‘The cycle ended with me’
[Editor’s note: This is the second installment in a multipart series about domestic violence. The following story contains graphic details of violent crime that some readers may find disturbing.]
One of the most insidious aspects about domestic violence is its cyclical nature. Children who grow up being abused, or witnessing abuse between their parents, often grow up to become victims or abusers themselves.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), being the victim of physical or psychological abuse is “consistently one of the strongest predictors of perpetration.”
Witnessing domestic violence and abuse as a child can have lifelong effects. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health, children raised in abusive households are more likely than those who grow up in stable homes to enter into abusive relationships as adults.
“For example, a boy who sees his mother being abused is 10 times more likely to abuse his female partner as an adult,” The Office on Women’s Health website states. “A girl who grows up in a home where her father abuses her mother is more than six times as likely to be sexually abused as a girl who grows up in a non-abusive home.”
Jessica McDaniel, 32, knows the cycle of violence all too well. She’s lived it. But she’s found her way out of the darkness and hopes sharing her story will help others do the same.
A childhood of horrors
McDaniel, who now resides in Coffee County, began experiencing violence at home very early in her life.
McDaniel’s father abused her and her mother. Later, McDaniel carried that trend to her adulthood, becoming a victim of her partners and letting her children witness the abuse.
McDaniel was born in Texas and lived in Guam until the age of 12.
“I was there with my dad, my mom and my brothers and sisters,” McDaniel said. “My dad was violent.”
The cycle of abuse in McDaniel’s family started before she was even born, she said.
“My dad abused my mom while she was pregnant with me,” McDaniel said. “It was something I grew up in from the time I was born. When I was growing up, my mom and dad were always fighting. My dad would threaten to hurt us and throw things all the time.”
Over the years, McDaniel said, her father became more violent.
“He would beat me with the belt,” she said, adding she had scars all over her back.
“I went to a private school, and coming home, he would accuse me of stealing something from him, and he would beat me and my mom,” McDaniel said. “My mom was too scared to stop him.”
Her parents were also using drugs.
“That’s kind of when they introduced me to drugs,” McDaniel said. “I was 13 at the time.”
At that time, one of her father’s friends started abusing McDaniel sexually.
“He told me he would protect me from other people and family members – because I had a family member rape me,” McDaniel said. “I thought he would save me from other people who would sexually abuse me.”
Years later, McDaniel realizes “he was just a sick pedophile.”
The cycle starts again
But that realization didn’t put an end to the cycle into which McDaniel had fallen. She would recreate her mother’s situation of being controlled and abused over and over again.
“I started getting with guys, and though my intention was to avoid guys like my dad, they would turn out to be just like him,” McDaniel said.
Just like McDaniel suffered and saw mistreatment in her childhood, her children witnessed abuse as well.
McDaniel has three children. Her sons are 9 and 8, and her daughter is 4.
When she was in abusive relationships, McDaniel would realize she needed to leave, but “felt trapped,” she said.
She would stay because she didn’t want her children “to not have a dad.”
Addiction made matters even worse.
“I turned to meth to offset my emotions and to deal with the pain,” she said.
She lost custody of her children, but continued to live with her batterer.
“I stayed with him knowing that it was wrong, but in the back of my head, I thought he was the only one that would care about me,” McDaniel said.
McDaniel had hit rock bottom. That’s when her desire to provide a brighter future for her children inspired her to start fighting.
“I remember looking at him and thinking, ‘Do I want my kids to turn out like this?’” she said. “Do I want my boys to grow up into this man? Do I want my daughter to think that this is an OK type of man to be around?”
Her family’s experience with domestic violence was coming full circle.
“This is history repeating itself, from my grandmother to me,” she said. “I didn’t want this to be passed down to my daughter, and if I stayed in that relationship, that is exactly what I would have done.”
Changing the pattern
McDaniel decided to end the pattern of abuse.
She became a resident of Blue Monarch in October 2017. Blue Monarch is a local program helping victims of domestic violence who struggle with addiction.
“At Blue Monarch, I learned how to heal from the past – it changed my life,” McDaniel said. “I started realizing I was handing a very chaotic lifestyle to my children.”
Blue Monarch has given her the tools to become independent.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “I love to be here, and I’m so glad for the things I am learning. I don’t feel like a domestic violence victim any more, I feel like a domestic violence survivor.”
She has regained custody of her children and wants to provide a happy future for them.
“I hope we continue to bond and grow, and I hope I can continue to give them the safe environment and structure I give them now,” McDaniel said. “They know I have their back and I’m going to defend my family. I am only going to be in healthy relationships.”
McDaniel wants to ensure her children have the positive childhood memories she never got to have.
“The cycle ended with me,” McDaniel said.
McDaniel encouraged those who suffer abuse to join her in the effort to battle domestic violence.
“There are too many women out there that feel it is the end of the rope,” McDaniel said. “But if they just reach out and get help, they will start a whole new beginning and will change their lives and be stronger.”
A way out awaits the victims.
“There are people that can help you,” McDaniel said. “You don’t have to stay in that situation. No person is ever going to be worth your freedom, your happiness, joy, your safety and your children’s safety. If you feel you are in a position you can’t go, reach out to somebody. There are so many people that want to help, but they can’t help you if you don’t reach out.”
‘You are worth more’
The biggest hurdle that had prevented McDaniel from seeking help was low self-esteem.
“I thought nobody would care and nobody else would want me,” McDaniel said. “That was my biggest problem.”
She urged victims to seek support.
“You are worthy enough,” she said. “You are worth more than you will ever know. Call the police, Haven of Hope or Blue Monarch.”
Many individuals and organizations stand ready to help.
“Don’t let anybody intimidate you and make you fear to reach out,” McDaniel said. “You do have a voice that matters, and you are loved.”
Victims become survivors
Blue Monarch helps women gain independence and provide a nurturing environment for their children, said Kate Cataldo, director of community relations and fundraising for Blue Monarch.
“We take the women out of [a bad] situation, bring them into a place of healing and, then, we start restoring them from the ground up,” Cataldo said.
Blue Monarch offers counseling to help build victims’ self-esteem and figure out why they were attracted to abusive situations in an effort to avoid similar situations in the future.
“They start group therapy to get to the root of why they stayed in the abusive relationship to begin with,” Cataldo said. “We start the healing process from the inside out. Then, we add on life skills.”
The organization helps survivors improve their education, earn driver’s licenses and learn how to budget and cook.
Just like McDaniel, Courtney Hawkins also escaped the vicious cycle.
“Courtney regained custody of all of her children,” Cataldo said. “She is now working at a doctor’s office and going to school to be a medical assistant.
“She is raising her three children all by herself and she is doing a fantastic job.”
Hawkins has two daughters and one son.
“She has shown her son and her daughters that violence is not the way you treat someone you love, that violence is not OK,” Cataldo said.
For more information about Blue Monarch, visit the program’s website at www.bluemonarch.org.
Elena Cawley can be reached by email at email@example.com.