There are occasions when you least expect something annoying to happen. A fun time in an atmosphere of joy with relatives and friends should be pleasant. But I’ve learned that’s not always the case; in fact, it’s just as likely as not that at these get-togethers someone will tell me something that will get my blood boiling.
Recently at a party a friend asked me to look at a picture of his neighbor’s young child. The father had the picture on his iPhone. It showed a child with bruising on his face and a foot-long scratch on his arm.
“Terrible,” I said. And then I asked the question I should never ask outside of my clinical practice: “How did it happen?”
Both the father and the mother claimed it was an accident. Apparently another child in the day care program got into some sort of foolish argument with their child – typical of young children.
“The administrator refused to speak with them about it,” my friend interceded.
That was the part that got me upset.
“The administrator didn’t call?”
“No,” the mother responded. “I was picking the child up and saw what happened so I asked to speak with the administrator. I heard him say to his secretary he had ‘no time’ for me. He still hasn’t answered my questions.”
I made some suggestions to the parents about how to proceed. The child’s father was receptive, the mother less so.
“Oh, it’s not a big deal,” she said. “I am sure that kids always get into these things.”
“Yes,” I said “but the administration has an obligation to take action and inform you about it.”
The boy’s father agreed but the mother was insistent.
“I’d rather not,” she said. “It’s not a big deal.”
I explained to her that it is her passivity and the passivity of so many others that inadvertently gives indifferent and evil people the license to cover up or actually commit abuse. Maybe the administrator in this particular program was not a bad person but her apathy had the potential to create a fertile environment of casual indifference.
The mother got it. I could see the understanding in her eyes. Still, there was something – fear or doubt – holding her back.
So I told her it was incumbent upon her to follow up. I do not know if she did. But I can tell you that usually in this type of situation there is very little follow up – and even when there is, it still results in misinformation and defensiveness combined with anger, excuses, and confabulation.
Mostly nothing is accomplished.
How many times have I heard that same “It’s not a big deal” statement? I’ve heard it when a child comes home from camp and tells a parent that a counselor “touched my privates”; when a schoolteacher has begun grooming a student to be a slave to the teacher’s perversions; when girls in seminary are led to believe they must submit and never utter a word about the abuse they have been exposed to. And these are just three examples among a wide array of similarly serious situations.
I write this as a mental health professional willing to sign his name. Unfortunately, I cannot reveal the names of my patients or others. Only they can do that. I can help them heal – but one important step in the process of healing requires that the person victimized be validated for having been harmed and that those responsible actually assume responsibility.
I do not expect two young children in day care to assume responsibility; I expect them to be protected and cared for. I also expect their caretakers to do their duty. When camp supervisors or administrators or teachers or coaches look away, they are encouraging and facilitating abuse, whether directly or not.