Public Child Abuse: When is it Appropriate to Intervene

When to Intervene to Stop Public Child AbuseOne morning in the winter with snow all around, I was getting set to drive the 8 hour trip back to college. My college roommate was sitting on the other side of the cab all wrapped up in a blanket. I drove to a gas station and I climbed out of the truck so I could fill up the tank. My roommate also climbed out so he could wash the windshield.

As we both stood there, another guy came out of the gas station and promptly started to yell at his wife and his kids who were in the truck a few gas pumps away. The man used excessive force to shove his kids into the truck as he berated them and shouted at them and then he tried to shove his wife into his truck as well.

I stood there frozen, unsure of what to do. The way this man was treating his family wasn’t any of my business, yet I felt that what he was doing was wrong. But I didn’t know if it was wrong in a legal “it’s time for a neutral third party to intervene” kind of wrong.

My friend didn’t care what kind of wrong it was. He knew wrong was wrong and he dropped the windshield squeegee and began walking, without any hesitation, towards the man. I anxiously asked my friend what he was doing and he said, “You don’t push your wife and kids like that and I’m not going to let him do it again.”

Before my friend could get to the man, he was gone. He hopped in his truck and drove away.

I’ve always struggled knowing when it is appropriate to step in and stop behavior that I know is wrong. I’ve also struggled knowing when it is appropriate to discipline other family member’s kids. My wife doesn’t have that problem. She’ll ground or yell at any kid if she thinks a line has been crossed.

The other day as I walked in a parking lot towards the building that housed Addie’s summer camp, I watched as another man took his belt off, twisted it into a loop, and held it with one hand as if he were going to whip his car. A loop in the belt usually only means one thing—somebody is going to get whipped. The man had the back passenger side car door open and his son, who looked to be about 8 or 9-years-old, was sitting in the seat near the door  I don’t know where that man planned on whipping that kid, because the only spots available due to the location and position of the kid would have been the kid’s chest or face. Either of which would have been entirely inappropriate.

There was also the fact that this kid was being threatened in front of about 25 other kids of the same age, who were hanging out within 15 to 20 feet of that car, and it seemed like some of the worst parenting I’ve ever seen. And yes, I am openly judging what this guy was doing. His kid was screaming and crying and it was all happening in front of an audience of this kid’s peers. This kid was likely going to have to face his friends the next day at summer camp and explain to them why he was getting beaten by his dad and why he was crying about it.

As I continued to walk towards the summer camp building, I slowed my walk down and I made sure the man knew I was watching him, but I didn’t stop. I didn’t ask him how things were going or if he needed help with anything. I didn’t tell him that he shouldn’t be whipping his son across the chest with a belt. I just kept walking until I got to Addie and her camp supervisors.

As I signed Addie out of her summer camp for the day, I turned around and watched the dad swat his kid in the back seat several times with his hands as the kid shouted, “Get off of me!”  When the dad was done swatting the kid, he got in his car and drove off.

As Addie and I got in my car and drove away, I left with a sick feeling in my stomach. There were so many things wrong with what I had just seen, and yet I ultimately did nothing about it. Here I am 15 years older then I was that cold winter morning when I watched my best friend throw all caution to the side so he could confront someone who was pushing his kids and his wife, and I just stood there and let this kid get bullied by his own father.

I apparently haven’t learned anything over the last 15 years.

What would you have done if you had witnessed the same thing? Should I have intervened? Or was I right to mind my own business? Was what I saw public child abuse?

Photo Credit: Flickr

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