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Column Submission: Because We Have Daughters
By Debra Faircloth
A gynecologist in Alexandria subtly screens his patients for domestic violence. I won’t mention his name because I don’t want batterers keeping their wives away from him. First, he’s a good doctor; second, he’s an ally to victims and a confidential source of help. When I complimented him on his initiative, he simply said, “I have daughters.” For this physician, who has no doubt seen more victims than he can count, the fight against domestic violence is a personal one.
Doctors who practice gynecology/obstetrics probably see more victims than any other medical specialty, except perhaps ER docs. Why? Statistical studies show a relationship between pregnancy and the first physical assault. Anecdotal evidence gleaned in my 10 years as a counselor at DART in Ruston, Louisiana, confirms the phenomena as well. A woman may have sustained years of psychological and emotional abuse, but the abuse doesn’t escalate into physical violence until the woman becomes pregnant. Why then? Well, the reasons are as varied as the individual circumstances, but some people think that the batterer is angry that he will no longer have his wife’s undivided attention. Remember: no matter how complex domestic violence may appear on the surface, it always boils down to its lowest common denominator—power & control.
The unborn child of a battering father is already a child in danger more ways than you might suppose. Even as this fetus grows and develops in the womb, he is already marked by family violence. Studies conducted by the American Medical Association show that physical abuse of the mother is associated with neonatal death, and verbal abuse is associated with low birth weight.
If this baby survives its 9 months in the womb, the trouble is just beginning. Even before he draws his first breath, this child has 3 strikes against him. For him, violence is already normalized. He doesn’t know that everybody else doesn’t live like he does. Since violence thrives in silence, he may never find out how non-violent, respectful families live. Children who grow up in violent homes have a considerably greater likelihood than other children of committing criminal assaults in their teen years and into adulthood.
Our little boy who in utero heard the demeaning tones, the name-calling, and the threats, who felt the pace of his mother’s heartbeat quicken in response to those events, is well on his way to being a batterer. Before he even makes his first efforts at control, his observation of life tells him 2 things: 1) violence is normal, and 2) there are only 2 kinds of people in the world—the weak and the strong, the battered and the batterer. He’s too young to know his observation is faulty; his logic, specious. No one wants to be weak. He may hate his dad’s behavior and quake in fear at his approach, but at the same time he doesn’t want to be weak. He wants his own strength and power acknowledged. Such a child confuses fear with love or fear with respect. He’ll fight against his low self-esteem his whole life. If he makes the wrong choices, he’ll fight it with his fists or he’ll crush the egos of others with his words and his manipulations.
Will this child be marked for life? Yes, certainly. He’ll spend the rest of his life trying to sort out the pain of his childhood. Is this child destined to be a bully or a batterer? No, battering is still a choice. He can follow in his father’s footsteps and abuse those around him. He can also, like Lt. Mark Wynn of Nashville who conducts trainings nationwide on law enforcement’s response to domestic violence, become a police officer in order to save and protect victims of batterers.
We learn how to be parents from growing up with our own parents. We just celebrated Father’s Day and Mother’s Day. Kids are home for the summer and spending more time with parents than usual. What kind of unspoken legacy are you bequeathing your child. What kind of father will your son be if he follows your model? As for your daughter, what kind of man will she marry? What quality of life do you want to impart?
As always, if you are afraid of someone you love, if you need shelter or help, please call 1-888-411-1333. This statewide crisis line number will ring at the domestic violence agency closest to you. Help really is just a phone call away.
These materials may not be reused except with the express consent of Debra Faircloth.