(Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence) Survival Strategies of Children and Teenagers

Survival Strategies of Children & Teenagers

from http://www.lfcc.on.ca/HCT_SWASM_18.html

When faced with a difficult situation, children “cope” by coming to an understanding (possibly distorted) about what is happening and dealing with the flood of hurtful emotions. Their strategies can involve feelings (emotional), thoughts (cognitive), or actions (behavioural).

Some strategies are helpful

  • examples are seeking peers or supportive adults to talk about the feelings
  • young children cannot easily engage in healthy strategies and need adults to buffer them from the harmful consequences of family adversities such as violence

Some strategies are helpful but costly

  • strategies may be helpful during a crisis but not healthy in the long run, such as emotional numbing, self-injury, substance use, having a baby to escape the family, or being an emotional caretaker for a parent
  • these strategies can be a response to a variety of family adversities, including violence and maltreatment
  • an objectively helpful strategy may not “work” while some objectively unhealthy strategies did do
  • they help a child get through a time of stress or crisis, such as when there is violence in the home
  • however, if used after the crisis is over, or in other circumstances, these strategies may create problems
  • the longer a strategy is used, or the more effective it is in shielding a youth from overwhelming emotions and hurt, the harder it may be to extinguish

Once the family is safe, gradually extinguishing strategies with negative effects and replacing them with healthier strategies may be the key to helping children who have lived with family adversities such as violence.

These are some coping strategies commonly observed in children and teenagers who have lived with violence and maltreatment. Remember that coping styles vary with age.

Mental Blocking or Disconnecting Emotionally

  • numbing emotions or blocking thoughts
  • tuning out the noise, learning not to hear it, being oblivious
  • concentrating hard to believe they are somewhere else
  • drinking alcohol or using drugs

Making it Better Through Fantasy

  • planning revenge on abuser, fantasizing about killing him
  • fantasizing about a happier life, living with a different family
  • fantasizing about life after a divorce or after the abuser leaves
  • fantasizing about abuser being “hit by a bus”
  • hoping to be rescued, by super heroes or police or “Prince Charming”

Physical Avoidance

  • going into another room, leaving the house during a violent episode
  • finding excuses to avoid going home
  • running away from home

Looking for Love (and Acceptance) in all the Wrong Places

  • falling in with bad friends
  • having sex for the intimacy and closeness
  • trying to have a baby as a teenager or getting pregnant as a teen to have someone to love you

Taking Charge Through Caretaking

  • protecting brothers and sisters from danger
  • nurturing brothers and Sisters like a surrogate mother / taking the “parent” role
  • nurturing his or her mother

Reaching out for Help

  • telling a teacher, neighbour, or friend’s mother
  • calling the police
  • talking to siblings, friends, or supportive adults

Crying out for Help

  • suicidal gestures
  • self-injury
  • lashing out in anger / being aggressive with others / getting into fights

Re-Directing Emotions into Positive Activities

  • sports, running, fitness
  • writing, journalling, drawing, acting, being creative
  • excelling academically

Trying to Predict, Explain, Prevent or Control the Behaviour of an Abuser

  • thinking “Mommy has been bad” or “I have been bad” or “Daddy is under stress at work”
  • thinking “I can stop the violence by changing my behaviour” or “I can predict the violence”
  • trying to be the perfect child
  • lying to cover up bad things (e.g., a bad grade) to avoid criticism and worse

Handout for Women

How my Child or Teen Copes (pdf link to off-site page)

Help women use this sheet to identify coping strategies of each of her children (this exercise will not be helpful for babies, toddlers, or most pre-schoolers). Distinguish between those used in response to violence in the past and those still used today. The group can brainstorm specific ways to encourage healthy strategies.

Want to know more?

Alison Cunningham & Linda Baker (2004). What About Me! Seeking to Understand the Child’s View of Violence in the Family. London ON: Centre for Children & Families in the Justice System.

Introduction to Domestic Violence (PowerPoint Notes)

  • Introduction to Domestic Violence
  • Domestic Violence: Domestic violence is a pattern of controlling behaviors carried out by one person in an intimate relationship to maintain power and control over their partner.
    Partners may be married or not married; heterosexual, gay or lesbian; living together, separated or dating.  Violence takes many forms and can happen all the time or once in a while.  Abuse is not an accident.  It does not happen because someone was stressed out, drinking, or using drugs.  Abusers have learned to abuse, using their power to get what they want.  The abuse may be physical, sexual, emotional, economic and psychological.
  • “Domestic violence is a pattern of controlling behaviors, some of which are criminal, that includes but is not limited to physical assaults, sexual assaults, emotional abuse, isolation, economic coercion, threats, stalking and intimidation.  These behaviors are used by the batterer in an effort to control the intimate partner.  The behavior may be directed at others with the effect of controlling the intimate partner.”  Batterer Intervention Standards for the State of Michigan, 4.1 (January 20, 1999).*

    Battering is a choice, it is used by one person in an intimate partner relationship to maintain power and control over their partner.
  • Domestic violence crosses all ethnic, racial, age, national origin, sexual orientation, religious, and socioeconomic lines. Domestic violence can happen to anybody.  In fact, studies suggest that one-fifth to one-third of all women will be physically assaulted by a partner or ex-partner during their lifetime.  In heterosexual relationships, 95 percent of all victims are female; and 95 percent of all perpetrators are male.  In same-sex relationships, domestic violence happens with the same statistical frequency as in heterosexual relationships.

    Women living in poverty experience violence by their partners at higher rates partially because they have fewer options.  (Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence).
  • Domestic Violence Victims (Survivors)
    Anyone can be a victim!  Victims can be any age, sex, race, culture, religion, education, employment or marital status.  Although both men and women can be abused, most victims are women.  Children in homes where there is domestic violence are more likely to be abused and/or neglected.  Most children in these homes know about violence.  Even if a child is not physically harmed, they may have emotional and behavioral problems.  NO ONE DESERVES TO BE ABUSED.  THE ONLY PERSON RESPONSIBLE FOR ABUSE IS THE ABUSER.
  • Domestic Abusers
    There is no “typical” abuser.  In public, they may appear friendly and loving to their partner and family.  They often only abuse behind closed doors.  They also try to hide the abuse by causing injuries that can be hidden and do not need medical attention.  Abusers often have low self-esteem.  They do not take responsibility for their actions.  They often blame the victim for causing the violence.  In most cases, men abuse female victims.
  • Survivor vs. Victim
    We use the term “survivor” due to our emphasis on empowerment advocacy.  This happens when the advocate offers support, resources, advocacy, information and education.
    This is a way of recognizing strength, courage and survival strategies of domestic violence and sexual assault survivors.
    Not all women who have experienced domestic or sexual violence see themselves as “survivors.”  Remember: Domestic violence and sexual assault is something that happens to individuals, it does not define who they are.
    MCADSV New Service Provider Training Manual and Resource Guide (May 2006).
  • We are a ‘movement’ and our work is different than that of traditional social services in that
    –Focus on survivors’ strengths
    –Do not believe we are the “experts”
    –Are survivor-driven not service-driven
    –Understand that violence could happen to any of us
    –Are non-directive in our approach to working with survivors
    Instead of viewing victims/survivors as “sick” or pathological, we believe that survivors are simply reacting in adaptive ways to oppressive societal conditions, restrictive sex roles, and the abusive
    intimate partners in their lives.
  • Power and Control Violence can be both Physical & Sexual
    •Emotional abuse
    •Minimizing, Denying, and Blaming
    •Using Children
    •Economic Abuse
    •Male Privilege
    •Coercion & Threats
  • Using intimidation: making her afraid by using looks, actions, gestures, smashing things, destroying her property, abusing pets, displaying weapons.Using emotional abuse: putting her down, making her feel bad about herself, calling her names, making her think she’s crazy, playing mind games, humiliating her, making her feel guilty.Using isolation: controlling what she does, who she sees and talks to, what she reads, where she goes, limiting her outside involvement, using jealousy to justify actions.

    Minimizing, denying, and blaming: making light of the abuse and not taking her concerns about it seriously, saying the abuse didn’t happen, shifting responsibility for abusive behavior, saying she caused it.

    Using children: making her feel guilty about the children, using the children to relay messages, using visitation to harass her, threatening to take children away.

    Using male privilege: treating her like a servant, making all the big decisions, acting like the “master of the castle”, being the one to define men’s and women’s roles.

    Using economic abuse: preventing her from getting or keeping a job, making her ask for money, giving her an allowance, taking her money, not letting her know about or have access to family income.

    Using coercion and threats: making and/or carrying out threats to hurt her, threatening to leave her, to commit suicide, to report her to welfare, making her drop charges, making her do illegal things.

  • Why Women Stay
    The Barriers to Leaving
    One of the most frustrating things for people outside a battering relationship is trying to understand why a woman doesn’t just leave.  The most important thing to keep in mind is that extreme emotional abuse is always present in domestic violence situations.  On average, an abused woman will leave her partner 6-8 times.  The reasons they return or stay in the relationship vary from case to case.  Some of these include:
  • Situational Factors
    Economic dependence.  How can she support herself and the children?
    Fear of greater physical danger to herself and her children if they try to leave.
    Fear of being hunted down and suffering a worse beating than before.
    Survival.  Fear that her partner will follow her and kill her if she leaves, often based on real threats by her partner.
    Fear of emotional damage to the children.
    Fear of losing custody of the children, often based on her partner’s remarks.
    Lack of alternative housing; she has nowhere else to go.
    Lack of job skills; she might not be able to get a job.
    Social Isolation resulting in lack of support from family and friends.
    Social Isolation resulting in lack of information about her alternatives.
    Lack of Understanding from family, friends, police, ministers, etc.

    Negative Responses from community, police, courts, social workers, etc.

    Fear of involvement in the court process; she may have had bad experiences before
    Fear of the unknown.  “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.”
    Fear of ambivalence over making formidable life changes.
    •“Acceptable Violence.”  The violence escalates slowly over time.  Living with constant abuse numbs the victim so that she is unable to recognize that she is involved in a set pattern of abuse.
    Ties to the Community.  The children would have to leave their school; she would have to leave all her friends and neighbors behind, etc.  For some women it would be like being in the Witness Protection program-she could never have any contact with her old life.
    Ties to her home and belongings.
    Family Pressure; because Mom always said, “I told you it wouldn’t work out” or “You made your bed, now sleep in it.”
    Fear of her abuser doing something to get her (report her to welfare, call her workplace, etc.).
    Time needed to plan and prepare to leave.
  • Emotional Factors
    Insecurity about being alone, on her own; she’s afraid she can’t cope with home and children by herself.
    Loyalty. “He’s sick; if he had a broken leg or cancer-I would stay.  This is no different.”
    Pity. He’s worse off than she is; she feels sorry for him.
    Wanting to help. “If I stay I can help him get better.”
    Fear that he will commit suicide if she leaves (often he’s told her this).
    Denial.  “It’s really not that bad.  Other people have it worse.”
    Love. Often, the abuser is quite loving and lovable when he is not being abusive.
    Love, especially during the “honeymoon” stage; she remembers what he used to be like.
    Guilt. She believes-and her partner and the other significant others are quick to agree-that their problems are her fault.
    Shame and Humiliation in front of the community.  “I don’t want anyone else to know.”
    Unfounded Optimism that things will get better, despite all evidence to the contrary
    •Learned Helplessness. Trying every possible method to change something in our environment, but with no success, so that we eventually expect to fail. Feeling helpless is a war, people taken hostage, people living in poverty who cannot get work, etc.
    •False Hope. “He’s starting to do things I’ve been asking for.” (counseling, anger management, things she sees as a chance of improvement).
    •Guilt. She believes that the violence is caused through some inadequacy of her own (she is often told this); feels as though she deserves it for failing.
    •Responsibility. She feels as though she only needs to meet some set of vague expectations in order to earn the abuser’s approval.
    •Insecurity over her potential independence and lack of emotional support.
    •Guilt about the failure of the marriage/relationship.
    •Demolished Self-Esteem. “I thought I was too (fat, stupid, ugly, whatever he’s been calling her) to leave.
    •Lack of emotional support-she feels like she’s doing this on her own and it’s just too much.
    •Simple Exhaustion. She’s just too tired and worn out from the abuse to leave.
  • Personal Beliefs
    Parenting, needing a partner for the kids.  “A crazy father is better than none at all.”
    Religious and Extended Family Pressure to keep the family together no matter what.
    Duty. “I swore to stay married till death do us part.”
    Responsibility. It is up to her to work things out and save the relationship.
    Belief in the American dream of growing up and living happily ever after.
    Identity. Women are raised to feel they need a partner-even an abusive one-in order to be complete or accepted by society.
    Belief that marriage if forever.
    Belief that violence is the way all partners relate (often this woman has come from a violent childhood).
    Religious and Cultural Beliefs.
  • Myths and Facts
    Why do domestic violence perpetrators do what they do?
    Commonly held misconceptions about why batterers batter
    –Alcohol and/or drugs cause the violence
    –Stress causes the violence
    –Uncontrollable anger
    –The batterer witnessed his father abusing his mother
  • Factors that increase the likelihood of male violence against women
    •Ideology of familial patriarchy
    •Male peer support
    •Alcohol consumption/use
    •Exposure to pornographic media
    •Hold rigid sex role stereotypes
  • Why do batterers batter?
    –Because they can
    –Because it gets them what they want (power & control)
    –Opportunity and self-interest
  • We live in a society where:
    –Around the world, at least one in every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused during her lifetime. (Population Reports, Series L, No. 11, December 1999).
    –Seventy-eight percent of stalking victims are women.  Women are significantly more likely than men (60% and 30%, respectively) to be stalked by intimate partners.  (Center for Policy Research, Stalking in America, July 1997).
    –Intimate partner violence is primarily a crime against women.  In 1999, women accounted for 85 percent of the victims. (Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, Intimate Partner Violence and Age of Victim, 1993-99, October 2001).
    –On average, more than three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends in this country every day.  In 1999, 1,642 murders were attributed to intimates; 74 percent of the murder victims were women. (Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, Intimate Partner Violence and Age of Victim, 1993-99, October 2001).
  • Common characteristics of batterers:

    •Exhibits discrepancy between public and private behavior

    •Uses puzzlement to minimize or confuse survivor about behavior
    •Externalizes by blaming others and using external factors to justify behavior
    •Uses controlling behaviors to get survivor to do, or stop doing, something
    •Feels a strong sense of ownership over the survivor
    •May use controlled substances
    •Is resistant to change
  • Warning Signs
    •History of Violence
    •Substance abuse
    •Breaks or strikes things in anger
    •Controlling Behavior
    •Quick Involvement
    •Unrealistic Expectations
    •Use of Privilege
    •Cruelty to Animals or Children
    •Rape or use of force in sex
    •Blames others for Problems
    •Blames others for Feelings
  • If you have any questions, please contact
    • YWCA of Greater Flint
      310 E. Third St. Flint, Mi 48502
      Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services
    • 810-238-7621

Behind Closed Doors: Judy Chaet

Behind closed doors
Fear and intimidation tell the real truth about domestic violence

Sheila walked into my office; she was a bundle of nerves. She looked down at her hands, which were twisting a handkerchief round and round between her fingers. She had come in to talk about her problem (she was having trouble sleeping and remembering things). The first thing she said was, “I’m not one of those battered women — he doesn’t hit me.”

Sheila and I met many times over the next six months. Her story came out in bits and pieces. It was true: He didn’t hit her, except for that one time — the time he broke her jaw, her cheekbone and her favorite mixing bowl (all over the kitchen). After that, he never hit her again. But there was the time he cut the cord to the telephone, and wouldn’t let her fix it — because she talked to her 85-year-old mother too much. There was the time he threatened to kill her twin sister, if she ever left him. There were the times he kept her awake all night, telling her what a lousy mother she was and that she couldn’t even keep the house clean. And then there was the time he hanged her dog in the garage, because she couldn’t make it stop sleeping on the sofa.

The thing about domestic violence is that it is insidious — it is, by definition, private and “behind closed doors.” The true depth and impact of the violence are almost impossible to quantify. Was Sheila a battered woman? YES. The number of hits, or who hit whom first, does not define abuse. It is, rather, a pattern of behavior. Was Sheila afraid of her husband? You bet.

The more telling point is who has the power — and who is afraid. One partner in a relationship may have been the one to “hit first,” this time. But what went on in the hours or days before that hit? Domestic violence goes far beyond the physical violence. It is also the coercion and threats, the sexual abuse, the intimidation, the isolation, the economic abuse, the use of the children as a threat (or to make her feel guilty). And, most often, it is the minimizing of that abuse — the denial and the blame.

The minimizing, denial and blame are all cruelly intentional acts designed to make the victim feel responsible for the abuse. Sheila believed that her actions were the cause of his violently abusive behavior.

We have all been taught from infancy that the well-being of homes, families and marriages is the responsibility of women. When there are problems in these arenas, we look to the women first: “Where was she while the children were doing that?” “Why does she stay?” These are the questions we are used to hearing, and asking. These are the questions that battered women ask themselves. And these questions are reinforced by everything that batterers tell their victims: If it’s her fault, then there must be something she can do to stop the abuse. But the truth is, there is nothing she can do to stop the abuse: It is the batterer’s intentional choice to batter.

Are there men who are battered? Most reliable research says yes. And it’s a sad fact that all of us are most in danger from those we are closest to. But the 1995 Department of Justice National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) found that women were six times more likely than men to experience violence committed by an intimate (the number of incidents per 1,000 people is 9.4, and for men it is 1.4). And, according to other Justice Department crime statistics, three out of four rapes/sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim, and 45 percent of murder victims are related to or acquainted with their assailants.

Surely there are men who are battered; the question is, What are the real numbers? The following numbers from the NCVS differ dramatically from those reported by Mr. Gelles using the Conflict Tactics Scales (CTS).

Average annual rate and number of violent victimizations committed by lone offenders by sex of victim and victim/offender relationship, NCVS 1992-94:

What is Domestic Violence?

what is domestic violence?


  1. Physical – includes pushing, shoving, slapping, hitting with fists, kicking, chocking, grabbing pinching, pulling hair, jumping on, and/or threatening with weapons.
  2. Sexual – includes coercing partner into sexual acts, forcing partner into sexual acts, or the use of objects without the partner’s consent.
  3. Psychological/Emotional – includes brainwashing, control of the partner’s freedom to come and go.
  4. Destruction – of person, property or pets. This includes threatened destruction.


Domestic violence is used for one purpose: to gain and maintain power and control over the victim. In addition to physical violence, abusers use the following tactics, among others, to exert power over their partners:


  • Dominance – Abusive individuals need to feel in charge of the relationship. They will make decisions for you and the family, tell you what to do, and expect you to obey without question. Your abuser may treat you like a servant, a child, or a possession.
  • Humiliation – An abuser will do everything to make you feel bad about yourself, or defective in some way. After all, if you believe you’re worthless and that no one else will want you, you’re less likely to leave. Insults, name-calling, shaming, and public put-downs are all weapons of abuse designed to erode yours self-esteem and make you feel powerless.
  • Isolation – In order to increase your dependence, an abusive partner will cut you off from the outside world. You may be kept from seeing family or friends, or possibly prevented from going to work or school. You may have to ask permission to do anything, go anywhere, or see anyone.
  • ThreatsAbusers commonly use threats to keep their victims from leaving or to scare them into dropping charges. Your abuser may threaten to hurt or kill you, your children, or other family members, or even pets. Other threats might be of suicide, homicide, filing false charges against you, or reporting you to child protective services.
  • Intimidation – Your abuser may use a variety of intimidation tactics designed to scare you into submission. Such tactics include making threatening looks or gestures, smashing things in front of you, destroying property, hurting your pets, or putting weapons on display. The clear message is that if you don’t obey, there will be violent consequences.
  • Denial and blame – Abusers are very good at making excuses for the inexcusable. They will blame their abusive and violent behavior on a bad childhood, a bad day, on intoxication, and on the victims of the abuse. Your abuser may minimize the abuse or deny that it occurred. Commonly, the responsibility will be shifted onto you: Somehow, the abuse and violence is your fault. It isn’t. The only one at fault is the abuser.

Listening, a Poem by Ralph Roghton, MD

When I ask you to listen to me
And you start giving advice,
You have not done what I asked.
When I ask you to listen to me and
you begin to tell me why I shouldn’t feel that way,
you are trampling on my feelings.
When I ask you to listen to me
and you feel you have To do something to solve my problems
you have Failed me, strange as that may seem.
Listen, All I asked was that you listen – Not talk or do, Just hear me.

When you do something for me
That I can and need to do for myself,
you contribute to my fear and inadequacy.

But when you accept as a simple fact that I do feel what I feel,
no matter how irrational, then I can quit trying to convince you
and can get about the business of understanding what’s behind this irrational feeling.

And when that’s clear, the answers are obvious and I don’t need advice. Irrational feelings make sense, when we understand what’s behind them. Perhaps that’s why prayer works, sometimes, for some people– because God is mute and He/She doesn’t give advice or try to fix things.

So please listen and just hear me. And if you want to talk,

Wait a minute for your turn, and I’ll listen to you. –
-Ralph Roughton, M.D.