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.