CW Domestic Violence
Prosecutors Watkins and Elkins:
Fifteen: If we’ve been fortunate, many of us have been lucky enough to reach and survive this age. Bresha Meadows is fifteen. She’s at a critical age where she’s finally starting to come into her own as a young woman. Her brain is still developing and she’s learning about who she is. She should be spending this time with her friends and loved ones, making decisions about how she’d like to shape her future. Yet she sits behind bars.
It’s likely that based on Bresha’s circumstances that even at such a pivotal age, she was not able to be the carefree girl she was meant to be, not able to dream or make her own choices, because she grew up in a household overshadowed by domestic violence. Everyday seemingly simple decisions that she and other members of her household made came with cruel and unusual consequences doled out by her father. A man who was supposed to love and protect them.
The harsh reality is that too many of our youth reside in households with an abusive parent. Statistics show that 1 in 15 children are exposed to intimate partner violence in their homes. 90% of these children are eyewitnesses. On any given day, there are more than 20,000 phone calls placed to domestic violence hotlines. Phone calls no different than one that Bresha’s mother, other concerned loves, or Bresha herself may have made during the course of the abuse. It’s an absolute failure when those reaching out for help don’t receive the safety or stability they need.
I have made these types of phone calls in my professional life more than once. It never gets any easier to see a child who has been abused or neglected. What’s worse is to see that child returned to that same situation and to feel powerless help them. Daily in my schools, I hear about children who have been beaten or raped or abandoned. One particular child had been experiencing sexual abuse in the care of a parent for years, and the discovery not only affected this child, but also his non-custodial parent and stepparent who were subsequently traumatized by their own sexual abuse at the hands of caretakers as youth. Just last week I learned of a student who moved more than 600 miles away, to a different state to escape a domestic violence situation. This child and their family came to Indiana with just the clothes on their backs…the violence in their home so volatile that they didn’t have time or the sense of security to bring official documents like birth certificates.
Over 30 years ago, my grandmother, my only surviving grandparent, experienced a similar situation. After years of abuse at the hands of my grandfather, she packed up my mother and her siblings & drove almost 900 miles away to a different state. I can’t even imagine how her life, my mother’s life or even my life would have been different had she stayed one more day….could my mother, or my aunt or my uncle have found themselves in the same situation as Bresha? It’s very likely. Would my grandmother or one of her children be dead? It’s anyone’s guess, but it’s not worth taking the risk. Bresha more than many is deserving of the defense that she feared for her life, and that of her loved ones. She absolutely did.
Bresha’s mother experienced domestic violence for many many years, and she herself experienced it her whole life. My mother managed to escape any further domestic violence until she entered young adulthood when as a young mother she was subject to intimate partner violence (including being stabbed) that her children, including myself, were witnesses to very young ages. Shelters and secure relocation were not foreign concepts.
In both my personal and professional life, police calls or reports, visits from CPS are all too familiar. They are just as familiar as the news story where I learned that a high school classmate was brutally murdered by her possessive boyfriend and her body discovered in the woods, or that a loved one was stabbed multiples by her domestic partner and left to die with her children looking on. The fear of domestic violence keeps me on edge, sometimes I’m afraid that you are going to wake up to midnight phone call in the middle night and learn that your sister is dead because the father of her child finally decided to kill her and I wish that the last time he threatened her really was the last time because my nieces & nephew don’t deserve to lose their mother. I understand how a person of a battered loved one can be driven to protect them, even if it means by use of force because I have thought about what I would do if I ever got that phone call…
Even when we as a society refuse to acknowledge and properly address the ill effects of domestic violence, our children experience it in more ways than we dare to see. Daily their faith and trust in others erodes a bit more, they feel like they have no one they can turn to, no one safe they can confide in and justifiably so. Sometimes they escape within themselves and withdraw, and other times they lash out physically or act out, sometimes they engage in self destructive behavior. In all scenarios they are reaching out for help and instead of addressing their trauma and treating them, we the adults in their lives attempt to silence them, punish them for their behavior or incorrectly label them or in the case of Bresha, charge them with aggravated murder. The truth is that you or I or so many of us could be Bresha Meadows in that moment. She deserves a chance to receive therapeutic care along with her family and to heal and to grow up, not behind bars, but in society. Bresha is a survivor, not a criminal she should not be treated as the latter.