For domestic abuse victim, God, honesty, accountability and self-discovery are helping her heal
This story was produced as part of a larger project led by Almendra Carpizo, a participant in the 2019 California Fellowship.
Other stories in this series include:
[CALIXTRO ROMIAS/THE RECORD]
The butterfly tattoo on Alicia Corrales’ chest is symbolic of her life.
It was in moments of darkness that she broke down, later to emerge transformed.
“When we are broken and rebuilt, there’s a season to just be still and let God dry us, and heal us and move through us,” she said. “Then we can rise, we can soar.”
Fifteen years ago, 53-year-old Corrales walked away from the grips of abuse that had occurred most of her life. Today, she not only continues to heal herself but also aims to aid others whose lives have been scarred and bruised by domestic violence.
Nearly one in four women and one in seven men have experienced severe physical violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Ken Puckett, chief deputy district attorney, said the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office prosecutes about 26,000 crimes a year and almost 6,000 of those cases are domestic violence-related crimes.
“In an office this size, that is huge,” he said.
Puckett first oversaw domestic violence prosecutions about 16 years ago. He then moved onto homicides, gangs and juvenile crimes. He has seen several surprises since returning in 2018 to oversee the special lives prosecution division, including seeing more men report and “the huge increase in number of domestic violence crimes,” he said.
In 2011, there were about 3,400 such cases — now it is 6,000, according to Puckett.
BIG IMPACT ON SMALL LIVES
Corrales was raised in Hayward by her mother and a series of abusive stepfathers.
She said she was 10 years old when her biological father, who battled drug addiction, died.
“My family life from 11 to 18 was an isolated home environment where I just kind of lived in hell,” Corrales said.
In those years, her mother would be beaten repeatedly, law enforcement would show up to their home and the family would need to cycle in and out of shelters.
“It was never safe,” she said. “You never felt safe.
“Even as an adult now, I struggle with that feeling of feeling safe, and it’s almost as important as breathing.”
Children exposed to domestic violence, or intimate partner violence, grow up with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that is not acknowledged by society, said Dr. Linda Olson, advocate for the prevention of childhood domestic violence and a clinical psychologist.
As many as 2.7 million children in the U.S. are exposed to violence in the home, according to a report from UNICEF. The range is a conservative estimate because of the limitations of the available data and it estimates that many more children are affected, according to UNICEF.
“It’s very pervasive and the saddest thing is that it is not talked about,” she said.
Olson, like Corrales, grew up with violence in the home. The experience left a lasting impact on her, but it would take her time to realize it.
“I think I minimized (the impact) until my youngest sister was shot and killed Oct. 12, 1996, on my son’s sixth birthday,” she said. “I began to really look at the impact growing up witnessing the violence — physical and non-physical — and how it affects children. It’s the single best predictor of becoming a victim or perpetrator of domestic violence.”
Domestic violence can embed itself into families across socioeconomic status, ethnicities, religious beliefs and cultures, but Puckett almost daily during his time working juvenile cases witnessed a common denominator too obvious to ignore.
Children who were products of homes where domestic violence was present are showing up in the criminal justice system as perpetrators, he said. People assume that if someone grew up witnessing violence at home they wouldn’t want to do it, but experiencing it creates psychological issues.
There is so much growth that happens to a child from 0-5 years old and it is when the bodily responses to your body area formed, said Lindy Turner-Hardin, executive director of the Child Abuse Prevention Council (CAPC). If a child continues to experience trauma, their body rewires itself.
Among the myriad of consequences, experts say children exposed to violence will see greater incidents of insomnia, bed wetting, cognitive issues, anxiety and depression. They also will struggle with an inability to experience empathy or guilt, show poor judgement and feel shame.
Many people still don’t see intimate partner violence (IPV) through the lens of how it affects children, but to think it doesn’t affect the children is ignorant, Turner-Hardin said. Even a child who never sees it can sense it, hear it and know that the people who he or she relies on most in this world are in this altercation.
“The kids are as much a victim of IPV as the direct victim,” she said. “When we leave kids in IPV situations, we’re asking them to carry this burden.”
‘MIMICKED MY CHILDHOOD’
Corrales was 25 years old when she first married. She said she purposefully chose someone of a different ethnicity thinking it would mean a chance at a better life. Instead, she married a verbally abusive man.
After two years of marriage, the couple split up, but the abuse didn’t end there. She plunged into other violent relationships.
Her second marriage was eight years of chaos, Corrales said. He was verbally and sexually abusive. The couple moved many times and a sense of drama pervaded their lives.
“It mimicked my childhood,” she said.
She would then spend years with two other partners who beat, raped and threatened her. One of those men also would order her to lick his boots and take them off when he arrived home from his construction job.
The mother of two now can see how the environment in her childhood and a lack of healing as she jumped from one relationship to the next placed her in a precarious situation.
A child who is a secondary victim of intimate partner violence is prone to becoming a primary victim, Olson said. The focus always is on the primary victim and the kids grow up without anyone asking them about what they experience.
“It’s like stepping into quicksand,” she said. “There’s a gravitational pull to do what your parents did.”
CAPC mental health clinician Cassie Lowe works with children who have been exposed to domestic violence, and what she sees is kids who can’t self-regulate.
For children 0-3 years old it rewires their brains entirely, she said. The kids go into survival mode because there is so much disruption and unpredictability at home that they cannot feel safe. They will develop triggers associated with the violence at home and when they experience those triggers in places such as school, it can set off a fight or flight response.
As kids grow older, the level of anxiety rises and disrupts their development. Their body will keep the score of each traumatic experience and manifest itself in various ways, including an inability to learn in the classroom.
Children will suffer significant consequences if they do not get help, said Lowe, who helps her young clients with coping skills, mindfulness exercises and learning to self-regulate. Their lifespan is shortened, as adults they will have difficulty bonding, and they may exhibit defiant, aggressive or hyperactive behaviors in school.
“Their chances of having a successful academic experience is very poor,” she said.
It is critical for the adults in that child’s life, whether it be teachers, pastors, counselors or family members, to be curious and ask questions when they see him or her experience behavioral issues.
“If we fail to ask about early trauma experiences, we misdiagnosed and do not treat these kids for a long time,” Lowe said. “It’s incredibly hurtful. It’s counterproductive.”
PATH TO HEALING
Corrales, who is the oldest of six children, said she does not have a close relationship with her half-siblings. Their relationships are in part fraught because it was her brothers’ and sisters’ fathers who brought on so much hurt.
“We all have pain, but we don’t discuss it,” she said. “We weren’t brought up in a home that shares or is close — we don’t know how to do conflict well.”
The siblings have tried to raise the issue with their mother, but she’s unable to linger on the past for long.
“She’s an example of a woman with the life beaten out of her,” Corrales said.
Her experiences now guide her purpose in life. Corrales has started the nonprofit Supporting Others As They Rise to help people affected by intimate partner violence and wants to change the way that services are offered.
There is not enough healing and handholding, she said. It’s a rush job so it becomes a revolving door of people seeking services because these are “children in adult bodies looking for a home.”
To her, God, honesty, accountability and self-discovery are keys to taking back a life from an abuser.
“I don’t think it’s impossible for women to walk away,” she said. “But without support, they won’t make it.
“A woman will take many times to walk away from a domestic violence situation, but I’m 53 and there is hope.”
This story was produced as a project for the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism’s 2019 California Fellowship.
[This article was originally published by Recordnet.com.]