When I was in my early thirties, I went on a healing retreat. I had been delving into my past and found some old wounds that were still open sores.
On the retreat, I met other people who also had open sores they wanted healed. I remember one man sharing childhood memories of his father’s drunken rages. He told stories about being taken to the ER with broken arms and legs after his father had thrown him against a wall or down stairs. Wow, I thought, my life was a picnic compared to this man’s life.
I was deeply moved by the stories I heard, and I began to wonder why no one intervened in abusive situations. Did no one know what was happening? Did neighbors not hear the screams? Did ER doctors really believe a child could be so clumsy that he repeatedly broke bones? How could people just look the other way? How could they pretend that nothing was wrong?
Those questions led me to a commitment: I would not stay silent when I saw something that indicated abuse.
Once I made that commitment, I started to see things I had previously overlooked—or perhaps I had looked the other way.
At first, I found it almost impossible to speak up. I realized I been taught not to see, and if I did see something, not to speak of it. Old tapes ran through my mind—“mind your own business” kinds of tapes. I realized they were messages of fear, the kind of messages that kept abusers safe. I started to tell myself that it is my business if someone, anyone, is being abused. I started to put myself in that person’s position and ask, “What would I want someone to do for me?” The answer was almost always, “Speak up.”
I understand why people don’t speak up, how they can see children and women with bruises and broken bones and say nothing—it is hard to speak up. My stomach gets butterflies and my palms sweat every time I do it. I know I am taking a risk, that I am sticking my nose into someone else’s business. I know I might make someone really angry. Every opportunity I have had to speak up has been a challenge. My anxiety almost always stops me.
And then I think of that man whose father threw him against the wall and I think of all the other people I have known who suffered at the hands of abusers. I can hear them asking, “Why didn’t someone do something?” So, if I see something or even sense something, I say something. It might not do any good, it may not improve the situation, but at least I know I have done what I could.