In the United States, one of every four women has to deal with domestic violence. And 90 percent of those women say their children witness it. Adela Plasek was one of those children, until a particularly brutal night when her dad attacked her mom.
Adela Plasek says she and her sisters could feel the tension build every night before their father came home. Her mother would become increasingly nervous and fearful.
“Your father’s almost home. I don’t know if he’s been drinking or not," Plasek remembered her mother saying nearly every night. "We didn’t know what to expect when that key went in the door.”
It was 12 year old Adela’s job to keep the children out of sight.
“The oldest of three daughters I played the role of … I make the joke now, it was always me grabbing my two sisters and running into the room and putting on my old 45 of "Da Doo Ron Ron." And now I hear that song and I say oh please, turn it off," Adela says. "It’s something that scars you emotionally, mentally. I remember looking down and seeing my little sister urinating on herself because she was terrified. So, we would wait and play this song over and over again until we heard the yelling and the fighting and the breaking of stuff stop.”
A study by the Commonwealth Fund found domestic violence to be the single major cause of injury to women, more than muggings and car accidents combined.
“And I remember the last time my father actually laid hands on my Mom, I had opened up the door and I told my sister, everything’s fine, everything’s fine because we didn’t hear anything," Adela recalled. "But at that point I saw my Dad grab my Mom by her hair and was dragging her to the bathroom; and in the meantime was kicking her as she had a screwdriver lodged into her cheek out through her nose and the other side of her cheekbone. And he was kicking her ‘cause he was like we just laid down these carpets, you’re bleeding all over them, and was dragging her by the hair.”
Plasek says she knew this time he might kill her mother. She grabbed a baseball bat and hit her Dad on the head as hard as she could. He swung his arm around, hit her and propelled her face into the glass door knob. She still has the scar. Plasek says her Mom told her later it was that injury, the injury to her daughter that convinced her to leave.
“The mentality she had was, I had to stay because it’s the best thing to do for the family. What she didn’t realize was she was teaching us as young women this is acceptable behavior,” Plasek said, shaking her head slightly.
The cycle of violence did not stop. Plasek says the stress of being a single parent working two jobs got to her mother. She began beating her daughters with a belt. At 16, her youngest sister was killed by an ex-boyfriend, who then shot himself. And the middle sister tried her best to hide the beatings by her husband from other family members.
“My sister looked like the Elephant Man sometimes," Plasek said. "Her forehead was out to here. There were bruises all over her body. It would terrify me when the phone rang late. I was always so anxious, and I could just feel all those feelings coming back like when we were kids -- just terrified that my sister was going to get killed. And I’d already lost one sister to it.”
Her sister got out of the relationship after almost eight years. Plasek has three daughters of her own now: 18, 13 and 11. She says her husband understands her past and early on dealt with most discipline issues at her request.
“I was terrified, like I don’t ever want to discipline the kids because I was terrified I would turn into my Mom, or I would lose it like my Mom,” Plasek said, her voice tinged with emotion.
But, Plasek says she’s breaking the cycle.
“Having my own kids and knowing how much the physical violence affected me, the abuse affected me personally, I was able to step out and say this is not okay," Plasek said. "How do I stop it so my children don’t have to go through this?”
Plasek is now director of community relations at Hope’s Door which helps victims of domestic violence in Collin County.