This week’s Annotated Bibliography entry analyzes a very powerful article (one I hope you will read) by Danielle M. Stern, who witnessed the abuse of her mother at the hands of a violent step-father as a child. You may view the full text here (Sorry, I couldn’t find this one free for you. However, if you check with your local library, they might be able to provide a copy).
Annotated Bib Entry
Stern, Danielle M. ““He Won’t Hurt Us Anymore”: A Feminist Performance of Healing For Children Who Witness Domestic Violence.” Women’s Studies in Communication 37.3 (2014): 360-378. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 4 Mar. 2015.
Danielle M. Stern writes an autoethnographic essay that explores the childhood trauma of being a witness and victim of domestic violence at the hands of her step-father. She discusses the importance of feminist storytelling in transforming a victim story into a survivor story. This essay mixes Stern’s personal stories of family violence with academic analysis to inform the reader of the impact on children who are forced to witness violence perpetrated against their mothers.
Domestic violence impacts the identity and relationships of child victims in ways that society has made little effort to understand. These children often struggle to form identities that are not defined by violence. According to Stern, the stories of child victims of domestic violence are largely told by the mothers of those children. She argues for an increased effort to give voice to those children rather than learning of their experiences secondhand. Stern also challenges the idea that children who witness domestic violence are not victims as long as the violence has been directed only at their mothers and not at the children.
“In not forgiving my mother for making decisions that kept me a witness to her abuse, I could not forget a shared past informed by violence in ways that impacted my identity and relationships. Admitting my own victimization meant seeing my mother in myself, acceptance I was not ready for during her life. What I once rejected, I now embrace as an opportunity to find meaning in the interrelationship of trauma, memory, and performance” (362).
This was such a powerful essay. I can tell you from my own experience that the American justice system largely writes off the experiences of children who have witnessed domestic violence. It is beyond me why forcing a child to witness such acts is not considered child abuse. The rights of abusive fathers who are capable of hiring lawyers to represent them are usually given far more attention than the rights of children who often have no one to speak for them but their mothers. In such cases, the mother’s testimony is written off as well, since obviously she just “has it in for” her abuser. And no one listens to the children because they are, after all, “just kids.” I applaud the author of this article for giving a voice to so many voiceless children who have no rights under our current system.
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