Penn State coach Joe Paterno wrote: “With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.”
Why don’t people report abuse when they witness it or are pretty sure it is happening? Why do they remain silent?
I’ve written about abuse in my family as a child in a couple of posts in this series on Abuse. Today, I will share another and I do it not to highlight the abuse but to show how people didn’t say anything when they saw it. They let it happen and let it continue happening.
My dad was very strict with us. When we did something he felt was not right, he didn’t talk to us about it and tell us why we shouldn’t do it. He just hit us; beat us. Things were far worse for my brothers. They were older and they were always beaten, with us girls, my mom often kept our “sins” quiet and didn’t tell him about it.
When my brothers were in high school, one of them was called into the boys’ dean’s office. He was sent in there for fighting with another student. My brother was a freshman, so about 15 years old. The dean suspended my brother from school for a week but he also called my father and said my brother had to be picked up and couldn’t leave until the dean had a conference with my father. BIG MISTAKE. My father arrived at the school angry and embarrassed by my brother’s behavior that required his appearance. My father was sent into the dean’s office with my brother and my brother’s counselor was also called in. They told my dad what my brother had done and waited to see what my father would say to my brother. Well, within seconds my dad started beating my brother right there in front of the dean and the counselor. He punched my brother in the stomach and in the face. He kicked my brother until my brother fell on the floor then he kicked him some more. While this was happening, the adult administrators yelled at my dad to stop and more administrators were called in to “help stop” my father. No one tried to restrain my father. They just verbally asked him to stop. My father didn’t stop. When my brother tried to get up off the floor, my dad kept hitting him. He didn’t stop until he got tired out. He then grabbed my brother off the floor and started dragging him out of the office and down the hall. My brother could barely walk. As they walked down the hall, my dad loudly told my brother something along the lines of “wait til we get home then I’ll show you what will happen if I am ever called to school again.”
The administrators and the secretarial staff all watched and listened. No one said a word. No one called the police. No one reported what had happened. They were, in effect, silent accomplices to my dad’s actions and so the abuse continued at home. If that one time someone had called the local child protective services or the police, maybe something would have been done and the beatings would have stopped. We don’t know what would have happened because no one did anything about it. They were all adults. They all had the ability, power, and responsibility to to make that call but they didn’t.
Why? I don’t know but statistics and studies tell us that people often don’t report the abuse they witness because they are afraid to get involved in the system which might require them to appear in legal proceedings. Some are afraid of retaliation. So they remain silent as it happens and as it is repeated.
Ask yourself: Would YOU say something? Would YOU do anything? Would YOU report it?
My personal answer is YES. I hope yours is, too!
For more articles in this Abuse series, click here.