In Women’s Aid Organisation, we not only aid women in need, but also the children that come in tow with them, to seek assistance and protection from the crisis that they have faced. We hold by the principles that a child who is subjected to live and grow in an abusive environment, is a survivor of violence in his/her own right regardless of whether he/she encountered direct physical abuse from the perpetrator. Psychological and emotional abuse are often sidelined, because they are abuse which is invisible from the naked eye, but found to have a lasting impact on a child’s growth and ability to relate to healthy relationships in a long run.
Vincent, an 11 year old boy was a good example of how emotional and psychological abuse played a huge role in shaping his pre-teen years. Being the eldest of three and a male in a male dominated family, his father had high expectations of him to be just “like him”, a version of machoism and authority. Vincent’s real name was Jason, but at the age of 7, his father felt that “Jason” was way too “soft” and sensitive. He was often the kind of child who would sit by his mom’s side to wipe her tears when she was beaten up or was empathetic towards the feelings of others. As such, his father decided to change his name to Vincent, which was after a famous villain in a movie he had watch, in hope he embodied more of the toxic masculinity which was portrayed rather than the empathetic qualities Vincent was naturally blessed with.
Over time, Vincent’s dad took him more in his stride, making him sit in the corner to watch while he would whip his mom with his belt, forcing him to watch and not look away. He encouraged Vincent to throw insults at anyone who challenged their authority and in some situations, Vincent was beaten for not being ‘manly” enough when he didn’t rise up to the occasion of joining those toxic masculinity practices. Any child who has been repeatedly exposed to such behavior would inherently inherit those traits, and eventually Vincent learnt to be aggressive especially towards his mom and sister.
When Vincent’s mom decided to leave home due to a severe beating she had taken, and after years of enduring the abuse, she took all of her three kids with her, including Vincent. As WAO engaged more with Vincent and put him through therapy, he would have moments of internal conflict which his social workers would notice. There would be days where he would be a perfectly sweet and understanding child who is patient and kind. And then there are days where he would be aggressive in nature when he didn’t get what he wanted or when his mother would try to set limits or put disciplinary steps in place when he stepped out of line. We noticed he responded differently to female and male teachers, and coaches, and through a whole series of therapy, we managed to break it down to the reasons above which were not divulged to us earlier when we received them, that Vincent was a product of a toxic environment, and had endured years and years of psychological and emotional abuse from his father. In many ways, Vincent declared that he never wanted to be anything like his father, yet in many ways, he found it hard to accept compliments and praise when he did something kind or compassionate.
WAO’s approach to children comes in many forms besides just therapy. We believe that exposing them to a world of what they could have such as sports and music classes, educational coaching and peer support groups is necessary to help them grow. We believe that their resilience is there, and there is just the extra nudge and confidence we need to give them. Vincent was a great example of how our constant faith in him paid off. Sure he has had his outbursts and moments where it felt as if we moved one step forward and 3 steps back, but the fact that a 11 year old can acknowledge the root of his feelings, is able to put in effort to strive to do better academically, and is willing to accept that the gender gap is but a notion, but not a real thing is a great achievement for him, and for us.