« BEFORE THEY BITE, THEY BARK. BEFORE THEY HIT YOU, THEY HIT NEAR YOU »

It was time for Netflix to tackle the issue of domestic violence and its impacts on children, with its brand-new series: Maid

« Before they bite, they bark. Before they hit you, they hit near you » is a quote from the second episode of the series Maid. In this scene, Alex’s friend who is also a fellow victim explains to her that violence is not exclusively physical. Thanks to this shocking phrase, Alex realizes that she has been a victim for a longer time than she had thought.

In the United-States, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have reported that in homes where violence between partners occurs, there is a 45% to 60% chance of co-occurring child abuse, (a rate 15 times higher than the average). Even if they are not physically attacked, children witness 68% to 80% of domestic assault. While children may be collateral victims, living in an environment of physical and verbal abuse has the power to cause neurophysiological confusion, painful emotions accompanied by continuous and often unmet need for affection and attachment in adulthood. Growing up in a violent environment can also encourage children to replicate what their parents do to their future partner. It is important to raise awareness among all victims, but also among those who think they have witnessed or been victims of domestic violence. Indeed, children bearing witness to domestic violence are also victims, even if they don’t suffer from physical abuse.

Maid exposes several aspects of domestic violence in the United States, such as the lack of help for victims. Furthermore, it represents the reality of violence by focusing on the psychological impact on children who witness it. Finally, this series allows for greater recognition of trauma as domestic violence.

Single mothers withstand social inequalities

Inspired by Stephanie Land’s autobiography, Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive, the series Maid tells the story of Alex, a 25-year-old woman, who has just left her violent and alcoholic boyfriend Sean in a hurry, carrying her two-year-old daughter, Maddy. She is forced to support herself without any stable resources. Alex becomes a housekeeper to earn money and maintain custody of her  daughter. Living in her car and then, in a shelter for battered women, she tries hard to make ends meet, to save herself from misery and offer her daughter a better future. When Alex applies for social assistance, she is entitled to $67 in food aid per week. This is too little to feed an adult and a child, not to mention that you also have to buy clothes.

This series truly embodies a country that devalues the undeserving poor and only advocates for people who are supposedly to be helped. Alex is representative of struggling single mothers in the United States, victims of the capitalist system, which favors the wealthiest.

Clearly, the series implies that domestic violence is correlated with poverty. Alex, Sean, and their daughter all live in a trailer and the only income of the household is that of Sean who works at night as a barman. According to the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), out of 650,000 respondents, rates of domestic violence are the highest with 2% in households with low income, whereas in wealthy households, this rate is 0,36%. Besides, according to scientists R. Jewkes and Patrick Tolan, the causal mechanism between poverty and violence is stress: economic hardship creates a form of anxiety conducive to violence. The figures are the figures and cannot be disputed. However, poverty cannot be used as an excuse for a man’s violence against his partner.

Children are the prime witnesses of domestic violence

In the first episode of Maid, Alex runs away with her daughter from her abusive boyfriend. What is shown is that Sean did neither abuse her nor her daughter physically, but rather abused them mentally. Sean is depicted as someone that constantly diminishes Alex’s achievements – he belittles her because he used to provide for their family. Alex left Sean because he threw a glass at her that smashed on the wall. At first, she did not consider herself a victim of domestic violence as she was not beaten physically. However, she meets many women who manage to convince her that abuse is not always visible to others.                                                                                                             

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), 1 in 15 children are exposed to intimate partner violence each year, and 90% of these children are eyewitnesses to this violence. The aim of the series is to make known that emotional abuse is real and that the victims are as legitimate as the ones that are abused physically even though it is hard to be proved in front of justice.

Alex became homeless with her daughter, after losing her house and her job. © BFM TV

Statistics speak for themselves

Those of you who might think that domestic violence does not affect children in any way because of their youth and innocence should check their facts.

According to American psychologist Blake Griffin, domestic violence has an alarming psychological effect on child development, and victims often experience a wide range of difficulties in the immediate and long-run future. Most often, children who witness domestic violence face difficulties such as hyperarousal, re-experiencing, avoidance, trouble going to sleep, reactions to reminders of the domestic violence, in the short run.

According to The National Child Traumatic Network, domestic violence, and children (NCTN), in the long run, the child may face depression, behavioral problems, anxiety, fear, drug abuse, alcoholism, criminal and violent behavior (including the perpetration of domestic violence). These mostly depend on the age of the child exposed to domestic violence, his/her gender, and the nature of the assault.

In Maid, Sean was physically assaulted by his mothers’ boyfriend, while he was still a child. Moreover, he remembers that he used to administer hard drugs to his drug-addicted mother, at the age of 9, pushing him into alcoholism at that same age. This somehow explains why he has also developed into being a violent boyfriend and father.

“I really thought I was worthless and previously tried to end my life.”

Instragram : @gen_theselflovecoach

Genesis, a self-love coach, testifies on Instagram: “when I was 7, my stepdad started beating me and was also beating my mom”, “I really thought I was worthless and previously tried to end my life”. Testimonies like those of Genesis are numerous on social networks. They further illustrate the extent to which childhood violence has a serious impact on adult life. Some even think or end up killing themselves. All children and women can be affected by this violence, including our family and friends. That is why it is essential to identify the first signs of physical and psychological violence.

“You don’t leave a good man who is trying.”

Paula from the series Maid

In the fifth episode, while cleaning and exploring a famous serial killer’s house, Alex has her first flashbacks of being a child around her daughter’s age. She recalls hiding herself in a cupboard because of her father’s wrath. Her father was yelling at her mother, breaking dishes, and hitting her while Alex stayed hidden. She remembers seeing her mother’s face beaten, with a bloody nose. Her mother smiled at her, reassured her, and told her that they will be safe before leaving definitively with her. Paula, Alex’s mother is an accomplice to Sean – even if she probably does not realize it because of her mental illness, she shames her daughter into getting back together with her abuser – “you don’t leave a good man who is trying”. Those words are incredibly violent, and it is hard to realize that they come from a former domestic victim. We learn that Sean used to be physically and mentally abused by his addict mother when he was a child. As an adult, he became the abuser. History is repeating itself.

Maddy is the only child on the show but she’s very representative.

She represents the innocence of childhood. She is the allegory of children witnessing domestic violence and being affected by it – even when they are not the subject of the direct abuse. The show is making a parallel between Maddy and her mother when she was around the same age. They both lived a similar experience but with different outcomes. In order to avoid history repeating itself – meaning that because of the abuse a child witnesses, they either become as an adult the abuser (Sean) or the victim (Alex) – her parents decided to end the circle of violence by finally agreeing to separate and let Maddy live with her mother.

Maid / Official Trailer available on ©Youtube / Netflix

Children are victims of domestic violence. They suffer from the quarrels of their parents, observe everything and reproduce everything they see or hear. By definition, “trauma” refers to the distressing emotional consequences of experiencing a stressful event. That is why most people think that children are naive and will forget the violence they have suffered or witnessed. However, many parents have no idea how deeply these images of violence are rooted in their memories for life. The most important point to remember is to see how deeply this trauma is rooted in that family: Alex and Sean also had the trauma as a child. So they have this trauma that follows them even into adulthood. As a result, the trauma has an impact on their child.

Vanessa Kelly MANTO NINZEU, Noumédia HSAKOU, Anaïs OUMRAOU

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