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A woman who witnessed domestic abuse as a child has spoken about how the experience still traumatises her almost 30 years later.
As a little girl growing up in Birmingham Natasha Benjamin, now 36, saw her mother being abused over a period of four years and says the painful memories still haunt her to this day.
“I witnessed my mum being hit, held against her will, being locked out of rooms,” she explains.
“Seeing domestic abuse as a child completely changed the child I could have been. I was frightened of the world, anxious and often felt out of place everywhere I went. It affected absolutely everything you can think of, it interrupted moments that should've been felt with happiness. It was always the elephant in the room affecting my lens of how I saw the world.”
Natasha went on to have therapy, and later founded a charity that supports individuals who have seen and experienced domestic violence and abuse at home.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggest 1.8 million children are affected by domestic abuse across the UK. The police recorded an almost 10 per cent increase in domestic abuse across Britain from March to June in 2020, compared to the same period in 2019. Meanwhile research from The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) suggests one in five children are exposed to domestic violence.
Natasha started Free Your Mind after a mental breakdown linked to witnessing domestic abuse as a child, and now wants to raise awareness about the lifelong impact it has on children’s mental health with a campaign called #HearMyVoice.
The charity started as a blog for Natasha to reflect on her life and she soon discovered lots of people with similar traumatic childhoods when they wrote back to her. “I started to look around for domestic abuse services that helped people like me and there wasn’t any and that’s why I thought ‘I am going to start my own.’"
The charity launched in March 2013 and after quitting her corporate marketing job, Natasha now runs it full time in between studying at university to be a psychologist. She is also now a certified trauma professional. “I was very nervous about sharing my story but there was this inner calm that came with it, it felt like something I had to do. Now Free Your Mind has the greatest team I could ever wish for and more importantly we have helped and supported hundreds of children and their families.”
Free Your Mind works directly with children and young people who have witnessed domestic abuse in the home, and the fallout of this on their mental health.
Natasha believes the long lasting impact domestic abuse has on children in the home is not spoken about enough, although things are beginning to change for the better.
Natasha is now encouraging people of all ages to share their own stories on social media.
She wants to give more children the tools they need to look after their happiness and wellbeing, while promoting the importance of having healthy relationships with the charity’s network of peer support practitioners and counsellors.
Social media users can share a photo of themselves holding up a sign in front of their mouths stating #HearMyVoice, to help spread awareness.
Natasha does not believe you ever get over seeing domestic violence as a child: "I am not of the belief you 'get over it'. I believe you take your life back from the hold trauma has had on it when you become aware of all the ways it has affected your life.
"It takes time and I am still learning everyday even as a professional now as I still get triggered and activated by things.
"You learn it was never your fault, to be patient and to give yourself compassion in all situations."
If you would like to donate, please visit the Free Your Mind website.
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