Every April, I get that old Edmund Burke quote stuck in my head: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Or something to that effect.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, the time when child protection groups across the country start beating that drum again. Speak up, speak up, speak UP when you see something.
Except, I am not that parent. I have a hard time walking up to the mother in the grocery store who has smacked their child across the face and saying, “Hey, lady, knock it off.”
I’m more the indignant glare type, the one who will cut you down with my eyes, dark and forbidding from across the dairy aisle, running my cart perilously close to your heels. “I’m watching you,” I say with my elbows as I get too close while we’re both picking through the tomato pile.
And yet, I am not a proponent of child abuse (is anyone?). I am not even a spanker, preferring to discipline with words and timeouts in part because of my own history of beatings on the butt which left their emotional scars. Nor am I the quiet type. I frankly have a hard time shutting up about most things – hence the blogging job!
So why is it so hard to speak up about child abuse? For one, there’s a fine line between outright abuse and a bad day. We’ve all been horrified by seeing a parent smack a kid, but who knows if that was a heat of the moment, having an awful day, never, ever happened before kind of thing or a normal occurrence in that family’s life? We’re too afraid of disrupting an otherwise normal family’s life with an investigation by child protective services.
There’s also a fear that our own closets aren’t without their skeletons. Ever been locked out by your toddler? Check. Ever lost your toddler – even for just five seconds – because they wandered off while you were focusing on something else? Again, check. Ever left your child in the car for a second while you ran into the post office? One more time.
So we adopt the “he who is without sin” method of casting stones. We’re not perfect, so who are we to judge? Although, we do judge. We glare. We huff. We go home and tell our spouses about the idiot we saw in the grocery store. We are aware that something might not be right, but by and large we are too afraid to do anything.
It’s all in degrees, naturally. If I saw a baby sleeping in a backseat on a ninety-degree day with no adult in sight, you know I’d be on my cell phone to 911. If I saw a child battered and bruised with a split lip and a black eye, I’d be calling child protective services. Waiting until it gets to clear child abuse carries with it its risks – we aren’t PREVENTING child abuse if we wait that long. We aren’t protecting the nearly one million victims of child abuse every year, almost ninety-five percent of whom are abused more than once.
It’s where that Burke quote comes into play. We are good parents, but we let bad parents win.
I’ve done it. You’ve done it.
Will you be speaking up next time?