in a small suburb outside of indianapolis, indiana, i saw something my eyes will never unsee. i felt something my spirit will never grow numb to. outside a burger king, a little girl no more than 4 years old walked out with, who i assume to be her mother and older brother. her ash colored hair was in an array, and her bright large eyes matched the large smile she had on her dirt covered face- although perhaps it was really just chocolate from a chocolate shake. i didn’t know. it didn’t bother me much.
little kids are a magnet for dark colored things to cake their bodies. heck, give me some chocolate and i promise it’ll be all over my face. i smiled as i watched her look up towards her mom, and i laughed to myself. her innocence was a welcome relief for someone in my line of work.
the snow was coming down. not hard but steadily. the large, fluffy flakes floated to the wet ground and created a slush one might want to eat on a hot summers day. that’s when i saw it. her bare feet. . . stomping in the puddles of ice and water. the bottoms of her torn jeans soaked. her pink zip up sweater was the only warm thing on her body.
i looked towards the mother, who now had her back turned to her daughter, about 4 feet away screaming at her son to get in the van, while noticing a man smoking a cigarette in the drivers seat appearing to be less than interested. the mom yelled towards someone, i thought perhaps the barefooted little girl outside, but as soon as the man in the car jumped out of the car cussing and heading towards my car, which was parked right in front of the doors, i realized he was not coming for that little girl whose feet were getting closer to frost bite every second, but yelling for another daughter, still inside.
i felt the panic rise up inside me. almost instantly i forgot how old i was, i felt like that little girl who had no choices, no voice, and no strength. i couldn’t stop what was happening. the world was spinning. i was too afraid to get out of the car, too afraid to look in that mans direction, so i dropped my eyes and my head and looked at my fingers twisting around each other. and i waited for my husband to come out so we could leave.
i never saw that little girl get picked up, though i know she eventually got into that car. it wasn’t until we were out of indiana that i finally came back to my own body, but almost instantly i felt a load of shame, guilt and confusion.
i want to give that family the benefit of the doubt. i want to believe that mother and father were doing the best they could. that perhaps that little girl refused to put on her shoes. perhaps they are one of the thousands of poor americans who can’t afford winter clothes. but something inside confirms my fears, and because of that, i feel like i failed that little girl.
i’ve often been asked the question, “what are we supposed to do when we see violence?” my response has always been to intervene if you feel safe, and if you don’t call someone to come help.
but i’m tainted now. not every situation is the same. of course when i was working with adults with disabilities i had a much different means of intervening. it could be as simple as sending staff home, or making a report and firing the staff in question. but since becoming an advocate for victims/survivors of sexual violence i’ve questioned so many things.
it’s my job to support the victim. i do this by listening to them and allowing them to make safe choices, even if i disagree with these choices. and it’s hard. it’s hard watching someone continue to be victimized brutally by someone they love, to tell another person you’re concerned for their safety over and over again and never know if you’re going to see them again.
when it comes to children, things are slightly different. depending on the situation and the information given i may need to alert cps (child protective services). however, given my experience with most protective services, little to nothing is ever done to protect the vulnerable.
don’t get me wrong, i believe in the mission of this service, but they simply aren’t equipped to be full proof, and often times reports are just filed, or the vulnerable is left in the same or worse conditions depending on if they investigated or not. according to a nytimes article, around 786 children died who were known to various cps locations. different counties will report different stats.
again, i’m not attempting to discredit cps. the work of these individuals is unimaginable, and difficult. i couldn’t imagine having to turn down reports due to lack of information or not meeting the right criteria to warrant an investigation. the fact is, there are just not enough dollars and bodies to help support the 6.3 million reports of child abuse to cps a year.
but what does all this mean for me, and you, going forward? do we still call? do we intervene or do we drop our heads and close our eyes to the obvious or potential abuses around us?
i’m reminded of an experiment done in south africa. people opposing women abuse (powa) rented a townhouse and on 1 night had a drummer drumming late into the night, and the next night played a recording of domestic violence. the 1st night many neighbors complained. the second night, no one did.
have we really come to a place of acceptance that drums are unbearable while the screams of a woman or child (or man) are tolerable? i can’t help but feel complicit in the deaths of women, children and men all around the world when i behave like the see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil monkeys we all make fun of.
the bible tells us to speak up for the poor, vulnerable and abused. for the most part, i see many christians willing to give their advice when it comes to homosexuals, prostitutes, fornicators, etc, but i rarely see christians speaking directly to the abusers. this isn’t to say i haven’t heard christians do this, in fact i have many friends who’ve supported victims of abuse and told them they can/should leave and get help. my old pastor even did this, and was “hated on” as a result from some in the congregation because of “violating the marriage vows”. . . sigh.
but why don’t more people speak up? for me, it’s fear. i’m afraid to speak up because i’m afraid of getting hurt, or being wrong, or causing more damage to the victim. i continue to pray for this to change. in the mean time, i continue to pray for the broken, lost, abused, poor and vulnerable to get the help they need. i pray for the abusers to get the help they need, because they too are trapped in a world of lies.
so, no matter who you are reading this. whether you’re a victim or an “onlooker” i say this prayer for you. i pray for the strength to know when to say or do something.
“i love you Lord, my strength. the Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom i take refuse, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” psalm 18
to the little girl, i’m sorry i didn’t say anything, and i pray that you know you’re loved, sought after, and worthy of love, kindness and warmth.
to my readers, forgive yourself for the time you felt helpless due to your past or your present. your strength in the moment will get you through to the next, and each experience we have the Lord will use to strengthen your testimony for the one who needs it.
how have you intervened? why or why not?