“The courage that it takes to pick up and leave is tremendous,” McDevitt notes. “These women have been so beaten down, they think so much of it is their fault, and their children may not want to leave. They’re having to do so many things to protect their children and themselves. It can be very, very difficult to make that decision.”
Even if the abuse victim and her children do leave safely, the long-term damage may have been done, to manifest itself in future generations.
Officials studies indicate 50 percent of children raised in a home with domestic violence are also abused, McDevitt says, but “my opinion is that if you’re living in it, you’re being abused,” she says. “So I would say it’s 100 percent.” McDevitt sees the effects of that abuse every day at the Partnership’s shelter, where trauma has dozens of faces. Little children are often sad and anxious, while older ones may feel embarrassed by their circumstances or even guilty for not having stopped the abuse.
And at some level, she says, a great many of them are angry.
“They feel angry at their mother for taking them away from home, or angry at being taken from their father,” she says. “They feel angry at the abuser, because they’ve tried so hard to intervene…We’ve seen so many children who seem to be the primary caretaker in the family.”
Breaking the cycle
According to The Coalition Against Domestic and Community Violence of Greater Chattanooga, 38 percent of the homicides in Hamilton County were domestic related in 2003. But behind that number is a far greater one. The FBI reports that every nine seconds in the United States, a woman is battered by her spouse or partner—and that for every reported case, another 10 go unreported.
While the incidence of domestic violence “ebbs and flows,” McDevitt says, things seem worse right now. A bad economy usually exacerbates the problem, and in Chattanooga there has been the breathtaking brutality of high-profile cases, particularly Shae Wiser’s.
Whatever the reason, McDevitt says, “I feel like our shelter is fuller.”
She considers the children she sees each day, then cites another statistic—that 80 percent of abusers or victims grew up in a home with domestic violence. “We know a large proportion of our children are going to grow up and becomes abusers or victims,” she says. “That’s why prevention is so critical. You have to stop it when they’re children.”