Editorial note: Names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals who contributed to this story.
After finding her abused mother on the porch, "Amanda" kept a bloody rag as a reminder of who her dad, "Rufus," was under the influence of his alcohol addiction. She was a 19-year-old bride, beginning to understand what marriage was supposed to be. That relic fueled Amanda's anger and resentment against Rufus for several years. She and her brothers asked themselves why their mom would stay.
A main reason women may stay when domestic violence takes place, is for the safety of herself and her children. When a woman leaves an abusive relationship, her risk for harm goes up 67 percent, said Heather Boswell, the Police Response Advocate Coordinator with the Harvey County Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Taskforce.
It was recently that Amanda discovered more about her family history. Her dad and his four siblings were the third generation to receive foster care. Rufus was the oldest, and only four years-old when his dad was arrested for theft and they were taken from the unstable home. Rufus' father did not return to his family after his incarceration. This continued a cycle of fatherless homes in their family.
Rufus' mother remarried but both she and her husband struggled with addictions. Rufus found his grandparents were actually his mother's foster parents, who continued to be part of her life, going above and beyond what was required.
Amanda spoke of her gratitude to the many foster parents in her family's history.
“I am reaping what a stranger sowed,” she said. “It makes me think of God's plan, adopting us into His family. I'm just even more grateful for those I currently know who chose to be selfless and offer their homes and their lives to foster children who need a someone.”
The Kansas Department for Children and Families reported that as of June 30, 2015 there are 6,517 children in out of home placement, 60 of whom are in Harvey County. The most frequent abuse/neglect reason sited for removal into foster care is physical abuse/neglect. The average length of time a child stays in an out of home placement is 18 months.
Amanda's mother's past was not easier. "Betty" was raped as a preteen. Later, she met Rufus and married him at age 15, with her parents' approval. Amanda said the cycle of addictions and selfish choices began again.
Betty, however, put her hope into keeping the family together, pumping all her effort into her three children. She took the brunt of Rufus' aggressive alcoholism on her tiny frame, protecting Amanda and her brothers. Amanda now recognizes and appreciates her mother's perseverance, saying as kids they had no idea the destructive generational patterns her mother was breaking.
Boswell said, “I think the woman that is in the relationship is the only person that can decide what is best for her and her children. If she stays, she can make sure the children are safe and have control over what they see day to day. The number one resilience for children that have domestic violence in their home is the relationship with the non-abusive parent.”
Amanda struggled with bitterness and anger, until when looking at the rag soaked with her mother's blood, she felt God ask her if Jesus' blood was enough to forgive her sins, then why not her dad's sins too? She tearfully wrote Rufus a letter about Jesus' forgiveness, offering him hers.
“There's no other way to live a free life,” said Amanda. “We don't have to suffer for our sins, and even though there are oft earthly consequences for our sin, I was no longer a consequence of his sin. I was no longer hard-hearted, but giving up the rag and the anger and inviting forgiveness through the blood of Jesus.”
After 25 years of marriage, Amanda's parents did divorce. Amanda believes despite her parents' struggles, that they helped begin a legacy of unity for their children and grandchildren. She and her brothers have now all been married for over ten years, with stable homes and two are nurturing and involved, if imperfect, parents. This summer, Amanda, her brothers and dad were all together for the first time in over 16 years.
Boswell emphasized that The Harvey County Safe House works with folks that are still in abusive relationships, as well as after someone leaves the relationship. Staff provide support groups, one on one advocacy, community resources, food and shelter when needed.