Looking at Domestic Violence Through The Lenses Of Children – The Real Victims

By Ibim Semenitari


Domestic violence, trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder, child abuse, spousal rape, fear and courage are some of the themes that are deftly woven into this 194-page narrative; The Silent Watchers by Dot IkwerreGirl Acheru.

The book tells the story of Dot’s marriage to a friend who became her nightmare. In her words, “it started as a very warm friendship that eventually ended up in marriage.” A marriage that lasted seven years that seemed like a lifetime.

While Silent Watchers tells the story of Dot’s marriage to an abusive spouse, whose name is not mentioned, it is in the words of the author a “ manifesto and self-help guide”. Indeed reading through the book, the author tries to guide readers through the labyrinth of life with an abusive spouse, in this case, her husband. The story is told through the eyes of the victim and her two young children.

Reading the book one goes through a myriad of emotions. Sometimes I found myself crying, at other times I felt rage and almost wished I could grab hold of the protagonist in the story. Several times I was overwhelmed with pity and grief at the trauma children, the silent victims, in abusive homes go through. For instance, Dot tells the story of her son’s pregnancy and birth and the effect of violent spousal rape, a verbally and emotionally abusive husband during pregnancy, on her son “ Now think about being pregnant with your baby, all the arguments, all your tears, he/ she hears and are affected by your negative emotions and hormones emitted. This is why you cannot even think of trying to raise a child in an abusive relationship. You cannot hide it from the Silent Watchers.”

She lends credence to this assertion, “ Between the ages of 18 months to three years, I noticed a pattern that every time my ex went into his conversations of rage, my son would stand in the corner and wet himself. Now it gets worse because my son proceeded from not just having a wee accident to pooping on himself. She shares many other incidents in the book.

DOT also debunks the old wives tale that staying in a marriage no matter what, is more beneficial to the children of that marriage than a divorce or separation. “Domestic violence is not just a crime to you but a crime to your children.” The book is replete with instances that show this, like when the author writes, “When my son was in nursery, the teachers picked up on the fact that he was comfortable staying in the corner, not interacting with any children. He found himself a piece of paper and would make senseless scribbles on the paper, inappropriate play with toys, usually just slamming or trying to reap (sic) them apart or if he found himself a calculator where he just punched numbers on it all day and he wouldn’t move. He would stand in the corner pressing those numbers until he wet himself and he wouldn’t want to be changed.” Her son was later diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder ASD. Hindsight is 20/ 20 as the author shares with us. “My son was born with a large wobbly head, breathing and soft belly muscles. Rather than listen to the health visitor who spotted these issues, my ex chose to argue with her claiming that he came from a family of big-headed people.”

Learning from her first child, DOT is determined to protect her second child ( a daughter) from the effects of abuse. While she tried her utmost, as long as she stayed in the abusive space, she had limitations. “ After my daughter clocked two years old, I watched my ever chatty girl who used to try to talk to everyone on the streets during school runs began to act overly shy, run away from people and begin to regress, not wanting to socialise or speak; she would rather just point at things as opposed to using her words.”

Although the author speaks a lot about the silent watchers, the book paints in graphic detail the violence she herself experienced in her marriage. She tells her story of violence including violent sexual abuse during pregnancy like a pained observer through clenched teeth. This book is every inch a manual for literally everyone whether in an abusive relationship or not, as it provides tips and narratives to either help you or enable you to help a loved one. The author is well equipped to share these tips as a former victim herself. She shares the litmus tests for those in emotional, sexual or physically abusive relationships. For instance, with regard to emotional abuse, she says it is important to ask yourself “ Does your partner or former partner:

  • Belittle you or put you down
  • Isolate you from your family and friends
  • Stop you from going to college or work
  • Make unreasonable demands for your attention
  • Accuse you of flirting or having affairs
  • Tell you what to wear, who to see, where to go and what to think.
  • Control your money or not give you enough to buy food or other essential things.

The book however ends on a positive note. The author finds strength to walk away, especially for her children’s sake and shares the remarkable change in her children as a result. “ It brings tears to my eyes seeing how much a child changed in a few months to a year of fleeing abuse. The one that melts my heart is how talkative he is. I literally cannot shut him up. One day I had to ask, “ Son, why did you stop talking all those years,” … “ He responded, It was because I was afraid of the darkness in the house.”

Dot IkwerreGirl Acheru indeed tells a compelling story. The narrative told in the first person is simple, but graphic, leaving one in gasping at the thought of the horrors the author and her children went through. Speaking as someone in the communication and education spheres, I would say this book is a needful addition to the libraries of everyone and recommended reading for parents, teachers, and male and female adults. One important thing to note though; this book is not for persons under 18 as it contains elements of violence, sexual content and sexual abuse. I would also add a bit of caution for anyone who might be dealing with trauma. In Silent Watchers, Dot IkwerreGirl smiles through the pain and holds out hope and reassurance that it is possible to leave and live.

BOOK TITLE: Silent Watchers

AUTHOR: Dot IkwerreGirl Acheru

Publisher Talk2Dot www.talk2dot.com

Silent Watchers can be purchased at Roving Heights Bookshop in Nigeria and Amazon.com

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