- Strike their mother across the back ten times.
- Strike one of the other children ten times.
- Choose to get whipped with the switch ten times.
The oldest went first. He told the man to hit him. The little girl was next and she made the same choice. As each child completed their turn, all five made the same choice. All five were whipped across the back with their "switch" ten times.
The mother kept weeping.
The little girl thought to herself, "Now we are done. He is finished being mad at us."
But the man was not done. He was not satisfied with the result. So he took one of the switches and for the next ten minutes he proceeded to beat the mother with the switch.
Now, the little girl wept. The little girl did not understand why her stepfather always hit her mommie. The little girl did not understand why the man did not love her.
I was that little girl.
God knows why my stepfather chose to punish all of us that night, or any other night. I remember that before this particular scene happened, my mother merely had dropped a plate while serving dinner. My stepfather beat my family hundreds of times. None of those times did the beatings make any particular sense to me.
It is not surprising, then, that I have spent the bulk of my adult life working to wipe out domestic violence, child abuse and sexual assault. I spent years learning about the cycle of violence, power and control issues, the increased incidence of domestic violence with alcohol abuse, and the personal toll on families that domestic violence creates.
My mother did not have access to laws that could protect her. This was an era before "domestic violence". This was the era when these things were a "private family matter." Now there are laws to protect people like my mother.
Out of necessity, my mother had to bury this issue. She buried it so deep that when she found out that I was running for public office, it never occurred to her that domestic violence would become the crux of my legislative agenda. When I got elected to the State Assembly in 2000, the legislature did not have a particular focus on domestic violence. During my first year in office, I created the Assembly Select Committee on Domestic Violence. I was fortunate to Chair that committee for all six years I served as a legislator. My proudest moment came when Governor Gray Davis signed my very first piece of legislation, AB 469. That is the moment that the little girl got to do something meaningful, not only in honor of her mother, but for all women in California. Once again the little girl wept.
To be continued...
Until next time, please watch this poignant video clip that puts faces to the issue.