Domestic Violence Awareness Month happens in October, but every day of the year several thousands of people are experiencing harm in their relationships.
Normally when people hear of domestic violence stories they think of a woman, scarred and bruised from being battered by a man. The image of a woman’s swollen face with a black eye and bloody lip is probably the first visual that forms in most minds when they imagine someone who has experienced domestic violence.
Now, imagine a petite and innocent-looking elementary school girl. Every day she brings a lunch and snack packed by her mommy, runs around energetically on the playground during recess, and happily illustrates and authors books with her friends. She’s shy at first, but a silly goof once she warms up to you.
Would anyone ever guess that that little girl experiences violence at home — almost every weekend, usually in the mornings, like a reliable alarm clock? No, probably not.
In fact, no one ever did figure it out. There were never any visible wounds, no telltale signs of what was happening at home, or in the car on the side of the road. My dad’s booming shouts — and mom’s fearfully desperate and frustrated pleas for him to stop intimidating her — never left any marks on my body, yet I am a face of domestic violence.
A childhood filled with terror in my own home has scarred me internally. I don’t even have to close my eyes to replay haunting flashbacks of my dad’s outbursts, and it doesn’t take much to remember what it felt like to fear for my mom’s life each time we walked back into the house, after a temporary escape from our war-torn home. On countless nights I was prepared to see my dad standing at the front door, ready to resume a fight with my mom as soon as we walked in, which never happened. But my anxious mind was always prepared for the worst.
Because it was impossible for anyone outside my home to know what was going on inside, no one could offer help. I had to verbalize what I witnessed to someone if I wanted that. I always wanted relief, but never got it. For a long time I was too afraid to bring attention to what I felt was an embarrassingly shameful life.
It was not until high school when I decided it was time to use my voice. I took it upon myself to spearhead what became a temporary peer mental health support group, because I knew that surely I was not the only teenager keeping quiet about personal life issues. I named the group “Speak,” with the idea that it is important to speak about feelings, fears, and real life with other people, because it is cathartic and helps combat isolation. I wanted other people to release what was clouding their minds so they could live happier lives, which is what I wanted for myself as well.
What I discovered was that initiating conversations around mental health and seeing the positive impact they were having on my peers was enough to make me feel significantly better. I felt empowered to manage my feelings and gain control in my life, regardless of what was still happening at home.
I found my passion for helping others improve their well-being and for working as a mental health advocate. Since then, I have continued to seek experiences that will help me learn how to better help others and keep my passion ignited.
If you or someone you know is in need of support for domestic or intimate partner violence, help is available. DBHIDS is a proud partner of a citywide initiative called Shared Safety. Support can be found by visiting the Philadelphia Domestic Violence Hotline or the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
Samantha grew up in Newton, Mass. She previously interned at Screening for Mental Health Inc., where she helped further develop their youth-suicide-prevention program and worked at Advocates Inc. as a direct care counselor in shared-living homes, assisting individuals with intellectual disabilities and clinical mental disorders. During three of her undergraduate years she was a resident assistant for first-year students at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she majored in sociology, minored in psychology and education, and completed a certificate of social work and social welfare. She is now the clinical intern for Health Promotion at DBHIDS and will soon be moving to Madrid, Spain, to teach English in a bilingual school. When she returns, her plans are to continue a career in the mental health field with an aspiration of pursuing a degree in clinical psychology.