Children and Youth: The Invisible Victims of Domestic and Sexual Violence

My name is Rev. Aleese Moore-Orbih. I have over 20 years of experience in Pastoral leadership, Women’s Spiritual Discipleship and Direction and 10 years of experience in family violence advocacy and leadership training. Most importantly, I am a Black Christian woman who loves our African American communities and churches.

Colossians 3:21 “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.”

Okay, what really breaks my heart about domestic violence, beyond the 4 million women beaten and abused and the average of three women murdered by their husbands and boyfriends every day is its impact on children and youth.
On average, 10 million children experience physical violence in their home every year – including by witnessing it, and trying to stop it. This is the sad and true story of many of you reading this blog. But you probably do not talk about it, not because of shame but because it is so normal that it doesn’t seem worth talking about.
Of the 10 million children exposed to domestic and sexual violence every year, 60% are physically and/or sexually abused by their mother’s abuser. 10% get involved, try to defend their mother, or try to physically stop the violence. This is probably why 40% of the teen and young adult males incarcerated for murder and/or assault committed those crimes against their mother’s abuser.

As an African American daughter, mother and sister, I esteem Black communities and churches, from the poorest to the richest, above all others, in spite of our warts. I also recognize that it is difficult for us to look into the mirror and recognize that the behavior of adults, parents and guardians are the major reason why so many of our children and youth are involved in high-risk behaviors. But it’s real. Research has shown over a number of years these difficult truths:
• Violence in the home is worse than in the community.
• Children are influenced by domestic violence more than television and street violence.
• Children are more intensely affected and the consequences last longer by domestic violence than community violence.
Most of us know that exposure to domestic violence can have a mental, physical, and emotional impact on children and youth. What is not common knowledge is that exposure to high-risk behavior and the health of children and youth are linked. Ten years of research by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) established that multiple adverse childhood experiences or trauma put kids at a higher risk for what the CDC calls “health problems,” which are listed below:
• Alcoholism and alcohol abuse
• Depression
• Illicit drug use
• Risk of intimate partner violence
• Multiple sexual partners
• Sexually transmitted diseases
• Suicide attempts
• Adolescent Unintended pregnancies
• Early initiation of smoking
• Early initiation of sexual activity

Some of us refer to high-risk behavior and “health problems” as normal bad teen behavior and situations. All too often we judge, label, punish and put our kids in a box rather than asking, “What happened to you?” Of course it is easier and takes less time and energy to tell someone what to do than it does to hear their story, stand with them against their unjust experience and walk with them on their journey to healing and wholeness. Certainly that is not the ministry of the Black Church. More than not, kids are just trying to cope and survive the trauma, violence and/or lack of love or care at home. When kids live in an unhealthy and violent environment, it’s very hard not to choose unhealthy coping mechanisms to survive. The truth is in many of our communities the only resources available for kids to cope and survive are unhealthy resources. Many of our pregnant teens are also survivors of abuse and incest. Many runaway teens are running from violent homes. Many gang members are looking for love, respect and acceptance in all the wrong places.
There are no simple answers to these complex and complicated issues. But the conversations must begin if we are going to figure out how to protect the safety and welfare of victims and their children while fostering healthy and safe father-child relationships.
Hebrew Scripture tells us over and over that we are required to care for the most vulnerable in our communities, naming children. Jesus in the Gospels made it quite plain that children are special to God and those who would cause them harm will be held accountable. But Paul took it to a whole new level and named the elephant in the room. Paul made it clear that fathers have powerful influence in the development of their child’s character and emotional and spiritual life. Therefore there are some things fathers should not do.
“I’m starting with the man in the mirror. I’m asking him to change his ways. And no message could’ve been any clearer. If you wanna make the world a better place take a look at yourself and then make that change.” MJ.
Rev. Dr. Aleese Moore-Orbih
FrontLine Faith-based Solutions and Consultants Twitter @ revaleese

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