Because Au Pairs live with families, inside their homes and inside their family lives, Au Pairs often see things that outsiders do not.
Au Pairs see not just messy kitchens or heaps of laundry. Sometimes they also see emotional and physical abuse among host family members.
Violence in the Home
I don’t like to call this kind of violence by its common name, “domestic violence”, because that name suggests there is something smaller and less worthy of our intervention that other forms of violence.
‘Domestic violence’ suggests to some people that the location of the violence makes it ‘none of their business’ or ‘a personal matter’, simply because it happens in private, inside our homes and personal relationships.
Whether or not violence happens ‘in private’ should not determine whether or not we take it seriously. The violence itself is still violence. It is still dangerous. It is as much our business to report this kind of violence as it is our business to report when we see someone being mugged in a parking lot.
When we know that a Host Parent’s behavior is violent and threatening, we have a responsibility to do something to help the family.
When an Au Pair sees or hears about host parents beating on each or on the host children, s/he has a responsibility to find a way to report that information so that the family members get the protection and professional help that they need.
This can be tricky, though, because Au Pairs need to attend to their own safety — and find a safe place to live themselves– even while they attempt to help the family member(s) being abused.
I received the email, below, from an au pair struggling with how to respond to a violent episode between her host parents. I’ve already replied to her with my own advice (which I’ll add at some point) but I know that many of you will have wise words for her.
We’d especially like to hear from those of you readers who have professional experience in helping victims and their families.
I’m currently an Au Pair in the USA and I have been living here for about four months (seven or so months left to go). I care for two host children, a 1 year old and a 3 year old.
When I arrived, I knew that my host parents were thinking about divorce. Sometimes I could hear them fight with each other, but nothing seemed truly major. Things changed on Saturday.
My host parents started yelling and physically fighting for hours, in front of the kids. I was off-duty, ‘asleep’ in my room, but their fighting was so loud that I could hear it in my room without trying. On Sunday morning they acted like nothing happened.
However, Sunday afternoon my host dad came home drunk. I was not home at the time; the 3 year old told me what happened. … The host dad hit or pushed my host mom, who was holding the baby in her arms. She fell, and the baby got a little bump on his head. My host mom called 911 and the cops came and arrested the host dad. My host mom went to the hospital for evaluation. She and the baby were okay.
My host mom told me this morning that she is getting a restraining order so the host dad can’t come back to the house.
I have never experienced a situation like this and I don’t know what to do.
Even though I love my host kids and host mom is hard for me to imagine continuing to live here, especially if the host dad ever returns to the house.
But it is not just me, I am also concerned about my host children.
I think that your readers will suggest that I rematch, which I’d like to do after I sort this situation out. I don’t want to seem too concerned about myself, but I’d like to extend (with another family) and I still have education credits to complete before I can do that.
Any advice for me? I’d appreciate it. ~~ AfraidAuPair