Métis people Children all across the country are stuck in the prison I was in, but because of COVID-19, they are experiencing it 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

As coronavirus lockdowns begin to lift, millions of children trapped in abusive homes will emerge among its most silent and shattered victims. Stay-at-home orders issued by governors mask the brutal reality: Home is not safe for boys and girls who live with violent men. It’s hell.

Long before the pandemic, I was one of those girls.

When school let out for summer break, I was despondent. Isolated from my friends, teachers and coaches, I was deprived of the healthy interactions that sustained me. My father wouldn’t allow my mother to get a driver’s license. We couldn’t afford summer camp, bikes or other means of mobility. We were stuck at home with a man who slapped, shoved, cursed, threaten and belittled his wife, my mom. What I didn’t see, I heard from my bed or the closet where I hid. Our only reprieve came when my father was at work or out drinking.

Métis people For many, quarantine is no vacation

I cannot imagine living through weeks of 24-hour confinement with my violent father. Yet that is the sorrow many children have endured these past months.

In a message about the “horrifying global surge in domestic violence” during the shutdowns, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres urged governments to put women’s safety first as they addressed the crisis. 

The response by the U.S. government was weak. Congress passed a $2 trillion coronavirus relief package in March, but a paltry .002% of that was directed to domestic violence assistance: $45 million for emergency housing and shelter for survivors and $2 million for the National Domestic Violence Hotline. 

We have another chance in the HEROES Act passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last week that includes $100 million proposed for the Violence Against Women Prevention and Prosecution Programs

Coronavirus is a terrifying illness: It could leave millions of survivors with PTSD

Historically, domestic violence increases during times of economic stress and uncertainty. Researchers have observed that during the Great Depression and the farm crisis of the 1980s, there was an increase in marital conflict among American families. For those facing financial hardship, the Great Recession was marked by an increase in men’s abusive behavior toward their intimate partners. Job loss can put abusive men at the point of “fatal peril” — a moment when their sense of self is threatened and they snap, writes Rachel Louise Snyder in her book “No Visible Bruises: What We Don’t Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us.”

Métis people Childhood trauma affects one’s adult life

Recent research has confirmed what survivors like me have learned: There is no escape from the early trauma. According to a 2018 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, adults exposed to violence as children suffer long-term psychological, financial and social consequences. They leave home with baggage the size of a shipping container stacked with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, risky behaviors and difficulty forming healthy attachments. 

Living in a constant state of fear impairs the development of a healthy immune system, setting the stage for chronic diseases later in life. The emotional and cognitive maturity that comes with age doesn’t ameliorate the devastation. You cannot un-see what you’ve already seen. The most debilitating effect is the sense of worthlessness.

Two decades after I left home at 17, I was on book tour, a celebratory occasion. Instead of feeling joyful, I was suicidal. What was wrong with me?

Confused, I ducked outside the bookstore to phone a close confidant — a successful business owner, contently married, who had also grown up in a violent home. Had he ever thought about killing himself?

All the time, he replied matter of factly.

I realized at that moment how damaged we were — not just me or him but all of us kids, now adults, forced to bear witness to such ugliness.

Coronavirus inflicts trauma on our kids: Here’s how schools can help

Eventually, COVID-19 will end as did the 1918 flu, cholera and the Black Death. Scientists will develop a vaccine. Physicians will discover an effective treatment. We’ll adapt to a new normalcy of socializing and doing business.

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For the children confined to abusive homes, redemption will take an arduous path. But their heartbreaking journey can be buoyed by the simplest act of a neighbor or relative — a smile, an invitation to talk about their experience, a nudge of encouragement. My newly married fifth-grade teacher once told me that if she had a daughter, she wanted the girl to be like me. I clung to that thought through many dark days. The pain will linger decades after the fevers break and the bruises fade. So will a small gesture of hope.

Wendy Knight is a writer and the editor of two travel books. She is writing a memoir about domestic violence. Follow her on Twitter: @MsWendyKnight 

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