It’s been more than 25 years, and I still haven’t forgotten it.
I was eating dinner at a crowded Wendy’s restaurant when a woman seated nearby with a child suddenly reached across the table and slapped him, hard. He was about 8 or 9. He started sobbing, which only made her angrier, and so she began to scream at him to shut up. Then she slapped him again. She looked practiced at it. He cried quietly, his head down.
None of us did anything.
I couldn’t eat anymore. I started shaking my head, and the guy I was with–and I would later wonder at his own history that prompted his perspective–saw it coming and started saying to me, “Don’t you do anything. Don’t you say anything. It will only make it worse.”
I stood up, unable to finish my meal, and threw it away. Then I walked over to her and quietly said, “If you keep this up, someday, someone will report you.”
I felt disgusted with myself as I said it because I knew it wasn’t going to be me.
Then I looked at the little boy, who had lifted his head and was staring at me with wide eyes, and I said to him, “This is not your fault.”
I now know so much more than my 20-year-old self, and I know that bystander intervention is a complicated, complex situation that can indeed make things worse if it’s done with anger and blame and an attitude that leads to more violence.
But I also know I will never again stand by and watch someone being hurt.
How many opportunities did people have to help Brent Brents when he was still an abused child, before he was a predator?
How many opportunities do people have to speak up about suspected abuse in some way, and yet they do and say nothing?
It doesn’t have to be this way. We don’t have to be this way. There are lots of resources out there to guide folks through the process of being a Good Samaritan, and not simply a bystander. We can try to diffuse an escalating situation with humor, we can ask others to help us for moral support, we can leave the area and quietly and safely call 911.
This guide, for example, focuses on child abuse.
And this one focuses on adult violence intervention.
One response to “Intervention”
Dear Brent, Your story caught my eye and I felt inclined to read your words. I feel your humanness and suffering and I just want to let you know that your words do matter. Much like you, I have a story although I did not have to experience what you have had to. I am a 60 year old grandmother and I found a turning point when I was 37 and got sober. Through God I found a different way of life and I began to learn how to live. However much good one does later in life, thoses tragic years cannot be taken away. My sons suffered in the ways a child of an alcoholic mother does. My youngest son carried anger aroung for a very long time. I KNOW that those like us have a lifelong battle to fight with genetics. And some so much worse than others. I was adopted and I knew I was different from the family who raised me. My father used to say “You step to the beat of a different drummer.” And I always will. And so will my children and grandchildren. ANd who know what the future generations will bring. But there is one thing I do know, we are not monsters although sometimes our actions are monsterous, as you well know. I know not your daily struggles but I do know your worth and your are human. Your life can matter for something other than violence and only you can write the ending. I am about as sure as one can be that your words are sincere. I can feel and relate to your remorse and self loathing and I hope some day you can forgive yourself. For you the monster has been caged. The violent behavior is behind you and you do indeed have a chance to do good. I hope you don’t die of loniness because I know there are those who have. ANd know that you are not alone. In my own life I found a support system that cheered me on. And there is for you too. We don’t need a huge support system to succeed. I am sure you have drawn strength from Amy who recognized your value. Today I work in a quite healthy environment but there are still those who are my people, those who know me and where I can talk about my crazy battles and be understood. And treated kindly. When I first got sober they said, “We will love you until you can learn to love yourself.” And they did and still do. I hope you know there are those who will love you too-until you can learn to love yourself. I started this post because when my son was about 8, he brought home a classmate so he could show me the bruises on his arms and legs. He told me that he was black and blue all over his little body. And he said, “Mom, you have to do something.” And I did. The boy was taken from his mother and put with family who wanted him. I hope it is going well for him but I would like you to know that there are those (maybe few) who are not afraid to get involved. There are those who feel the power of your words and are trying to make a difference. Through experience I have found that our justice system does not do the job. That the perpatrator (sp) is usually the one with the rights and unfortunately those innocents who need intervention go unheard.
I hope you are able to have a good day in spite of the opposition you are faced with.