Three years ago, Katelyn was the victim of a brutal assault, stabbed with a knife in her back by her mother’s then-boyfriend, Barry. Luckily, she survived. She was 18 years old.
It wasn’t the first boyfriend of her mother’s to abuse her, either.
“The earliest [abuse] I remember was when I was around 7 and her boyfriend would put me in timeout all day. Another boyfriend would pinch me really hard and I would be scared to tell my mom because she wouldn't believe me.”
Katelyn, as well as her three younger siblings, endured abuse at the hands of their mother’s boyfriends since early childhood. Says Katelyn, “She let them mistreat us. She let them do whatever they want, have whatever they want.”
A victim of child abuse herself, says Katelyn, her mother’s only boundary with boyfriends was when one mistreated her, which they often did. “If he hit her or cheated on her, that’s when she would break up with them.”
The Childhood Domestic Violence Association estimates that as many as one in 7 adults in the U.S. grew up living with childhood domestic violence, or CDV, which includes violence between parents or toward a parent. Research from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that in as many as 60 percent of households where either domestic violence or child abuse occurred, it was likely that both existed simultaneously.
Bad Feeling from the Start
Katelyn’s mother met Barry on Craigslist when Katelyn was 16 years old. The teen immediately had a bad feeling about him. “I just couldn’t believe my mom would put my little brother and sisters through these dangerous situations, like meeting a stranger on the Internet and bringing him into the house when she barely knew him.”
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After less than a year of dating, Barry moved with Katelyn’s family to a new city. While packing the moving truck, Katelyn says he began to verbally berate her little brother, only 11 at the time. “My mom wasn’t doing anything about it.” Overcome with anger, Katelyn punched Barry. “I was just so mad at this whole situation.”
Barry attacked Katelyn, flicking his cigarette toward her face before raising an arm to hit her back. But before his fist could make contact, Katelyn’s uncle intervened, pushing Barry to the ground before he began hitting him. Someone called the police and Katelyn says she wanted to press charges, but her mother wouldn’t let her. “She wouldn’t even look at me.”
The violence continued after the move. “It was so bad, our family had to split up. Him and my mom and brother went into an apartment. My grandmother, two sisters and I lived in a house 20 minutes away.” Katelyn says she fell into a deep depression, worrying about her brother being all alone with Barry.
After Katelyn’s grandmother’s health declined, and Katelyn, now attending college, was unable to care for her, her grandmother and sisters moved in with Katelyn’s mother and Barry. But Katelyn refused to go.
Then, she got a call from her grandmother. “She told me that Barry was beating my brother, and that he [Barry] had slammed my grandma into the wall. My sister had bruises from him. But my mom said they were lying. She didn’t do anything.”
Enough is Enough
One February afternoon, Katelyn went to her mother’s apartment where she found her little sister crying. “Barry had dragged her by the armpits so hard there were marks. I said enough was enough.” Katelyn decided to start documenting the abuse and took pictures of the bruises left on her sister. But her foresight came too late. She heard Barry yelling at her brother in another room. She stormed in and told him to stop. Barry pushed her.
It was the last straw for Katelyn. “I pushed back. We were in a fighting tangle and I pinned him on the bed. Then, there was a knife in my back.”
Luckily, she says adrenaline blocked the pain. She screamed for help. The rest of her siblings ran in to try and fend him off until police and paramedics could arrive. Doctors found the knife wound barely missed one of her lungs. She received eight stitches.
Barry was arrested, but received parole and mental health counseling in lieu of jail time, Katelyn says. Restraining orders were put in place to protect Katelyn and her siblings, but her mom refused to get one for herself. Katelyn says her mother still doesn’t seem to believe Barry was at fault. “For five months after the incident, until he cheated on her, she continued to see him behind our backs. She thought it was all my fault.”
Can the Cycle Be Stopped?
Children who experience domestic violence are two to three times more likely to find that cycle of violence repeated in their adult lives, either as perpetrators or victims. Katelyn knows this risk exists. Now married, she says firmly, “My spouse has never hit me and will never hit me. He’s a true gentlemen.”
But she’s afraid for one of her siblings. Her sister is dating an “unstable guy,” she says. “They fight all the time, but it doesn’t matter to her. It’s like there’s a cloud blocking her judgment, just like my mother had.”
The Deepest Cut
Katelyn says the stab wound itself never hurt her and the stitches never bothered her. “What did hurt was my heart. To see my siblings go through that, to see my mother have the power to stop things but not do it, that’s what hurt.”
She credits her husband, her sister and her best friend for being the support system that helped her heal. Now, she says, “I think I’m done healing. I don’t even think about it anymore. You just have to give it time.”
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