Monday, October 25, 2010

Children who witness domestic violence suffer long-term effects

Clara PriesterClara Priester

Clara's sons, Damon and Brandon as childrenClara's sons, Damon and Brandon as children

Clara's sons, Damon and Brandon as adultsClara's sons, Damon and Brandon as adults

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By Minna Sugimoto - bio | email

WAIKELE (HawaiiNewsNow) - Our focus on domestic violence this month continues with a look at how children who witness the abuse are affected.  A Waikele woman, who escaped an abusive relationship decades ago, says the violence continues to haunt her sons who are now adults.

Clara Priester enjoys her work selling Mary Kay Cosmetics.

"It's a full size hand cream and two small, mini samples," she explained to a client.

But there was a time, she says, when makeup played a different role in her life -- concealing the bruise left on her face by a drunken husband.

"He became very angry, pulled me out of bed and began beating me," she recalled.  "It took seven layers of that for me to apply to cover up the bruise."

While Clara was able to escape the abusive relationship, she says her children, who witnessed the violence, continue to suffer the effects.

Her older son, Damon, was just three years old when he was forced to step up following a beating.

"He stood there for a minute looking at me and I said, it's ok," she recalled.  "He approached me.  He climbed up on the couch.  He put his arm around me.  He said, mom, don't worry, it's going to be all right, everything is going to be ok.  Looking back on that now, I realize that he did assume a parental role in a sense."

Clara says Damon and brother Brandon were not physically abused, but still went through behavioral changes and difficulties establishing relationships at school, and even became suicidal.

"I felt guilty, the guilt of what's happening to my children," she said.  "But I really felt like I had nowhere to go."

She says the struggle for Damon, the older one who saw more of the violence, continued into adulthood.

"Began abusing drugs and alcohol and, as a result, was incarcerated on more than one occasion," she said.  "He has a very fragmented sense of family."

Brandon eventually joined the Army and is now thriving.  In that, Clara hopes others will see a message of hope.

"Brandon, who has done very well in the military, who is a responsible citizen and doing very well, is the same child that witnessed what we just talked about," she said.

Now married to a different man, Clara, 53, has found the strength to talk to community groups about domestic violence.

"One of the things that I really, really take time on during the presentations is answering the question why don't they leave, why don't women leave," she said.  "Because what you don't ever hear is why doesn't he stop."

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