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A Child’s Perspective of Abuse—Stories from the Shelter (Part 1)

My name is Candice Yohnk, a recent college graduate and volunteer with NDVC. As a child, I experienced domestic abuse, which sadly greatly impacted my life and how I developed into an adult. Now, ten years later, I am hopeful that my experiences can be helpful and informative to others that have been or know others who were abused. Through my writing, perhaps I can give the unique child’s perspective of sexual abuse, mental health, and living in a domestic violence shelter. This article in particular is part one in a series of articles about my experience within the domestic violence shelter and how it impacted me and my life. Look forward to future parts of this series as well as other articles relating to my life story in the coming months.

August 11, 2014. The same day that Robin Williams committed suicide, I finally revealed the truth of what had been happening to me for a little over six years. It was an extremely difficult experience to talk about. Something about sexual abuse felt quite embarrassing to admit Even watching a brief sex scene in front of others felt too embarrassing to bear, let alone talking in detail about my stepfather's crimes. I was, after all, only 11 when the abuse began and didn’t even fully understand what sex was. It was only at the much older age of 17 that I could finally tell my friend briefly through a handwritten letter the mistreatment I had endured, something of which I couldn’t even watch her read. I know that I am not alone in having felt this embarrassment now, though, as over 50% of children site embarrassment as being the number one reason why they avoid mentioning their abuse. At the time, however, it did not feel like a legitimate enough reason.

After a long, sleepless night of interrogation, cotton swabbing my insides, taking a shot, and swallowing enough pills to make me puke thanks to the rape crisis center I was taken to, my mother and I finally arrived at the domestic violence center in our city. I’m still unsure if we were brought into the shelter because of the police or because my friend’s mom was the president of the organization who's building the domestic violence center was located in. Either way, though, we were in the shelter before the sun rose the next day, and for that, I am grateful.

The shelter certainly wasn’t perfect, but to me, I felt safe. It was in a high building in a secret location, locked tight, and with security. To me, at that moment, it was enough. Just feeling safe for the first time in years was enough, even if they had told me I would have to sleep on the floor. It was also the first time I had felt cared for in as many years, having received a care package with a vanilla-scented stuffed animal and a Harry Potter book. I was able to sleep easily that night thanks to the shelter with a feeling of safety and the sweet scent of vanilla wafting in my nose. Perhaps if I had grown up in a better household, I would have disliked the shelter more, but then again, if I had grown up in a better household, I wouldn’t have been there in the first place.

This safety and care felt short lived, however, as my mother was eager to leave as quickly as possible. Now that I'm an adult, I believe I can understand more of my mother’s perspective, but I don’t think she'll ever understand my own because I believe the difference stems from the difference between children and adults. As adults, I think sometimes we forget the biggest benefit we have—freedom. Children are never truly free, especially nowadays with longer school years and the increased fear of children going out without an adult. Children are always under the constraints of guardians, systems, and government. It is only when we become adults that we gain the freedom to do and go wherever we want, which can sometimes be very frightening and stressful, but is also oftentimes something we don’t want to lose. When an adult goes into a domestic violence center, they lose some of that freedom. Suddenly they have a curfew, a chore chart, a schedule, etc. while also having to learn to share and live in a space not their own. Sound familiar? Children oftentimes obey by those rules anyways, so what’s the difference? They’re just safer within a shelter.

Now, I can only speak from my own experience. I might have been the odd one out in my feelings of safety and complacency, but I do know that the shelter was not entirely negative for the other children. We would often visit each other’s rooms, and even once had a pizza party and made prank calls to some mothers! Of course, it could possibly be said that children are in general less sad and anxious than adults anyways and thus would be fine wherever, but children can just as easily develop depression and anxiety. Children are more likely to experience mental health problems when they are subjected to or witness abuse, as well.

With all my enjoyment and comfort, however, I did have some grievances. Some of the more negative experiences would probably be relatable to both mothers and children, while some were a bit more specific. In part two, I will discuss some of the difficulties of being a child in a domestic violence shelter, so look forward to that story coming in May.

Warmest regards,

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