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When children witness domestic violence | Women Uninterrupted Podcast | Season 2, Episode 3

Sharing thoughts on those unseen victims of domestic violence — the children.

August 24, 2022 01:46 pm | Updated 03:45 pm IST

Women Uninterrupted is an inter-generational podcast bringing you difficult, different, and uninterrupted conversations about being a woman.

In Season 2, Episode 3, a young film student, and a domestic violence survivor share their thoughts on those unseen victims of spousal violence — the children.

Host: Anna; Guests: Priya* & Anya

Editing: Tasmin; Title music: The Carpet Beat by Maya

The Women Uninterrupted podcast was produced by The Scribbling Pad for The Hindu.

You can listen to all episodes of Women Uninterrupted here

A domestic violence survivor writes

By Priya*

This conversation is the most difficult one I could ever have. I could not speak it if I chose to be called who I really am. Instead, I chose to be Priya*.

DV is about being unsafe every sleeping and waking moment within the four walls of your home. It is one of the hardest crime scenes to escape from. It is the only scene where society pressures you right back into it if you expose the crime.

Abuse by a spouse is not a ‘marriage problem’. It is the abuser’s problem. It is the abuser whose behaviour needs fixing, not the marriage. It is the abuser who must face correction and consequences like any law-breaker would.

Instead, the victim waits for the marriage to heal. We fix ourselves so we do not ‘provoke.’ Your parents tell you that work pressure may be a ‘reason’. Friends tell you, “But you are a lovely couple, and besides, he is so nice to us.”

There is one real-time witness and that is the watching child. What does a child feel when he/she witnesses physical aggression by the parent whom she trusts to keep her safe? How does he cope with it? What are the long-term impacts on the child’s mental health and future relationships?

As my co-guest on this episode says, my anxiety as a victim is not merely mine. It is internalised by my children. Though I do my best to leave the lines of communication open between the children and me,it is to them that I reach out at the most dangerous moments. That breaks me and them. It is not their problem. Yet it becomes theirs. They turn into my bodyguards. They resent the emotional abuse and find both healthy and unhealthy ways to cope with the power play in the family. Their anger moves to desperation, then indifference. Their relationships are clouded by mine.

I try to leave. I plan safe exits but I see the loopholes in every plan. My abuser tells me he will come after us if we leave. And I stay, keeping my job, keeping the family unit seemingly intact, reluctant to displace my children.

* The survivor’s identity has been altered to protect her. 

Full text of the conversation

The text has been edited for clarity

Anya: This is the Women Uninterrupted podcast brought to you by The Hindu. This is a space where we host difficult conversations between different generations of women.

Anna: Hello, I’m your host Anna and with me, I have Priya*, a mother of two, and Anya, a film student who made a documentary during the lockdown…during pandemic lockdown. Before I ask Anya about her film, I’d like to issue a trigger warning. If you are a victim, witness or survivor of domestic violence (DV), please wait to listen to this episode till you are in a safe space mentally as well as physically. Anya, can I begin with you…Tell us what made you pick DV as a topic for your film. What did you find out?

Anya: I, unfortunately, have first-hand experience of DV as a child and that inspired me to raise awareness and illuminate the real numbers and damage that TV has had on women in our country. I’ve made a documentary about how women have been affected during COVID-19. The number of cases of DV has doubled, if not tripled, during the pandemic.

Anna: And I’m sure the reasons for that are pretty obvious to us here. Anya, I asked Priya…Priya is a mother of two… she joined us today because she’s been a victim of domestic violence for many years now. For certain reasons, she has not left the situation yet. It is one of the most difficult but necessary decisions to make when one is a victim. Priya, I understand that your children - they’re both the reason why you stayed on as well as the reason you wish you could leave so that you could protect them. How have your children reacted when there is abuse in your household?

Priya: It’s interesting that you asked this question because my elder child has seen it over a longer period of time and he does not…he behaves as if it…he is indifferent: (that’s) the right word… is indifferent towards it. While my younger one is more…she responds in a way which is…she wants us to get out.

Anna: Alright. And I suppose that you have had to go to therapy yourself?

Priya: Yes.

Anna: Including the children or…?

Priya: Not the children. We’ve kept the children out of it but yes, we have gone through therapy.

Anna: Okay…I’m grateful - I know how hard it is for you to be on this episode. It took me some time to bring you here and I’m grateful that you’re here because this is one of the most difficult

conversations we can have in our country where, well, sometimes you’re just told to “suck it up,” yeah. And meanwhile, here we have Anya, a child whose family stayed together despite abuse, and she believes she had a role to play in that. Anya, tell us about that.

Anya: Yeah. Um, most people think one would forget their traumatic experiences. But mine was etched in my brain at the age of six. Yes, I wasn’t harmed, but I was a witness to the DV. Later in eighth grade, I saw it again before school and that was when I had my first panic attack. And I remember how it felt like it was just yesterday: my head felt heavy, my heart and my hand; and I was just praying it would stop and it was all just a bad dream that I refuse to wake up from. Now, I walk past the kitchen, and I try to divert my mind every time from visualising the incident.

Anna: I think we could say that children - if not direct victims - they are indirect victims of domestic abuse. As you grew up, Anya, how did you deal with it?

Anya: In 10th grade, I couldn’t take it anymore and I’m sure you’re familiar with PTSD, which is post-traumatic stress disorder…and it kept coming back to me in different times in life, and so I just couldn’t take it anymore. So I mustered the courage and sat my parents down. And I spoke to them, telling them that enough was enough and they needed to stop. But one thing that was definitely my saviour was actually the gym. The gym became my therapy. And I love to joke about it. I hide all my trauma in my muscles.

Anna: Way to go, Anya. We talk about the survivor. We talk about the perpetrator, but we also need to think about the secondary victims, the children in the family. Very often, the physical abuse spills over onto the child. The abuser is rarely held accountable for mental and emotional abuse of the child, which comes along with it. How do you think, Anya, we can call out and prevent violence in the family?

Anya: I think someone needs to talk about all the women that have been abused. I feel that this kind of abuse behind closed doors will stop when women are empowered. Right now, men are misusing power to keep women suppressed. My generation is getting better at breaking down these doors and speaking up about it. For instance, the way I stood up even as a child to domestic abuse is because I am aware of this issue. And I’m not afraid to deal with it.

Anna: Priya, now you have the child’s point of view. Most important here is your position, yes. But we have to work together as families, as societies…so is there anything you’ve taken away from what Anya has said…

Priya: No, I mean, I definitely understand her point of view. I can see that children may use some other form to take out the stress, like how Anya used the gym. I’m sure there are other children who have seen this up close and personal…they immerse themselves in something: it could be studies, it could be something that gives them that comfort, probably, as long as it does give them comfort…does not take away the, you know, the fun of being a child…I think it’s good. Our country, to a large extent that way, is protected. We have maybe, you know, siblings or maybe a cousin or grandparents (with) whom they can find that solace. And somewhere I feel we need to definitely...I agree with that…we need to talk more about it. While I believe we are all empowered…all of us are educated to a large extent…but when it comes to these things, it’s all behind closed doors. And nobody wants to talk about it. The hush-hush feeling is really something I do not like. I have tried talking to people about it. But most of the people behave as if they are…they behave as if they’ve not understood what I’m trying to tell them. They do not know the amount of, or the level of, abuse that can happen behind closed doors.

Anna: Yes. And who sees that the closest: that’s the children.

I don’t know…there’s this choice between well, do we keep the children in, like, a four or five-member (abusive) family, or do we take them out of it? Which is safer? This is something we women have to think about more. We have to think because children who witness DV - they’re likely to be more insecure. Well, I can see that Anya has taken a very positive way out: the gym. That’s a great way, but there are children who tend to look for security in what they think are safer spaces (but could be dangerous choices). There are statistics to show that they grow up, and they are also likely to have violent relationships themselves, which is why we have to counsel both the victim first - yes, the victim comes first - and then the child - that becomes important.

If you are a victim of domestic violence, please visit to make an online complaint or to find the helpline number which is 782-717-0170 for the National Commission for Women. Thank you, Priya. Thank you, Anya. Signing off on this episode of Women Uninterrupted, the intergenerational space for difficult conversations brought to you by The Hindu.

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