Domestic violence all too common
at holidays, leaving Christmas scars instead of presents
By Ranae Bangerter
December 27, 2006 | Children sleep under the tree
at Christmas awaiting even a glimpse of Santa Claus,
the jolly happy man, who comes to bring presents December
25 to every little girl and boy.
This was not the scene that 8-year-old Thomas Valletta
saw on the eve of Christmas.
* * *
He was up reading Christmas stories with his three
siblings -- brother, 10, and two sisters, 5 and 3 years
old. They had all fallen asleep except Valletta. Around
10 p.m. he heard a noise in the kitchen and slowly crept
in, thinking it was Santa. He scared the person in the
kitchen, his stepfather, who then stumbled, making pots
and pans clang to the floor. Soon the children were
up, wondering what happened and hoping that it was Santa.
They wanted to get the milk and cookies out to be ready
for Mr. Claus.
"I guess we just pushed him over the limit," said
Valletta. Their stepfather said he wanted to give them
a present they would never forget, teach them not to
be selfish. And so he ripped off his Navy belt.
* * *
Around the Christmas and New Year's holidays, it's
easy to forget that many families in Utah have domestic
violence in their homes once or twice a year. Twenty-six
percent of those surveyed in a 2005 domestic violence
study said they experience domestic violence once a
year or less. Five percent reported daily violence,
and 7 percent reported monthly.
In most households with domestic violence, abuse occurs
only once or twice a year. And for those families the
abuse doesn't end on the last day of domestic violence
awareness month, October. Many victims experience abusive
relationships and they continue for many years, according
to the study. And many experienced abusive childhoods.
But what about unreported family beatings that occur
almost weekly? What about victims, who do not report
it because it could hurt their family?
"The first thing to do is to tell one person, to break
the silence for the first time," says Brandy Farmer,
a survivor of domestic violence and domestic violence
specialist for the state of Utah. Farmer said breaking
the silence could be just telling someone, a friend,
a family member, a neighbor or even calling a hotline
such as the Utah Domestic Violence Council hotline 800-897-LINK.
But breaking the silence can be hard and dangerous.
Farmer said about telling others about her husband was
"I never wanted anyone to know because he's supposed
to be the one that loves me the most," Farmer said about
being abused by her husband. She wanted to run away
but had no where to go. She thought she would have to
live on the streets and she did not want her children
to live like that.
Domestic violence comes in many forms, physical, emotional,
verbal and sexual that may be linked together in some
cases said, Keeley Mendenhall, domestic violence case
* * *
Young Thomas Valletta's father was an alcoholic and
worked at a bar. Sometimes he got violent after coming
home from work.
"Whippin's" (being beaten on the back end with a belt)
were common enough that Valletta and his siblings would
shove comic books down their pants for padding. They
would even prepare ahead and store the books on a table
leading into the front room for easy access. But on
Christmas Eve 1958 it was a different situation than
most for young Valletta.
The once-silent house was filled with noise as their
staggering stepfather told the children to line up for
whippin's. Their father started off oldest to youngest,
as usual, and they all made sure to grab some comic
books on their way in.
Valletta's older brother was first and would scream
loud to pretend it hurt even though he was well-padded
and didn't feel much. But when it was Valletta's turn
he wasn't as good at pretending.
* * *
Some people who do not understand all the types of
abuse may justify physical abuse because of alcohol
or a controlled substance, but Farmer disagrees.
"There's just no excuse for abuse and no one deserves
to be abused," Farmer told a class of students. She
said if a person is violent without a controlled substance,
the substance can either make it worse or subdue the
"It's a learned behavior," she added. She said she
thinks that violence and abuse are choices. She gave
a scenario: a person may become very angry, enough to
hit, but can choose not to.
* * *
It was Valletta's turn to be "whipped." After a few
whips, it wasn't so bad. But his stepfather realized
the children were padded and he pulled out his belt.
"He doubled up the belt and reared back," Valletta
said about his stepfather. But when Valletta refused
to cry his stepfather put down the belt and punched
Soon, young Valletta fell to the side, but when his
stepfather asked the next child, his 5-year-old sister,
to come for her turn, Valletta, as hurt as he was, could
not take it. He got up, made a fist, and punched his
stepfather's stomach, as hard as an 8-year-old could,
and then he ran out of the house in to the night.
He thought his stepfather was still following him
so he ran and ran. He ran until the tie between him
and that house was so distant that he was free. He was
excited to be free. Then he thought of Santa.
He realized that Santa only came to where he was sleeping,
so he thought to run back home but he had ran so far
that he was lost. He knocked on neighbor's doors but
no one recognized him, he then sat on a curb and started
"I cried forever it seemed like," he said. "I didn't
have any feeling and that's when I looked up and saw
many stars," he recalled. Then he shook his fist at
the sky and thought.
"My mom left me, my dad beat me, and Santa doesn't'
have a clue where I'm at," he thought.
Then he said he heard a voice say, "I love you, you're
not alone no matter what you do I'll always be there."
He thought that voice was his natural father, who had
died. After that, he became happy and started singing
Christmas songs. His attitude had changed.
Later, he got tired and crawled under the bumper of
a car and hung his two small socks up for Santa to fill.
* * *
When he woke up the first thing he did was check his
socks. Then he found a police officer and "turned himself
"I never saw my dad again," he said. Not many victims
in Utah call police, but when police were called the
report said they respond in about 30 minutes on average.
The domestic violence study said, some victims would
call the police but the police failed to take action
- unless it was a severe injury. Also, those who called
reported the police would not normally arrest the abuser
or try to prevent the abuse from becoming worse.
Although that is true with the study, Mendenhall,
a case worker for Utah State University's SAVVI (Sexual
Assault and Anti-Violence Information) office, said
"The police usually do refer people (to SAVVI)," she
"That's how we get a lot of our contacts."
Valletta ended up in many foster homes and when he
was about 12 years old he saw his brother, who gave
him his mother's address. He went back there to see
her. She had re-married and he took on his new father's
name of Valletta.
Now, Valletta is different. He joined the Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and is not afraid
to share his story. He has since seen his sisters again,
decades after that Christmas Eve.