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Children and Domestic Violence

Iliana’s Survivor Story

My earliest childhood memory — I must have been three or four years old — is of my parents fighting. I’m sitting on the couch in the dark, and I hear them arguing in the next room. Arguing is putting it lightly, though, as I can still hear my mother being hit and screaming in pain. I was scared, confused, and crying. Every time someone asks me why I choose to be the executive director of a domestic violence organization, I go back to that memory. 

Of course, it’s not a memory that I always share with others. It took me two years in this position before I could even utter the words “because my mother is a survivor.” It still feels raw to say it, acknowledging the trauma that my brothers and I experienced in the place where we should have been the safest. But, I say it because I choose not to keep secrets like that anymore. 

Growing up, I never told anyone. I learned to pretend that everything was okay, which was not a difficult thing to do, given that my father isolated us from family and neighbors. He also kept our friends at arm’s length and never allowed us to have play dates or sleepovers. To this day, it’s hard to let people into my inner sanctum. It can be terrifying to think about inviting others into my home. 

Now, looking back at my childhood, I’m surprised no one ever guessed. I exhibited the textbook symptoms of a child who has witnessed domestic violence. I had debilitating headaches to the point that my pediatrician feared that I had a brain tumor and ordered an MRI. Moreover, I was always anxious, depressed, quick to anger, and on guard. So, I kept to myself and had trouble making friends. My brothers also exhibited physical symptoms, including severe nosebleeds and stomach aches. Thankfully, though, we skirted many of the other adverse effects domestic violence often has on children:

  • Higher probability of suffering from child abuse
  • Engaging in risky behavior, such as unprotected sex and using alcohol and drugs
  • Bad grades and trouble learning
  • Starting fights, bullying others, or being bullied at school
  • Skipping school or getting into trouble with the law
  • Becoming a victim of domestic violence or abusing an intimate partner

I decided to take this job because, as a childhood survivor of domestic violence, I saw Haven Hills as an opportunity to help other child survivors overcome the effects of their trauma. I wanted to make sure that this organization had the financial and staffing resources to provide others with what I lacked as a child. 

We invest a great deal into the children that come to our shelters and attend our programs to ensure that we stop the intergenerational cycle of abuse before it’s replicated in the next generation. That’s because we believe the most important thing that we can provide a young person to counteract the devastating effects of domestic violence is a safe, caring environment with staff available to help them work through their trauma. 

Although children may never forget the trauma they experienced, they can learn what it means to have healthy relationships and positively manage their emotions. And the sooner we offer that intervention, the easier it becomes for them to develop into healthy adults. I know that the other staff and I at Haven Hills take that responsibility very seriously. 

My story and that of my brothers’ has a happy ending. We’re mostly well-adjusted individuals with caring partners and have built homes that are free of the trauma we experienced as children. We were lucky to find our way. My hope now is that Haven Hills staff can help others find their way, too.

Iliana Tavera was named Executive Director of Haven Hills, Inc. in 2015. At Haven Hills, Iliana is responsible for managing one of the largest domestic violence providers in Los Angeles County. She has 25 years of experience in nonprofit management, fundraising, operations, and a strong track record of developing successful collaborations among the private sector, nonprofits, and community partners.

Please visit this webpage from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services for more information on the effects of domestic violence on children. 

Next: Men and domestic Violence

Recent posts

  • Empowering Survivors: Haven Hills Workforce Program

    Domestic violence is a pervasive issue that affects countless individuals and families in Los Angeles, CA. Apart from the immediate physical and emotional trauma survivors endure, they also face the daunting challenge of rebuilding their lives after leaving an abusive relationship. One crucial aspect of this process is finding employment that empowers survivors to regain their independence and secure a brighter future.

    Haven Hills is excited to introduce our new Career Services Case Manager, Eric Cornejo Leon. Eric comes with an extensive background in helping people regain their independence. He worked as a HUD Certified Housing Counselor, as a College and Career Center Coordinator and as a College and Career Navigator. Eric is dedicated to helping our clients navigate the job market, provide resources to improve their skills, continue their education and reclaim their lives.

    Haven Hills Workforce Program is specifically designed to assist domestic violence Survivors in the pursuit of employment opportunities, economic stability, and self-sufficiency. The program addresses the unique challenges survivors face, providing them with resources, support, and skills to overcome these obstacles and thrive in the professional world.

    Creating a supportive and understanding work environment is crucial for Survivors’ successful integration back into the workforce. Our program intends to offer employers resources and training on working with DV Survivors. This education helps foster empathy, awareness, and sensitivity among employers, ensuring a smooth transition and sustained support for clients.

    Transitioning from a life of abuse to one of independence requires consistent support and mentorship. Haven Hills provides Survivors with ongoing assistance, including support groups, counseling services, and one-on-one mentoring. By offering safe space to discuss challenges, seek guidance, and celebrate achievements, survivors build a strong support network that nurtures their personal and professional growth.

    In the fight against domestic violence, Haven Hills’ Workforce Program plays a critical role in helping Survivors rebuild their lives through employment. By offering tailored job readiness programs, establishing partnerships with local organizations and businesses, providing ongoing support and mentorship, and cultivating understanding employers, we pave the way for Survivors to reclaim their independence and thrive.

  • Survivors like Edith

    Domestic violence can take any form namely psychological abuse, forced intercourse, physical aggression as well as other controlling behaviors. The negative impacts of domestic violence can have physical, mental, and emotional ramifications. In most cases, the basis of abuse lies in sociocultural norms and a normalization of violence against women.

    Intimate partner violence may lead to mental health disorders, anxiety disorders and PTSD. Moreover, the longer the duration of violence, the higher the severity of depression. Children who witness such violence may also suffer from mental health disorders in subsequent life—ranging from anxiety, aggression, depression and trauma-related symptoms. This trauma may also lead children to have academic difficulties later in life, substance abuse issues, or display high-risk sexual behavior.

    Survivors like Edith found not just shelter, but case management and counseling services to help deal with the traumatic effects of domestic violence.

    My husband abused me every day for over four years. It started when I was 21 years old and was living in Northridge with my husband, our son and infant daughter. He was controlling and manipulative, and I had suffered physical, psychological, emotional, verbal, economic, and sexual abuse. I never talked with anyone about the abuse. I was alone and did not have family here. He was my only family. It became worse when his mother started participating in the abuse. The day I decided to leave the father of my kids was the same day he hit me so hard he broke my nose, he was screaming and physically abusing me. His mother and his sister came to the apartment and took my kids. My husband stayed and continued the abuse throughout the night. He finally left in the morning. I gathered myself and called him that afternoon, begging him to bring my kids back. I went to his mother’s house to pick up my kids, his mother told me to forget my kids and she closed and locked the door. I went back to the apartment, and I stayed there by myself. After three days, I went to the police and was advised to speak with somebody and explained my domestic violence and my abuser, and his family doesn’t want to give me my kids. I was transferred to a court investigator; he gave me an emergency restraining order. It took me fifteen days to get my kids back. A case was opened against the father of my kids, and I was told that they attempted to contact him, but he never answered or came back to the apartment. I was given contact information for shelters in my area. Haven Hills was the closest shelter to my home; I called the hotline, went through intake and began the program in 2016. Haven Hills made me feel protected and not lonely anymore. The counselors were very helpful to me, and I could trust them. I took domestic violence classes, yoga classes, I attended support groups, one on one counseling, and therapy. All the programs gave me the strength to understand and accept that I was not the only one in the abuse and were vital for my healing process and I finally lost the fear three years ago. The future holds a better life for my kids and me. “

    Survivors of domestic violence experience many emotions such as fear, confusion, anger, numbness, guilt, and shame. You can cover up the visible effects of violence with makeup or clothing but getting help for abuse in a timely manner can help prevent the long-term emotional and psychological impacts of abuse.

    Haven Hills can help Survivors with resources to help with the long-term impacts of abuse and start them on a path of positive mental health and wellness. If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, seek help. You are not alone. Haven Hills 24/7 Crisis Hotline 818-887-6589

  • Housing is an especially important concern for many Survivors.

    Leaving a domestic violence situation is not easy.  Often survivors are faced with almost insurmountable obstacles that make it difficult for them to seek safety. At Haven Hills we believe that everyone deserves to live a life free from violence and make it our mission to help survivors break down barriers that keep them in unsafe relationships. 

    Women like Claire who in April 2022 was referred to us by another domestic violence agency and began working with one of our Housing Navigators.  With the financial assistance from our Housing First program, and despite the many challenges in her path, Claire worked to reach huge milestones. 

    The first obstacle Claire had to overcome was an open child custody case with her abusive partner, for custody of her youngest son.   Costly fees to obtain legal representation were a significant barrier. Through financial assistance from the program, she has secured legal representation and continues to work towards regaining full custody of her son. Unfortunately, the Judge, in that custody case, deemed the shelter in which she was residing an unsuitable environment for her son. Therefore, it became imperative that Claire find housing, in her son’s school district, to comply with the Judge’s requirements.

    In July 2022, she obtained a place to live within her son’s school district where she could live with both of her children. The Housing First Program provided support for Claire’s security deposit and a few months of rental assistance to allow time for Claire to get back on her feet after exiting the shelter.

    Throughout that time, Claire and her Housing Navigator worked together to provide her with assistance crucial to her independence and safety. 

    • We helped earn her Basic Life Support Certification which helped her obtained new employment with better pay and hours.
    • We helped her with essential furniture assistance to help her establish her new home. 
    • We helped her with emergency food and clothing to help as she continued to stabilize.

    Much like healing trauma and abuse, finding affordable, safe housing is crucial to helping survivors reduce the possibility of future violence. That is why programs like Housing First are so important as they reduce housing instability and homelessness and ensure that survivors have increased economic opportunities.

    Claire is very thankful to the Haven Hills Team and often refers to Haven Hills as “Heaven Hills” and to the Haven Hills’ team as her “angels”.  We couldn’t be prouder of her success and the small part we played in her achievements.

    Despite the many barriers still before her, Claire continues to make steady progress towards self-sustainability and is hopeful for what is yet to come. Haven Hills will continue to provide support to ensure that Claire and her children don’t lose their housing or their financial independence. 

    Since 2018 the Housing First Program has helped survivors like Claire exit from our transitional program, crisis shelter, and outreach programs to find housing successfully, pursue their goals and improve their quality of life.

    To find out how your unrestricted gift can help us invest in critical programs like Housing First please contact our Development Department at 818-887-7481 ext. 121.