – buried their heads in the sand rather than confront my father about his actions.

Enough to say that my mother was brutally victimized throughout our teenage and early adult years. Throughout the majority of my adult years, in fact until my mother reached her late 70s, she carried the fears and anxiety of victimization which she tried to obliterate through red wine and paracetamol. She was only finally able to cope with the results of the violence she suffered once she slipped into dementia; it’s hardly surprising I can be glad for her forgetfulness.

Living with domestic violence, heard but rarely seen, leaves an imprint on the impressionable. As young girls, we were afraid of both our parents: of our father’s ability to put the fear of God into us, and of our mother’s erratic behaviour. We feared the evenings, we were scared by our mother’s cries for help, and we didn’t know how to keep her safe. We missed having parents we could talk to, we lost the safety of our home, we learned to keep secrets – from our families and from those we loved – and we learned to cover up for our parents.

My sister became a family lawyer and worked on behalf of families like ours, but Mum refused to take her advice to get away from her abuser; she did finally divorce my father, but the legal framework in the 1980s did not offer her much support, nor did her peers or her family. It was left to her daughters to stand up for her, to argue with her, to try to find ways to encourage her to move forward with a life of her own rather than remain constantly in a dark past with our father.

Today, I look back on my life and wonder what it would have been like if Mum had left Dad when we first realized he hit her; what it would have been like to not have to

worry about her safety; and above all, what it would have been like to have someone to support us, to understand what we were going through.

I appreciate that I was in a position of privilege, and my father never physically abused his children; however, we suffered emotional abuse during our most formative years. It has taken years to come to terms with the effects of this abuse, our relationships with husbands and lovers have suffered, our relationships with our parents and children have been warped by our upbringing, and our relationship with each other is always a work-in-progress.

It is only since working with VSE that I have come to realise just how little any adult did to try to protect my sister and I, let alone my mother. Today, I believe – I hope – our situation would have been different. If nothing else, we would have had choices; the internet, television, radio, movies, discuss family violence more openly, and direct the abused to those who can offer advice and support.

If you are a victim of domestic violence, or the child of a victim of domestic violence, reach out for help! While the process of leaving an abuser remains as emotionally fraught as it always has been, at least there are now people who can listen to and understand what the children of domestic violence victims are party to. You are not alone; but you may find taking that first step to look for help difficult.

VSE is working hard to ensure that you have rights and that you are recognized as a victim of domestic abuse, and that you have access to legal advice which can give you access to appropriate support and protection from your abuser. VSE’s network of support service members are available throughout Europe: take this opportunity to contact a service near you.

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